As online collaboration tools become increasingly sophisticated, a growing number of small businesses are going virtual and learning how to take advantage of the global talent marketplace.
For example, my business employs over 70 people from across the country, and a remote model has worked well for us. We recruit new hires based on skills and work experience, rather than their geographic location, and our team members have the flexibility to live and work wherever they choose. This also means that we don’t absorb the expenses or overhead of maintaining a physical workspace.
However, managing a virtual company requires a different mindset — both for employees and employers.
How to Set Expectations for Success
Whether you are starting a new business or transitioning your existing company to a virtual workplace model, it is important to: set boundaries, create a clear vision, establish effective processes and define measurable goals. This will ensure your team feels supported and produces high-quality work on time and on budget.
Here are a few ways that can be accomplished:
Explain to job candidates and current team members how working remotely will differ from working in an office environment. There are real challenges, and you should be emphasizing them rather than downplaying them. Candidates who know they are not a good fit for a remote environment can opt out of the hiring process.
Establish a system of clear and open communication throughout the organization. Make every employee feel comfortable pitching ideas directly to senior leadership. Whether you decide to use email, instant messaging, the phone, video chat, or a combination of those mediums, it’s crucial to establish consistent expectations from the beginning.
Team members should meet certain goals throughout the duration of a project, sales cycle, or specific time period.
Know Business Processes, Intimately
With a virtual business, it is tempting to bombard your team with emails and telephone calls. Instead of spending your time and energy managing every small detail, focus efforts on building processes that allow employees to use their time as efficiently as possible.
When leaders create adequate processes, they have a much better understanding of the steps necessary to produce a given result. If you don’t understand the process, it’s far more difficult to fairly evaluate your team members’ contributions.
Measure and Manage Productivity
When you experience a drop in productivity (it happens from time to time in all companies) it can be difficult to quickly determine the cause. Below are several suggestions to help you avoid and identify potential productivity pitfalls before they negatively impact your bottom line.
Establish standard protocol.
You must have a system for periodically evaluating certain company-specific benchmarks. Attach benchmarks to periods of time or stages in a process — do not simply evaluate final results.
You cannot objectively evaluate business results without having access to quantifiable data. Invest in resources to identify and measure your business’ key performance indicators, then track them over time.
Teach, observe, and review.
Show your team what must be done, then observe them doing it independently. Review your findings with team members and explain how they can improve.
Anticipate and plan for declines.
Create reward systems, processes and trainings that guide individuals down the most productive path.
Extinguish small fires immediately.
Address small issues before they become major crises, and demonstrate to individuals how they can improve before they’re underperforming.
While shifting work from the office to a remote setting can be profoundly beneficial for your company, keep in mind that reducing overhead does not mean reducing the amount of guidance, direction and leadership you owe your team. Virtual businesses require strong, consistent leadership to ensure that both employee growth and productivity remain on track. In some cases, such a company may even demand more from you as a leader. However, with the right processes and the right people in place, going virtual can work wonders for your business.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors, a technology platform for private academic tutoring and test prep designed to help students at all levels of education achieve academic excellence. Connect with @chuckcohn on Twitter.
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