Running a virtual business is becoming increasingly popular. Low overhead, nationwide hiring opportunities, and increased productivity are just a few of the many benefits business owners take advantage of by moving away from brick and mortar.
However, a virtual workforce is something that most business owners are not prepared for, especially those that are accustomed to working shoulder-to-shoulder with their employees. Micromanagement can seem daunting or impossible.
Here are a few ways you can observe your employee efficiency and workflow from the other side of the country.
1. BCC yourself on all emails
One of the easiest things to do implement is to have your employees BCC you on each of their new emails. This will help you spot areas for improvement, as well as give praise where it is due.
This may sound tedious for your employees to do for every single one of their emails, as well as intimidating for your inbox, but thankfully, there are solutions to both of these issues.
Google Chrome has a plugin that will automatically BCC an email address of your choice in Gmail, as well as Mozilla Firefox. There are even solutions for Thunderbird, Outlook, and more (if you aren't a Gmail user).
To keep your inbox slim, you could create a separate email account that will serve as a hub for all of your employee's emails, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. This way, you can check this inbox occasionally to see what your team has been doing.
2. Delegate tasks and set goals with a task manager
When you're in an office, it's much easier to tackle projects and issues as a team. However, when you're running a company with remote employees, everybody is expected to be pulling their own weight, and it can be difficult to determine who is doing what.
Using a task management system for your company will allow you to easily delegate goals to employees for them to complete within a reasonable amount of time. They can have long-term goals/tasks, as well as short-term ones. As soon as a goal is completed, you'll be notified through email.
There are many popular solutions for this, such as Basecamp and Producteev, to help you get a bird's-eye view of what your employees are working on, and if they are excelling or falling behind.
3. Follow up regularly
It's easy for emails to get lost, and it can be difficult to keep track of which emails you've received responses to. Accidentally marking an email as "read" can result in missing important emails, and deliverability issues (such as bounced emails or hitting someone's spam box) can be unexpected and can often happen at the worst times.
Thankfully, Boomerang for Gmail makes it significantly easier to keep track of your emails by sending you a notification when an email hasn't been responded to within the amount of time that you've specified. This way, you can follow up on tasks and emails to your employees that haven't been completed or responded to so that they aren't slipping through the cracks.
4. Communicate and work as a team
Maintaining employee happiness and morale is difficult over the Internet, especially when words on a computer screen can be so impersonal.
Never underestimate the power of a regular phone call with your employees to see how they are doing, both at work and outside of work. Clear communication is very important for a company to be successful, and building a hard-working, efficient team requires teamwork and mutual respect.
5. Measure attendance and activity
Since you can't exactly see your employees working at their desks, touching base regularly through chat, email, or phone will ensure that you'll have a good idea of their activity.
If your employees are full-time, take note of what time they come into work, what time they leave work, and how long their lunches are. This can be done by requiring each of your employees to send you a note through instant messenger (or another medium, depending on how your team communicates) to let you know when they are leaving or arriving at their desk.
It's important that you find a good balance trusting your team and managing your team. Constantly checking with your employees to make sure they're working can make you unpleasant to work for (even remotely) which will hurt your company morale, trust, and productivity.
As with most startups and companies that hire remotely, mutual respect and company morale are two of the most important assets between employee and employer.
If you hire employees who go above and beyond their job description and make your company a rewarding, fun place to work, you'll create a breed of employee that hardly requires micromanagement at all.