How to Effectively Manage Virtual Employees
Having virtual employees is on the rise. In fact, a recent Paychex Pulse of HR Survey of HR leaders in over 300 U.S. companies with 50 to 500 employees found that 64 percent of respondents had some or all virtual employees. Offering flexibility and reducing costs (e.g. office space) are a few reasons why businesses may choose to take advantage of such a work arrangement.
But many business owners with these types of offsite employees grapple with how to effectively address workers’ needs. Respondents in the survey specifically identified managing and overseeing work, as well as assimilating workers into the work culture and environment, as primary challenges.
The challenge of staying connected
Management and oversight of virtual workers can be a precarious balance between making sure that they are doing enough to complete their tasks, and preventing burnout from overworking. Keeping virtual workers involved and connected to the team is another aspect that should be taken into consideration.
Five tips for meeting this management challenge
- Plan for success: You may want to consider the benefits of creating a policy and specific procedures outlining offsite working arrangements, such as hours of availability and frequency of communications. Establish clear policies that include accessing company systems and handling customer data and documents. You may also want to consider instituting consistent check-ins that become a regular part of the worker’s routine.
- Provide the right tools: Create a home-office setup checklist. Include basic office equipment and supplies, high-speed internet and phone, and system access procedures. Consider using a cloud-based task or project management tool so the entire team has consistent accountability and engagement, regardless of location.
- Address performance issues quickly: If you notice that a worker is struggling with deadlines or the work itself, address it as soon as you recognize it. Provide the extra training, supervision, and support to help get them on track. As mentioned above, regular check-ins and feedback sessions can help your offsite employees tremendously.
- Use technology to enhance virtual collaborations: Angela Yutangco, Paychex HR consultant, suggests going beyond a regular conference call by using Skype or WebEx for video calls. Doing so can allow everyone to see each other's reactions and emotions, and experience full virtual interaction.
- Make time for in-person meetings: Depending on the situation, you may rarely have face-to-face meetings with your virtual workers. Yutangco notes that one of the pitfalls of having a virtual workforce is that team members can miss out on the human connection with managers and other employees. It's important to make time for in-person interactions whenever possible. Being able to collaborate in the same room and feed off each other's energy can increase productivity and creativity.
In many industries, a virtual workforce can be highly effective. With sufficient planning and consistent communication, this work arrangement can be successful in your business as well.