by Nicole Johnson
As many of us know, running a successful, profitable business is no small task. But running a successful, profitable business that’s staffed by a virtual workforce? That presents unique challenges!
Since starting my company, The Baby Sleep Site®, in 2008, I’ve learned a lot (and I mean a lot!) about what it takes to manage a staff of telecommuting employees, including how to keep your employees accountable, how to ensure productivity, and more.
Here are my top 5 tips for successfully managing a virtual workforce!
5 Top Tips For Successfully Managing A Virtual Workforce
1. Hire trustworthy people who are excellent self-starters and time-managers. This may be the best gift you give yourself, as a business owner with virtual employees. Since you won’t have daily face-time with them, and since you won’t be able to actually see what they’re working on each day, it’s critical that you hire employees who have a proven record of task management. You want employees who are excellent self-starters and who excel at managing their time and directing their own work flows. The confidence in your workforce will free you up (mentally and physically) to focus on your work.
2. Arm yourself with great online tools. When you’re working on-site with your employees, you don’t have to rely as heavily on online tools to keep everyone organized; weekly staff meetings and verbal status reports tend to go a long way towards that goal. But when your workforce is even partly virtual, you’ll want to take advantage of some of the excellent online work tools. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Basecamp – My team uses this daily to track various projects we’re working on, to organize discussions and files.
- Salesforce Chatter – We use this tool to communicate quickly (as it’s easy to send quick messages and get a reply within minutes, which email doesn’t always allow). We even set up a Water Cooler area in which we talk about non-work things like family, weekend plans, etc.
- ScheduleOnce -This tool is incredibly easy to use on both ends – I can manage my phone schedule, and my employees can easily and quickly set up phone appointments with me.
- Desk.com – This tool allows our customer service department to share one inbox to allow for superior customer service.
3. Communicate with your employees regularly. While you want to hire people who can manage their time well that doesn’t mean you don’t need to communicate regularly with your employees – you do! Here are a few ways I check in with my employees:
- Monthly company update – once a month, I send a company update to all my employees. This serves a dual purpose – it gives my employees the ‘big picture’ view of what’s happening with the company (growth stats, special promotions, etc.), and it provides updates about employee info (who’s taking maternity leave, who’s getting special recognition for going above and beyond etc.).
- Monthly check-in calls – Once per month, my employees do a quick phone check-in with their supervisors. This provides a chance for supervisors to quickly discuss each employee’s work performance, and to discuss any problems (as well as to share any kudos and positive feedback). This also enables us to chit chat a bit with planned “water cooler” time, keeping us efficient at all other times.
4. Know what to do yourself and what to delegate/hire out. As your business grows, it’s important to know what you can reasonably handle on your own, and what you need to delegate. For example, when I hired on many of my contract workers as employees, I knew I was going to need an HR representative to help me create internal HR policies. However, I figured I could manage payroll on my own. Well, I quickly learned that I needed to delegate that, too! I hired a payroll management company, and I count that as one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business.
5. Write clear job descriptions for each employee, and create a clear chain of command. When your workforce is virtual, it’s so much easier for small things to fall through the cracks, and to get missed. That’s why it’s critical that you write detailed and clear job descriptions for each of your employees, and why you have a clear chain of command. Every employee in your company should know to whom they report, and there should be an “owner” of every important task – that is, every important project should have an employee who is directly responsible for it.
While there are definite challenges to managing a virtual workforce, new tools are being developed every day that make this process easier and simpler. And since I believe the virtual work-force is a trend that is going to grow and grow in the coming years, that’s a very good thing indeed!
Nicole Johnson is Founder, President, and Lead Sleep Consultant of The Baby Sleep Site®, an online company devoted to helping parents of sleepless babies and toddlers solve their children’s sleep issues. The company was borne out of Johnson’s own experiences as a sleep-deprived mother of two. After spending countless hours researching baby sleep, Johnson was able to solve her sons’ sleep issues, and in 2006, she begin sharing her wisdom and experience with other exhausted parents on an internet message board before creating The Baby Sleep Site® in 2008. What began as a small side-business has blossomed over the past 6 years into a full-fledged telecommute company. Today, The Baby Sleep Site® employs 12 sleep consultants, 3 customer service reps, and 2 administrators (all remotely). The website itself has become the internet’s leading authority on baby and toddler sleep.
Johnson, her husband, and their two boys currently reside in Columbus, OH. With a B.A. degree from UC Berkeley and an MBA from Ohio State University, Nicole is an expert on infant and toddler sleep and has a team of sleep consultants with a wealth of professional experience in child/infant development, behavioral health, and medical/nursing. The Baby Sleep Site team has made it their mission to help other parents solve their child’s sleep problems. Keep up with The Baby Sleep Site online on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.