Small Business management tactics to maximize production of remote employee.
They are all around us, lounging in coffee shops, walking around the mall with a blue tooth in their ear, sitting at home behind closed doors. The army of remote or virtual workers is growing in numbers every day.
The technology and a global economy as created more opportunity for workers from anywhere in the globe to provide high quality services over the phone or Internet to people or organizations who need their services. Many organizations are no longer restricted to hiring locally to accommodate a short-term or even long-term need.
Hiring a virtual worker can offer a solid benefit of costs savings in addition to access to a larger, global talent pool. Virtual workers are often more able to meet their own needs for flexibility, choice of residence, savings on commute and other expenses and find work they can do and ideally enjoy.
While there are disadvantages associated with hiring remote workers these are generally manageable. Potential challenges include managing a long distance relationship, tracking and following up on completion of work and navigating a different workflow.
Many working relationships are based on the ability to casually connect on personal and professional items as needed and sometimes access to a remote worker can inhibit relationship building.
A remote worker is also highly dependant on technology.
In the event of a loss of power or Internet connection or a problem with the technology they are using it may be more difficult to compensate by walking down the hall and talking to someone or using the technology in a different location.
If your remote worker is located in a different geography or time zone coordination of activities and meetings may be more of a challenge. Generally, however, these challenges can be mitigated with planning and awareness.
I have managed and been part of a remote workforce for many years and it is possible to build and sustain relationships and get the work done well for a fair price when you take the time and make the effort to understand what you need and how a virtual worker would function within your business.
6 Steps to Build and Sustain a Remote Workforce
1. Choosing and Crafting the Right Positions:
Technology is enabling a vast number of roles to be delivered and managed virtually.
For the most part roles that require manual or personal hands-on touch are difficult to source out to a virtual employee, though fewer than you may think. Even some manual labour roles can be virtually delivered or at least managed.
You may not be able to have a heavy equipment operator do his/her job virtually but you may be able to hire and manage that person without every meeting him/her in person.
Some roles may be suited to complete and full time virtual operations and others may require some level of on site access. The more you take the time to consider how the role will function and define that from the outset the smoother the relationship will be.
2. Ensure the Right Technology and Support:
Your virtual workers need access to reliable technology and technical support. Budget to provide them with a company computer, cell phone, tablet, printer, appropriate plans (fast and enough bandwidth) and Internet connection and access to cloud based company emails and file storage and sharing.
Provide them with specifications and training on how to work and stay connected.
3. Create Clear Process and Expectations:
Virtual workers really may work from Starbucks and for many that is a perk that makes the job attractive. Create a very clear onboarding process that includes expectations for workflow, reporting and communications. Find supporting technology tools that enable effective communications, often beyond email, to help keep communications from getting cluttered and bogged down.
4. Build Effectiveness Through Regular Touchstone Meetings:
Coordination of a number of people working remotely in different regions can be difficult but it is important that at least once a week you touch base with a remote worker in a formal way.
This can include a weekly or bi-weekly virtual team meeting with several remote workers and a weekly or bi-weekly meeting between a worker and a supervisor. Use technology such as SKYPE or Web-ex to enable video communications to help bring a more personal relationship to the table.
5. Build Relationships:
Take the time to get to know your remote workers and provide opportunities for them to get to know you and other employees.
Providing or posting an org chart with pictures, brief profiles and locations can help build connections. At each meeting take the time to profile one worker and ask that person to share some interesting information.
When you hold virtual meetings add an element of small talk at the beginning. Consider a topical theme to begin each meeting and ask the participants on say one thing about the theme, something as simple as what was the best movie you saw in the past few months or even what is the weather like where you are.
Encourage interaction in appropriate social networks such as LinkedIn or somewhere else employees can ‘bump’ into one another.
6. Focus on the work not counting time:
Provide remote workers with deadlines but understand that their workflow may not match with the work patterns of an employee who is present in the office.
Depending on the job remote workers may not work 9-5. If their role includes coverage for specific hours of the day then spell this out clearly. Indicate your expectations for responsiveness to you, colleagues and if relevant customers, clients or the public.
Indicating you expect a response within 12 or 24 business hours for normal requests is fine generally, however if you expect them to be ‘on duty’ as a certain time you may indicate an expectation of a 30 minute response or acknowledgement window. If the work is getting done within time line expectations don’t focus on the specific time of day.
Virtual workers can be a cost and time saving measure and a way to increase retention of good employees for a small or medium sized business.
Don’t shy away from the opportunity to hire a virtual employee but put in place the steps you need to make it work for the employee, you and your business.