How to Keep Virtual Employees on Task
Q: How do you manage virtual employees and keep them on task (and on message) from afar?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization composed of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published "#FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good)," a book of 30-plus proven solutions to help end youth unemployment. Founded by Scott Gerber, the YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.
A: Use Productivity Sites
Sites like Basecamp and Asana have made virtual work management a lot easier. With the ability to assign tasks and check them off lists, you can cut down on all of the "Did you finish this yet?" emails!
Caitlin McCabe (twitter.com/caitlinmc), Real Bullets Branding (realbulletsbranding.com/)
A: Create and Implement Structures
A remote position can feel very unstructured, so it's important for you to create that structure via a consistent schedule for what tasks happen when, what is expected of employees on what day each week, etc. Create a very consistent schedule for them in terms of day-of-the-week projects, reports and deadlines, and do your own part to stay on that schedule too.
Stephanie Kaplan (twitter.com/stephaniekaplan), Her Campus Media (hercampus.com)
A: Clarify Everything
Be very clear about individual responsibilities and expectations. Don't worry so much about where an employee is at any given time, as long as he or she is getting the necessary results. And as a manager, show up in person from time to time — it makes a world of difference in terms of their level of trust and respect.
Alexandra Levit (twitter.com/alevit), Inspiration at Work (alexandralevit.com)
A: Communicate and Communicate
The best way to keep everyone on track when working virtually? Over-communicate. Make sure that goals, deadlines and expectations are clearly outlined from the onset, and clearly articulate these milestones throughout the process to ensure things stay on track. Open and clear communication is essential, especially when working with others through a computer screen.
Matt Cheuvront (twitter.com/mattchevy), Proof Branding (proofbranding.com/)
A: Stick to Your Own Accountability
Set the proper expectations from the beginning of the relationship, and do not let people slide. Let them know what you expect, when it will be expected and how you will inspect what you expect. If employees don't fulfill their agreements for work, do not let them off too easily. You must have consequences in place, and don't be afraid to fire someone until you find the right match for you.
Louis Lautman (twitter.com/louislautman), Young Entrepreneur Society (youngentrepreneursociety.com/)
A: Promote Team Collaboration
About 40 percent of our staff is remote, so we use chat (Skype and HipChat) to maintain an ongoing connection. It's a great place to share quick updates, ideas and files. When a concept needs further explanation, we just jump into a quick video chat and talk it through — “face to face.”
Allie Siarto (twitter.com/allieo), Loudpixel (loudpixel.com)
A: Recommit Each Week
What will your employees complete each week? Set a list of goals each Monday morning. As the week goes on, see if they are making progress or not — and intervene if necessary.
Nathan Lustig (twitter.com/nathanlustig), Entrustet (nathanlustig.com)
A: Shoot for Milestones
It's not as easy or as spontaneous to check in with employees who work remotely, compared to team members around the office. For virtual employees, consider breaking up tasks into milestones of a project. This will ensure consistent communication throughout the life cycle of the project, saving time and effort in the long term.
Doreen Bloch (twitter.com/DoreenBloch), Poshly Inc. (poshly.com/)
A: Don't Go Hourly
I like project-based rates over hourly rates. It's much easier to check if a project is complete rather than try to check up on just how an individual spends her time. I've got better things to do than to play nursemaid: I bring in good people and I pay them specifically for the work they've completed. It's not my responsibility to watch over their shoulders.
Thursday Bram (twitter.com/thursdayb), Hyper Modern Consulting (hypermodernconsulting.com)
A: Implement Virtual Time Sheets
I hire virtual employees on oDesk and then manage their work with Google Docs. Employees update spreadsheets and check in with questions, while oDesk tracks their hours and keeps them accountable.
Lucas Sommer (twitter.com/audimated), Audimated (audimated.com/)
A: Review Their Work
Especially when you have people working virtually, it's essential that you make time to regularly review their work and give them feedback. This keeps them accountable and gives you the opportunity to redirect them if they start to get off track.
Elizabeth Saunders (twitter.com/RealLifeE), Real Life E (ScheduleMakeover.com/)
A: Round Them Up Often
We utilize a lot of technology to keep everyone focused, including Google Plus Hangouts and Yammer. Still, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. We have daily, weekly and quarterly meetings for virtual employees to come in and reaffirm goals, tasks and progress.
Nick Friedman (twitter.com/NickFriedman1), College Hunks Hauling Junk (collegehunkshaulingjunk.com/)