Managing Your New Virtual Team
Remote supervision depends more upon openness than concrete task management. For example, my company believes in a “top-down” philosophy, and management displays a caring attitude geared toward meeting the needs of the staff. By setting the example we want our employees to follow, we’ve instituted a culture of free-flowing communication.
Our staff communicates via a group Skype chat during the workday. This allows questions to be answered immediately, yet with minimal interruption. Because all projects are collaborative, each staff member writes weekly goals that are discussed with the group. Co-working relationships are enhanced by occasional company retreats.
Many experiences have proven that remote employees’ morale suffers when they aren’t clear on the standards their supervisors expect them to follow. Give your staff some say over their own benchmarks. Make it clear when items need to be prioritized differently or a new task pops up. If someone can be trusted to work remotely, they should also be trusted to understand their workload.
The truth is, not every business model lends itself to a remote setup, including businesses that require micromanagement or a lot of face time. The individual responsibilities of each role need to be considered — your grant writer may be able to work remotely, while your graphic designer may be better suited to a centralized office setting.
Structure is critical to your mission. I live in Costa Rica while running my business, and though living in a tropical paradise could be distracting, my work environment is structured as it would be elsewhere. A real office, with normal work hours, is required for productivity. Access to the necessary amenities — FedEx, Office Depot, banks, etc. — also needs to be taken into account. The Amazon is not a great spot for a remote company branch.
Like the old story about the ant and the grasshopper, remote work requires that you understand yourself and your staff intimately. If the company CFO is more of a grasshopper and finds himself easily distracted, he’s not going to succeed as a remote worker. Be honest with yourself and your staff: don’t set a great employee up for failure by granting an opportunity that’s a bad fit.
With due diligence, a solid hiring philosophy, and a thorough understanding of your systems, your company can find success in remote work. Improving job satisfaction among staff by allowing them to work from a location of their choosing improves your satisfaction as well — you’ll get better productivity, stronger communication and a willingness to go the extra mile. And when your employees talk about never coming back to the office, you’ll know they mean it in the best way.
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