Keeping Tabs on Remote Workers: How to Overcome Common Pitfalls Of Virtual Offices

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Hiring remote employees has its pros and cons. Here are some tips on how to boost their productivity and stay on task outside the office.

Having a virtual office can be both exciting and scary.

On one hand, you have all these modern, talented individuals from any corner of the globe who will be your company’s greatest asset.

On the other hand, they can get pretty unruly if they had their way.

In time, you will learn to adjust your processes and levels of communication so that everything could fall into place.

Beat virtual office roadblocks! Keep these tips in mind to avoid common mistakes and increase productivity.

Related Article: Are They or Aren't They? How to Keep Employees Productive When Working From Home

Different Time Zones

If you ask entrepreneurs and business leaders what makes virtual offices so scary, they’d say it’s because of time restraints. Unlike being in a physical space with other employees, you can’t exactly tap someone on the shoulder and explain your idea in detail. Brainstorming sessions become almost next to impossible. But a virtual office’s biggest drawback is perhaps its biggest advantage: for one, you don’t have to lose great people over something as nonsensical as location.

So how do you manage a successful project if one staff is in Hawaii and the other is in Singapore? Choose tools that allow others to see what the conversation was about, even if they just logged in. Q&A community Stack Exchange uses chats so that everyone on the team can see what they were just talking about even after the others had logged out. Aside from email, other helpful tools include Skype and Redbooth.

Measuring Productivity

This is perhaps the biggest roadblock to virtual offices. When you’re miles away, you can’t really be certain if someone rushed through their work or spent long hours on a project. Good thing technology is on our side today. Carefully pick online tools that would aid you in recording and measuring your team’s performance.

Tony Restell, the founder of Social-Hire.com, uses several at his disposal to ensure he has seamless integration with all his members during a campaign. Tools like Teamviewer come in handy so you can keep an eye on your workers. Google spreadsheets, which are updated in real time, are something to try as well.

Giving Bad News

It’s easy to sit down with an employee and give them feedback – but this becomes a real challenge when that person works miles away from you. How do you deliver bad news to someone you can’t see in person?

Follow one rule: NEVER give anything negative via email!

It’s considered rude, inappropriate, and lazy. Reach out to the person by way of video chat or phone. But if that person can be called to the office, then schedule a date. This prevents your words from being misinterpreted and keeps relationships intact.

Career and workplace expert Heather Huhman suggests following the “hire slow, fire fast” concept. To avoid having to dole out negative feedback all the time, be sure that your virtual workers have been screened well. However, should anything negative show itself along the way, don’t be afraid to cut the cord. Remember: bad news spreads fast – and you don’t want your virtual office affected by anything harmful.

Related Article: Remote vs. In-Office Workers: Which Employee Is Actually Better?

Isolation Issues

While virtual offices provide people the convenience of working anywhere they please, it can create a feeling of isolation for a few – especially newbies in the freelance business. Even those at home will feel the blues once in a while. Let your online tools save the day. Use video conferencing to brainstorm as a group, OR casually open small talk with your team on Skype. Form social media groups on platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook to have a common outlet for your members.

NodeSource CEO Joe McCann understands this dilemma and thus encourages a sense of autonomy and responsibility to his new hires. He reminds his staff that although their job is important, they shouldn’t ignore their personal lives. He supports his employees’ activities outside of the company so that they wouldn’t have to feel alone. McCann has a strong sense of trust and confidence in the people he works with – even if he has never met most of them.

Fostering Team Spirit

It’s easy to hang out after work or go on company retreats when everyone is just a few feet away from each other. But what if your workers are oceans apart? Aside from utilizing screen sharing tools and video to encourage communication, create a system that allows for REAL physical contact if a chance presents itself.

Online community Upworthy is an awesome example of fostering team spirit to their employees who live all over the world. In an interview with Inc.com, they said they prioritize their time together by arranging company retreats every eight months, and they also give staff incentives should two or more of their employees be in the same city.

If your freelancers live in the same area, why not get together for coffee on a weekend? It’s possible to maintain a degree of professionalism while letting people feel that they are a part of something BIG!

Related Article: From Our Home to Yours: The Art of Managing a Remote Team

Think of virtual offices like long distance relationships. They need constant communication, trust, and quick conflict resolution to work effectively. They’re not for everyone. It’s not going to be easy – but keeping an open mind is essential. Let your employees know that you’re always available. Have a ready, approachable aura so they will feel more inclined to open up.

With a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, your virtual office can produce stellar results on time, every time.

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