There are a number of definitions and perceptions about what a virtual company consists of. Many of them are perceived to exist in an idealistic way, especially if you do not work at one or for one. As in any situation, there are both pros and cons to working in a virtual environment. One thing people do not consider when thinking about virtual working scenarios is how they are generally not prepared for how hard it can be to deal with less human social interaction. There are also a number of unwritten rules associated with how to thrive in a virtual environment, yet not everyone has figured out what they are.
If you work at a company and are expected to be present there most days of the week, one of the things you probably take for granted is how much you actually enjoy the human interaction you derive. The simple pleasure of being able to take a break and wander around the office and have face-to-face conversations with people is not something a virtual worker can easily do. Although, having a Skype conversation can help to mimic actual social interaction so you do not feel as disconnected.
Many virtual workers take advantage of mimicking social office settings by doing their work in coffee shops, or shared working environments such as WeWork. These pseudo work communities can help to fill the social void many virtual office employees experience, and can help to provide the basic level of interaction most people desire daily. There is also a heightened level of energy in most public settings, and this can also be helpful to increase a virtual workers’ motivation. The social and visual variety of public settings can also inspire you, and make you feel more connected socially.
One of the unwritten rules which is often broken by non-virtual workers interacting with virtual office workers, is the sense that the virtual worker should or can work at an accelerated rate and turn work around faster. Perhaps because the non-virtual worker cannot see the virtual worker, they have the perception the virtual worker is always available to accomplish the work being given to them immediately. Of course, this is not the case. However, many virtual workers feel heightened pressure from non-virtual workers that they need to complete their work faster, and with complete disregard for their schedule or priorities. On top of this happening, the normal respect granted socially is often not applied, making virtual workers feel their time is not as valued as a non-virtual worker.
In other words, just because you cannot see the person you are interacting with does not mean you can or should disregard the social respect you would grant to someone you are interacting with in person. This is a common complaint of people who work virtually. They do not often push back on the people they are interacting with who seemingly have a disregard for applying manners or respect for the virtual workers’ schedule. Because someone works virtually does not mean they are available and working 24/7, although many virtual workers feel they are treated this way.
Accountability for your time, the work you are doing and how you communicate with others you are interacting with is another area that is harder to deal with in the virtual world. Thankfully there are numerous tracking tools to help with providing visibility into how projects or work is being accomplished without actual human interaction.
Based on observation, there appears to be less leverage for both the virtual and non-virtual worker in terms of how they go about managing the accountability of one another from a non-physically present perspective. This same conundrum applies to when virtual workers are interacting with one another too. The fact someone is out of sight, does not mean they are less accountable, and actually because they are out of sight, they often need to be hyper accountable to build up their reputation for being dependable.
Working virtually all the time is much harder to do than most people imagine. Although, being able to do so periodically can have great advantages and allow people to strike a better work and life balance.
When you are a virtual worker, it takes a heightened sense of discipline to not be distracted and to stay on track and pace with the work you need to accomplish. You also have to deal with potential social isolation. Mixing up your work environment and incorporating working in public places can help to remedy this. For those of you who work in a place with others, and if you interact with virtual workers, please extend them the same social graces that you extend to the people you interact with face-to-face.
Kathleen E. R. Murphy is the Founder, Chief Performance Strategist and CEO of Market Me Too. She is a Gallup Certified Strengths Finder Coach, author of Wisdom Whisperer, and is a well-respected motivational and social influencer with a global following from her numerous speaking, print, radio and television media appearances.
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