By: Michael Tasner
Finding a good work life balance as a small business owner can be very challenging, let alone running a 100% virtual-based business. Yet when managed correctly, virtual employees can be a great asset. Unfortunately, without effective management, keeping virtual employees productive can be a struggle.
Based on my experience in running a virtual company over the past 11 years, I have put together four of the top secrets to virtual management and managing virtual employees.
Secret 1: Setting the ground rules.
Working remotely is different from working in an office. For starters, you’re atnot surrounded by your coworkers and supervisors, so work can take on a different dynamic.
In order to ensure efficient employee performance from your virtual workers, it is important that you set the groundwork from day one. Employees should have a dedicated working space and working hours. Within that space and hours, they are expected to be within reach of their phones or computers.
Some firms allow more flexibility than others, but your company's policy needs to be clearly stated so that employees can be held accountable. If your handbook does not include information related to working remotely, it should be updated to include this information. Most of the policies in the handbook should be all inclusive for both virtual workers and in-house staff.
Secret 2: Provide some "face time."
For both the sanity of the employee and the manager, there needs to be some "face time" throughout the week. Since many of your employees may be scattered throughout the world, this face time does not need to be in person.
Instead, I recommend you use webcams for meetings and make it a requirement. General communication tends to be through email. In a typical office setting, you can walk next door to your co-workers office for clarification on an email. This is not easy with a virtual employee. Instead, call a brief meeting via webcam and get any clarification that is needed. Webcams allow you to see expressions and overall tones that might have been lost in translation.
Skype is widely used by many for webcam conferencing. The best part; it's free. It also has the ability to have multiple people on webcams at the same time sharing their cameras. Make it a point to chat via webcam for at least ten minutes a day.
Secret 3: Reporting.
As a virtual manager, you will not be there to "police" employee production, and the ability to drop things off on someone's desk is not possible. Therefore, an adequate reporting measure must be established. We use Basecamp as our project management system to track the flow of projects as well as to track time. Our employees (and contractors) log their time and their tasks into Basecamp and link any critical files with those tasks. This puts everything into a central place and allows for easier managing.
Google Documents is also a great place to share and setup report templates. Dropbox is an additional tool that can be used for file sharing. Our staff "drops" their daily reports and files into a folder. Those files are then immediately uploaded to their manager’s computer. Daily, weekly and monthly reporting is absolutely essential.
There is a common belief that virtual workers do not work as hard, compared to if they worked in an office. I actually believe the opposite is true. How much time is wasted talking at the water cooler, or just having meetings for the sake of meetings? Getting consistent reports eliminates any worries that someone may not be putting in their time.
Secret 4: In-person meetings.
Lastly, the fourth secret. This is the one that is most often overlooked and is a cause for concern if overlooked for too long; in-person meetings. Having virtual employees is great, but you should spend at least a few days a year meeting and bonding in-person.
Many people tend to hide behind computers and webcams, but you cannot play down the value of face-to-face meetings. I recommend having a yearly company retreat somewhere fun where you focus on team-building and bonding. The key takeaway is your virtual employees feel bonded with you and the company.
Having virtual employees is a great asset. When they are managed and treated well, they can be productivity powerhouses!
Michael Tasner is author of Marketing in the Moment: The Practical Guide to Using Web 3.0 Marketing to Reach Your Customers First. An entrepreneur, author, speaker, and charity proponent, Tasner founded Taz Solutions, Inc., in 2000 and has built it into a leading Web marketing firm with more than 100 contractors involved in all areas of online/Internet strategy, marketing, and web site design. For more information, please visit michaeltasner.com, follow the author on Twitter and connect with him on Facebook.