Why is a trial important in virtual teams?

TEST written in white on black computer keys. 3d illustration. Isolated background.In my last post, I recommended a clear flexible work policy and a short trial for an employee who you think is clearly unsuitable for a virtual team due to reasons other than their role. Here I talk about why and how a trial is important.


During a trial, both manager and employee are highly aware that the effectiveness of the arrangement is being tested. This is a great basis for frank conversations about what does and doesn’t work about the arrangement, which can either lead to continuing the arrangement, stopping it altogether, or putting it on hold until related issues are resolved.


If you are very concerned about an employees’ suitability, you could start your trial with just a few hours or a single day, when you establish clear expectations. If you are less concerned, try a slightly longer trial.


It might also be useful to consider that if you are very concerned about an employee’s suitability for a virtual team, is it because you are actually concerned about their overall performance? And is this actually a management issue that needs to be faced before a virtual team trial starts?


During the trial, there is one incredibly important thing to do and that is to ensure that you have clear success and failure measures in place. What does success look like? What does failure look like? What standard do you have in mind regarding the work goals and expectations? Keep in mind not only the quantity of work, but also its quality – the standards you will use to measure ‘excellent’ or ‘average’ work over that time.


You can include communication protocols in your expectations – whether you negotiate that the employee will call in at 9 each morning, or you will Skype them at 4, or a report will be delivered at the end of the day, or week, with a list of tasks that have been done.


It is incredibly important to be honest and frank about an employee’s performance on their trial. Conversations about performance may need to be more frank and frequent and this should be an agreed basis of the trial.


Before I finish up, it is important to note that virtual work arrangements can be surprising, both to a manager and an employee.


Employees who thought they would thrive can sometimes decide that virtual work arrangements are not for them, while employees who seem totally unsuitable may flourish due to the greater transparency of work expectations that come with effective work from home arrangements. Likewise, factors such as reduced stress may actually contribute to an improvement in performance that is unexpected.


If you are tempted to flat out refuse a request to work in a virtual team on the basis of the employee’s work style, personality or other personal trait, keep in mind that you may not have all the information about whether it would actually work. Trying it out, for even a very short time, is the best way to establish common ground about the arrangement. It gives a basis for discussion.


A trial needs to be conducted alongside a clear policy that both establishes that the normal expectations of work apply and outlines the types of roles or work tasks that the organisation considers are unsuitable for work from home.


With clear measures in place, performance can be managed for virtual team members in the same way as office workers. There is often more of a reason to try virtual work arrangements than to refuse.


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