The Virtual Workforce

Human Capital Institute is a think tank exploring global labor relations and providing reports and webcasts. Their research has shown that "almost a quarter of the U.S. workforce telecommutes at least some of the time". Forbes reports that even by 2005, over 22 million Americans worked from home or another out-of-office location at least one day per week, and that was growing 30% per year.

To find out if the virtual workforce is real, start with a Google search of "virtual workforce" and "virtual workspace". Each produces over 2 million matches, some suitable for learning about this phenomenon sweeping the entire world. Many such matches talk of the benefits of leveraging such a virtual workforce, but more than a few talk of the management challenges. From the Harvard Business School to the small startup, the question begins, "How do I manage someone who is not here?" Talk about a major disruptive change.

Technology is quick to answer with teleconference systems, collaboration tools, and the like, but this is not a change that only requires some management tools and techniques. This requires a re-examination of management philosophies that have served us well for centuries because after all the dust settles, the employee is still not here. At Bizware, we feel the biggest management challenge has to be to change from an efforts-based work environment to a results-based one. The rationale is simple: the effort of the virtual workforce is no longer visible.

A results-based workforce may be called employees, but a relationship where the work results are tied to compensation or other benefits is by definition migrating toward a contracted relationship. The contract can (and should) be reduced to a set of mini-contracts properly termed tasks, each with a clearly defined result that management measures instead of effort.

eTaskBoard isn't the only way to implement a results-based virtual workforce, but it does have a track record of being an effective one. It comes with tested components and a support organization to help manage the changes involved.

The hardest part is the decision to address the change with fundamental changes of our own. For encouragement, we have this observation from Charles Darwin, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

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