10 Sep Undiscovered Treasure: Virtual Teams Key to Accessing Rural and Small-Town Workers
When recruiting we look for skills and abilities rather than work history. We’re prepared to be “outside the box”.
She’s your ideal worker. She’s educated, an experienced problem-solver, and works well as a team member to deal with a problem your company needs to solve. And, she’s likely to stay the course without getting hired away.
Who is she? We’ll give her a name – Vanessa. She’s one of Canada’s small-town rural women. Vanessa is part of a valuable, untapped pool of workers. She has a lot to offer any employer who can find a way to engage her full capabilities.
Our company, Sales Beacon, has had good success in reaching a Vanessa-type workforce, and this article tells some of what we’ve learned.
Before going further, it’s important to note that Sales Beacon is an equal-opportunity employer, and much of what we’ll discuss works for all genders. But to date, our greatest success has come from working with women in rural Canada.
What’s limiting – and great – about rural Canada
For many city-dwelling Canadians, small towns and villages are places to pass through, or maybe as a short-term destination for a weekend. But they can also be great places to live – neighbours look out for each other, there’s great community spirit, and the cost of living is low.
However, many of these towns are hollowing out – small factories have closed and local stores cannot compete with the chain stores in a nearby town. Young people are less interested in farming, so they get their education and leave. Some are losing population, but more to the point, they’re losing good career opportunities.
But Vanessa loves her community. Married or not, with children or not, it could be that she has family and friends close by, and she wants to be there for them.
Her frustration is that although she’s an educated and experienced worker, there are few opportunities to use her background to earn the kind of money she could in the City. The few locally-available jobs are often seasonal, low-paid and part-time. Working freelance is an option, but few companies are set up to provide full-time work to employees not willing to commute.
The upside is that if your company can find a way to use what Vanessa has to offer, she’ll be dedicated and loyal. That’s partly because you’ve flexed your offering to meet her needs, and she’s grateful. And quite bluntly, it’s partly because of her lack of good alternatives.
Technology makes virtual teams practical
A potential game-changer in being able to reach out to Vanessa comes through technology. Trends include:
- More availability of high-speed Internet access in smaller communities, making bandwidth-demanding applications possible
- Ready availability of technology – low-cost, highly capable computers, practical video conferencing tools, and Cloud-based solutions that allow workers to get remote access from anywhere
- A growing understanding of what works – and doesn’t – for remote workers and virtual teams
Keys to making virtual teams successful
This last point matters, because while there was great initial enthusiasm when “telecommuting” became popular a decade or so ago, some companies have rolled back their remote-working and virtual-office programs, complaining of poor productivity and worker dissatisfaction. This has provided some valuable lessons that we’ve taken to heart when working with people such as Vanessa. These are:
Hire workers who are right for the job environment
Not all workers are suited for remote work. Some thrive on the human interaction of an office, or personal connection with customers. Stuck in a home office with a view of their back yard, they’d be miserable. Some lack the self-discipline needed to be productive. Others aren’t able to set up a work environment that is conducive to remote work – maybe too many disruptions in which their personal life overlaps with their professional life.
So, a big part of success at Sales Beacon lies in finding workers who are suited to working from home in a remote access way.
The technology is available and affordable to support remote workers acting in virtual teams, and there is a demand for this kind of service.
Hire for talent, not history
We’re well aware that many people have bumps and gaps in their work history, particularly women who may have taken time off to raise a family. So, when recruiting we look for skills and abilities rather than work history. We’re prepared to be “outside the box” about this – our view is that if Vanessa can organize a weekend trip for students at her high school, she might have communication and project management skills we can develop and use.
We actively review our employees’ performance to determine what they’re particularly good at, and then find a way for them to exercise those skills.
Train, train, train
A lot of what we do involves project management – training our client’s customers on how to use the product, providing customer service so our client’s salespeople can focus on building their sales funnel, managing a sales incentive program, or other outsourced project. We train our new employees for three months for this sort of work, and also provide a highly effective mentoring program too. The skills we focus on are project management and effective communication.
It’s a great time to be in business. The technology is available and affordable to support remote workers acting in virtual teams, and there is a demand for this kind of service. As a result, we’re able to offer some amazing workers – such as our imaginary Vanessa – opportunities that they could only dream of, and from the comfort of their own homes.