- Virtual workplace is fraught with staff management challenges
- Organisations can introduce programmes like web conferencing and community events to create a sense of belonging among its virtual employees
Virtual workplace is an answer to the unreasonable demands of time and space. While organisations cannot help but take the load that comes with the pressures of competition, employees find it difficult to accommodate it in the given time span. Hence, to make things easier at both ends, the concept of virtual workplace emerged. However, alongside the benefits, it brings with it sizeable challenges. The challenges are largely embedded in the fabric of staff management and planning. HR leaders have a host of issues to combat before they set the virtual workplace to a rhythm. Of the many issues, the need to stay bonded with a feeling of belongingness for employees who are connected through nothing more than an intricate wiring is the most challenging.
Accenture, the software-solutions giant,that employs more than 170,000, empes an interesting example of how leaders, managers and employees can stay connected despite working in a virtual set up.
Dissecting the virtual wiring
Accenture may be a virtually-run organisation, but it puts in immense effort to maintain the esprit de corps among its employees. According to Jill Smart, chief human resources officer, the company’s virtual model helps keep employees in one loop and enables them to work effectively with the luxury of their own pace.
Like Accenture, there are many organisations that are increasingly opting for virtual workspaces, primarily because good talent is becoming a scarce resource and fuel is becoming an expensive commodity. People have started viewing commuting as a waste of time and therefore are opting for options like flexi-time and telecommuting. But this trend has also led to some serious staff management problems. Virtual organisations really have to work hard to develop a management model that gives a ‘community’ feeling to people working for it. In the absence of such a model the virtual set up can break away. Thus, it is important that organisations make a deliberate attempt to develop the community feeling among its employees.
At Accenture the effort to build an ‘Accenture community’ has been widely evident. The company recruits close to 60,000 people every year, and for it to ensure connectivity among employees scattered around the globe is a task that is at best complex. Nevertheless, the company has instituted a host of initiatives and programmes to create a sense of community among its employees. Of the many initiatives, use of web conferencing tools, quarterly community events, counsellor services and extensive employee orientation programmes are popular.
In addition to these, companies like Accenture also have to battle out the issue of talent drain at the client site. It is a very serious concern of consulting organisations as employees get to spend a significant amount of their work time at the client site. The employee turnover data at Accenture shows that the main reason for turnover is the stability that the client job offers To counter client lure Accenture has made some attractive changes in tts approach to wtaff management
At Accenture employees work to meet client needs. To do so, they have to work on the client site, and therefore tend to get a little cosy with them. This closeness with the client works well most of the time, but can lead to talent drain if the clients manage to lure consultants with benefits which they think are not available to them. This, experts believe, stems largely from lack of information. Many times consultants had been known to leave Accenture for benefits that were already available to them because they were unaware of the privileges. This led the management team at Accenture to launch a series of initiatives aimed at educating employees about the various career progression opportunities available to them. Most Accenture consultants left the company for the need of stability, hence providing them with options that give them stability was important. The company, therefore, introduced manager training that could help employees access options within the organisation by using web-based tools.
The options include cross-functional shifts within the company with minimal need to shift base. Employees can bank on stability with these new options. For instance, in an HR outsourcing project, consultants work at the client site for periods as long as 10 years. Hence, shifting consultants who have been hopping around to projects like these can give them the stability they need. The company’s efforts seem to be working well. Till May 2008, 30 percent of the open positions were filled internally. Employees at Accenture have begun to look inside for the benefits and comforts they seek with the clients. This is a good trend for Accenture as losing talent can threaten not only growth but also its very survival, especially in times like these.
In addition, Accenture also provides training on how counsellors can be more sensitive to issues pertaining to a virtual workplace, particularly differences arising out of different time zones and cultures. Every employee goes through an employee joiner programme which is basically an orientation programme that educates employees about the ‘Accenture way’. The company then trains the new employees on its standardised delivery methods. All this is done under the supervision of counsellors assigned to employee. These counsellors are senior managers responsible for creating a sense of belonging among the scattered Accenture staff.
Accenture’s attempt to develop a sense of community among its staff is paying off well. Organisations working on a similar model need to learn a thing or two from the consulting giant. For those, who are still contemplating about adopting the virtual staff management model, the advice is that they should first weigh the challenges of a virtual model, and only if they have the resources to counter these challenges should they consider implementing it.