When managed and treated well, remote workforces can be productivity powerhouses. But when mismanaged, off-site employees can be unpredictable and unreliable.
Consider the following tips for recruiting, retaining, and managing a virtual workforce.
- Conduct video-based interviews. This is a good way to gauge professionalism, work ethic, accountability and culture fit. Look for professional decorum and skilled communication. If a candidate is dressed in casual attire, flusters easily or continuously looks away from the camera, it's probably a bad sign. If the applicant can't perform a simple video interview without fumbling with the technology, he or she may lack the know-how for essential, job-related tasks. Remember, while work-from-home positions are currently in high demand, not all applicants are qualified to handle the responsibility.
- Set ground rules. It's easier to establish and enforce basic work rules in a physical workplace than a virtual environment. It’s imperative that remote workers uphold basic standards. Make sure your virtual team knows when they are expected to be working and/or available for phone calls. Set clear deadlines and policies, so your remote employees won't be caught off-guard. Your remote team should always have a dedicated work space and working hours. If your handbook doesn't include information related to working remotely, update it as soon as possible.
- Leverage screen sharing tools. This is a great way to share your computer screen, so remote workers can see exactly what you are doing and how you are doing it. Many of these platforms are available free to smaller teams, and some allow you to control another computer remotely.
- Collaborate via the cloud. Google Drive and Dropbox offer seamless file-sharing capabilities that allow your entire team to create and edit projects from anywhere. You can also set allowances and limitations to prevent unauthorized or unintentional edits.
- Rely on a project management system. Even smaller teams inevitably have problems when they try to handle everything via email. By allowing you to organize conversations and documents into projects, project management systems promote greater efficiency and accountability.
- Resist the itch to micromanage. If you're new to managing a virtual workforce, you might be troubled by the lack of oversight. If you constantly agitate your workers with frequent emails, phone calls or hourly reports, however, you will undermine their performance. Again, clearly define your goals, expectations and deadlines on day one. Then step back, and let your employees do the job they were hired to do.
- Don't ignore your virtual staff. When it comes to running a profitable business, out of sight should never mean out of mind. By staying in touch with your virtual workers, you can get a better idea of how they are performing while giving them a greater sense of belonging. You don't need to go to extremes, but you should call employees periodically or schedule regular teleconferences to get project updates. You can also use Google Calendar and project management systems to create a more seamless workflow.
Meeting in Person
While it might not be possible to fly in remote workers from long distances, meeting in person is always preferable. This can be especially beneficial during the interview process. You can also create a stronger company culture by scheduling a retreat or team-building activity that includes both in-house and remote employees.