7 Tips for Managing Virtual Employees
Tuesday October 6th, 2015
Estimated time to read: 3 minutes, 45 seconds
The Internet has made working from home a reality for employees and has completely changed the way businesses operate in the modern world. No longer do business owners have to pay for office space, they can simply meet with their employees virtually and still get business done.
Hiring virtual employees has proven to be very advantageous for many businesses, helping to cut down on costs and streamline workflow. By widening the hiring pool from local to global allows employers to select from a range of talent.
However, with all of the advantages of allowing employees to work virtually, there is no getting around the fact that managing them can prove to be challenging. This is not to say that you can’t manage your virtual employees successfully, you just need to have to have the knowledge and tools to do so.
The following tips will help you be able to transition from a traditional management style to working with virtual employees quickly and effectively.
Hire employees who are the right fit for virtual work
Take time to assess your employee candidates and decide if they are a good fit for virtual work. You may want to take a look at their home/work space environment.
Do they have a quiet place to work? Are they surrounded by many distractions? Are they living alone and unable to get out and socialize? Both distractions and isolation can be issues and it’s important to make sure that your team is happy & productive working from home.
Also assess their self motivation and time management skills as they will be more responsible for keeping themselves on track as a virtual employee than they would be working in an office.
Create a sense of community
When all of your employees are working from home and possibly live in different states/countries and time zones, it is easy for everyone to forget that they are part of a team.
Because your virtual team members don’t work in the same location, they may not communicate and collaborate as much as they need to.
In a virtual environment you can still create a sense of community for your employees by creating opportunities for team members to “chat” both formally and informally.
Some great tools to use for enabling “chats” are online chat rooms (like Skype and Slack), project management software (like Basecamp and Trello), and video conferencing (like Google+ Hangout and WebEx).
Check in with your team
Complete a quarterly (or monthly if you are so inclined) review to see how your virtual employees are coping. Really this goes hand-in-hand with creating a sense of community.
Your employees may be feeling lonely and isolated as they work from home. Be sure to check in and make sure that all your team members feel like they are part of a team and that they have support when/if they need it.
Let your virtual employees know that you recognize and appreciate them. Add a personal touch by remembering birthdays, sending out words of encouragement and acknowledging accomplishments.
Be available for your virtual employees. With your team possibly located in different time zones, you will need to be willing to keep a bit of a flexible schedule in order to communicate directly with your employees and answer any questions they may have.
Just like rules are in place in an office, you need to set rules for your virtual employees. Keeping all your employees on task may prove to be more difficult when they all work virtually and you can’t keep a direct eye on them.
You can set rules for your employees such as having them “clock in” at a certain time and set a number of times they have to check in throughout the day.
Developing a documented, standardized way of working that all employees have to follow. This will keep everyone on the same page and ensure that all work produced is consistent.
Make expectations clear
Put into writing exactly what you expect from the virtual work arrangement for each of your employees. These expectations should include work deadlines, availability, and response times.
You can also include small details that are specific to your business that you think could cause problems when working with a virtual team.
Be sure that you also find out what your employee’s expectations are. Does your employee plan on taking time off during the day and work at night? Does he or she plan on working long hours some days and take other days off?
Discussing what you both expect from each other will prevent misunderstandings later on.
Constantly test technology
When your team all works virtually, technology is the most important (really the ONLY) method for communicating and getting the work done. For this reason, nothing is more frustrating for employers and employees alike when the technology you use isn’t functioning properly.
As the manager of your virtual team, it is your responsibility to be continuously testing your technology to make sure everything's running smoothly for your team. Trouble shoot any problems you may have and get them resolved quickly before productivity is delayed too much.
If the tools you use are constantly having issues, you may need to find some new tools to use and get your virtual team familiar with them quickly.
Develop cultural sensitivity
It is likely that your virtual employees are based around the world. For this reason, being culturally aware in your virtual environment is even more important than in face to face settings.
In virtual settings it is easier to create misunderstandings and finding offense when tonal inflection and facial expressions are not present in text. Avoiding feelings of mistrust and offense is best done by educating your employees on cultural sensitivity.
Cultivate cultural sensitivity in your team by making everyone aware of cultural differences and promoting cultural training for all employees.
Hiring a virtual team is a great way for businesses to save some extra money and to have a broader selection of talent. However, managing a virtual team, keeping everyone on the same page and accountable may prove to be a bit more challenging, though certainly doable. By following the tips provided above, you will be well on your way to managing a productive and successful team of virtual employees.