How to manage virtual employees

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

How to manage virtual employeesThere’s no one best approach to managing virtual employees, but there are sets of best practices you can adopt in a trial and error system. It depends on numerous things like (of course) individual employees, your industry, the tech savviness of workers, how you train and prepare them and what goals you have in mind. As more companies are seeing the appeal of virtual offices, from much lower overhead to happier employees, this is one trend that isn’t going anywhere.

The simple truth is that, just like a “regular” office, there are workers who will thrive in a virtual setting and those who won’t. The perfect situation is to have some workers performing virtually and others in traditional settings, matching each worker with the best environment for them. If you can swing this, that’s great but that also requires knowing which workers are best matched for which environment.

If you’re just delving into the world of the virtual office, keep these tips in mind. They won’t work every time and for every employee, but they can help you figure out the right next move.

1. Provide structure

This can be in the form of daily or weekly check-ins via chat, video conferencing or phone calls. Nearly every worker still needs their company to provide structure in some regards, but don’t do so just for the sake of it. If some workers do best at midnight and others at 10am and the needs of the company allow for that kind of flexibility, let your employees take advantage of virtual settings.

2. Hold employees accountable

This can be a rough change if employees have been content just “checking in” at the office but then spending the days on Facebook. Working from home means each employee needs to provide results on a daily basis. This is easy if they’re answering customer service calls from home, but others need to supply hard evidence of work. This might be in deliverables like websites designed or reports on SEO tasks completed for the day.

3. Be readily available

You want your employees to communicate quickly and efficiently while working from home, and you need to do the same (or their supervisor does). Communication becomes even more crucial in a virtual environment, and it requires all parties to participate. Have clear expectations and guidelines for communication in writing, as well as a disciplinary system for when it’s not followed.

4. Get tech savvy

There are plenty of free and low cost options which can be paramount to virtual success. Think cloud storage for sharing documents, video conferencing options for meetings or a designated forum for teams or departments. If you see a void in your work needs, there’s probably already a tech gadget or solution to the problem (you just need to identify it).

However, also keep an eye out for red flags that employees need to come back to the office. If their work suffers, they don’t communicate or you’re not even sure if they’re working, it’s time to take action.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.