Engaging virtual employees or contractors can be an ideal way for small businesses to grow by attracting workers in a competitive job market or accessing the specific talents they need no matter where the consultant lives.
But while alternative work arrangements are clearly the wave of the future, managing virtual workers can be tricky. Here are four tips for effectively managing a dispersed team to make sure that out of sight doesn’t lead to out of mind.
1. Be clear about responsibilities, but don’t micromanage
You want to make sure that all team members are pulling their weight, but that might not mean a strict 9-to-5 workday. Maybe your virtual employee prefers to work late at night or early in the morning. As long as the work gets done, cut them some scheduling slack. And remember that contractors likely have clients besides you, so make sure you are clear on the hours you expect them to devote to your company.
Instead, consider project management systems the likes of Basecamp or Asana to track workflows and post updates. Other helpful tools are file sharing programs, including GoogleDocs or Dropbox and conferencing options such as Join.me or WebEx.
Holding regular team calls, whether via voice or video, can allow for project updates as well as fostering a sense of camaraderie. Kick off each meeting with some informal chat time, to create that “virtual water cooler” ambiance, and then have each employee give a brief report on their work.
If team members are in different time zones, stagger the call time so that one employee isn’t constantly forced to wake up early or join the call during dinnertime. And remember that from time to time, it’s important to host a face-to-face team building activity.
4. Provide regular feedback
With an in-office employee, it might seem natural to give a “Good job!” after a presentation or make small talk about a sales win while you’re waiting for the coffee to brew. But absent those spontaneous encounters with your remote workers, you have to consciously seek out ways to offer feedback and coaching.
And remember that without as many informal opportunities to offer positive coaching, any negative feedback you give might resonate even more. That’s why it’s even more important to be thoughtful about delivering bad news to remote employees. Make sure you offer constructive suggestions and end the conversation on a positive note so the worker realizes the criticism is situation-specific and not directed at their overall work product.
About the Author
Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer covering business and consumer topics. She creates branded content for Fortune 500 companies, and her work has appeared in LearnVest, Costco Magazine, Forbes, TheGlassHammer.com and IDEA Fitness. Follow her @cathieericson.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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