If you are looking for a guide to managing a virtual workforce that expands upon human resources procedures beginning from hiring the right people, to helping them succeed in a virtual position, to helping someone transition back onsite if the arrangement doesn’t work out, The Virtual Manager by Kevin Sheridan does exactly that. This book opens up with a thorough explanation of the advantages of having a virtual workforce (e.g., the business case – enhancing the ability to recruit and retain talent as well as increasing worker productivity). However, it also addresses the inherent challenges of effective communication.
Like other books on telework I’ve read, Sheridan then explains the traits and characteristics of people who are likely to succeed as virtual employees. I agree with much of what he says here. However, in the section on interviewing, he states that successful candidates would indicate that they “expect to keep normal business hours,” (p. 64) and that an answer such as “I work best at night” (p.65) is a red flag. This is an issue that I would like to have explained further so that this can be reconciled with the section on working hours towards the end of the book (pp. 192-193). In this latter section, Sheridan makes it clear that it would be ideal to allow employees to work when they are the most productive (as long as other conditions of employment such as having to interact directly with customers is not impacted). This is followed by his support for having a Results-Only Work Environment (such that productivity rather than hours worked is important) especially where a remote work system is concerned.
Sheridan emphasizes that managers need to look out for perceptions of unfairness among onsite staff and ensure that fairness with regard to policies and procedures (e.g., how would salaries be adjusted, due to change in cost of living, if a virtual employee relocates). However, by having employees understand that working offsite is a privilege that can be revoked (p. 68) a scenario is set up in which employees may then come to view onsite work as beneath offsite work as other telework authors have cautioned. Yes, there should be a procedure in place to reinstate employees back onsite if the arrangement does not work out, but perhaps “privilege” isn’t the right word.
Despite the inconsistencies noted, The Virtual Manager, is still a great guide for thinking about human resources policies and procedures. Sheridan demonstrates great understanding of employee engagement and distinguishes this from employee satisfaction. “Satisfaction is contentment with the organization, whereas engagement is taking the initiative to make the organization exceptional” (p. 78). Moreover, he understands why engagement is of utmost importance where virtual employees are concerned.