Kevin Helm, CAE
Kevin Helm, MBA, CAE, is cofounder of the Virtual Association Network and associate executive director at the Society for Simulation in Healthcare in Washington, DC.
While virtual offices are trendy, incorporating some virtual workers or converting to an entirely online environment requires operational know-how. Learn the key tactics you’ll need if you want virtual success at your association.
Many associations are considering the transition from brick-and-mortar offices to a partial or fully virtual environment. While it’s important to consider all the logistical issues for a move of this magnitude, many overlook the many operational requirements needed to facilitate a successful virtual working environment. The Virtual Association Network (VAN), a free membership organization of individuals interested in operating in a virtual work environment that we founded, has conducted two member surveys that shed some light on the operational components an association should contemplate before making the transition.
Like in brick-and-mortar environments, there are many ways to operate and manage a virtual environment. For this culture to succeed, it is imperative to emphasize employees completing projects in a quality manner and on time. Some organizations refer to this as a results-oriented environment. This means management heavily relies on experienced employees who only need minimal daily supervision. While outcomes and results are also important in a brick-and-mortar environment, the virtual environment puts more emphasis on the employee being responsible for their outcomes without as many regular check-ins. The second VAN benchmarking survey shows that 71 percent of respondents don’t use different management and supervisory techniques for full-time remote employees; only 27 percent use time-tracking systems to monitor remote employee work hours. This coincides with another frequently mentioned success characteristic: self-motivation and the ability to work independent of regular, face-to-face contact.
Other important factors for creating a successful environment for staff include actively using key performance metrics, concentrating on company objectives and mission, setting annual goals with frequent progress review meetings, and measuring client or member satisfaction.
Managing teams and projects across different locations has become easier due to advances in technology. From the VAN 2017 survey, 58 percent of survey respondents use video conferencing technology to bring staff together for weekly meetings. We’re continuing to hear that utilization of such video technology for staff meetings is increasing as companies such as Free Conference USA are offering free video services. Regardless of the specific tool or purpose, it is essential for virtual organizations to embrace a culture that fully integrates cloud- and web-based technology. Here are three key technologies used by successful virtual associations:
While recognizing employees in an office setting is relatively easy, it is essential to extend recognition to virtual employees.These employees were cited as most often being overlooked when there are in-office parties, group lunches, or other events. Consider taking remote employees out to lunch when possible, giving virtual staff awards on occasions when all staff are together, and sending flowers or other gifts on employee birthdays.
Insurance providers have generally kept pace with technology and offer a plethora of options that cover virtual offices. One of the most cited areas of risk for virtual office settings is employees who have an accident while on company time. Liability insurance is critical for virtual organizations, as identified by the VAN survey. Of those organizations who participated in the survey, 69 percent offer liability coverage for remote workers. Coverage typically extends to the space in employees’ homes and their travel to professional events. Less than 25 percent provide coverage for travel to stores or other locations during business hours, and less than 10 percent provide coverage for work locations outside employees’ homes (e.g., a coffee shop or library).
The trend toward more virtual organizations and remote work environments is certainly growing at a rapid pace, as technology has provided ways of working together that were not available a few years ago. It will be increasingly vital for associations operating in or considering the move to the virtual work environment to stay up to date with the latest virtual management and technology resources and best practices.