The definition of "a day at the office" varies these days. For some businesses, having the full team gather at a physical location on a daily basis is critical, possibly because the in-person management model is most comfortable for the business owners or because the constant collaboration and teamwork are necessary.
Yet other businesses, in all industries and stages of development, are increasingly incorporating the concept of virtual work into their business models in order to cut costs and maximize resources. The recent boom in co-working and shared office space has added to this trend, giving virtual workers an alternative to coffee shops and home offices.
Managing a virtual workforce has its own set of challenges. It can be hard to keep track of what everyone’s working on. Similarly, without the ability to stop by someone’s office, it can be hard to keep a constant finger on the pulse of employee morale. Here are a few ways to manage these issues and get the most out of working with a virtual team:
- Make sure you have the right tools in place. Caroline Green, Principal of IvanExpert, a Mac-focused IT support and consulting firm, finds that giving her team access to collaboration and document sharing tools goes a long way in keeping everyone focused. Instead of walking through presentations over the phone, she chooses to use programs like Join.me, GoToMeeting or WebEx so that she can move through material point by point without losing anybody. She also tries to avoid the confusion of having multiple versions of documents emailed back and forth by leveraging tools like GoogleDocs and DropBox. And of course, shared calendar programs like iCloud offer an easy way for the whole team to keep track of important milestones and meetings.
- Reward people, virtually or otherwise. For David Shor, Founder of PLACEMENTSmedia, a full-service digital marketing agency focused on customer acquisition and retention, having a virtual workforce has kept his team focused on productivity. He keeps a close eye on billable hours and other meaningful metrics, as opposed to who’s clocking in what hours at his office. He and his management team believe in expressing appreciation and rewarding people for a job well done, particularly as his company goes through period of growth. He extends this company culture to employees who don't have the benefit of on-site camaraderie by taking the time to call or write to them and give a virtual pat on the back.
- Incorporate in-person connection. While day-to-day work may take place in separate locations, try to add in some degree of in-person connectivity. If you and your employee work in the same city, have monthly or bi-weekly meetings in person. If you’re located further away from one another, perhaps a quarterly on-site is possible. While virtual work can make productivity soar, it can also be isolating for some--particularly for those who crave a social outlet from work. If your employee falls into this camp, he or she will likely appreciate the opportunity to have some one-on-one time, sporadic as it may be.
Cari Sommer is the principal of Cari Sommer Media and Communication, a boutique communications company. She is also the Co-Founder of Urban Interns, an angel-funded company that connects growing companies with part-time help and interns.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.
[Image: Flickr user Jonas K]