November 18, 2009 – There are a lot of advantages to having employees who work outside of a traditional office and with the constant influx of Internet and mobile innovations, there are more and more jobs that people can accomplish from just about anywhere. In order to create a successful working relationship with mobile or virtual employees, it’s important to understand how virtual employee management differs from a 9-5 in-house employee.
Micromanagement Out, Flexibility In
One of the most important habits to quickly put aside when dealing with a virtual employee is micromanagement. People who thrive as mobile employees understand the importance of getting their work done on time, but the bonus of being virtual means that if they enjoy spending the day playing with their kids and get all work done at midnight, that’s ok.
Trying to micromanage someone in the office is bad enough, but trying to do that with a virtual employee just wastes precious time you could be spending doing actual work. Other than meetings or phone calls at pre-approved times (which can and should take place), expecting a virtual employee to be next to the phone and available at 9 a.m. or even 3 p.m. can be somewhat unrealistic. You need to give your employees the freedom to do their jobs on their time (with set deadlines, we’ll get to that), since that is what being a virtual employee is all about.
Project Management and Goal Setting
It is also important to differentiate between flexibility and a complete lack of management.Successfully managing virtual employees does not mean just sending them off into the wilderness with a laptop, but clearly communicating project goals, setting up deadlines, and openly communicating.
The most success mobile working relationships occur when the employer sets specific project goals for their employees, including what is expected and when that project is due. Creating daily, weekly, or monthly goals help keep your employee on track and ensure that both of you understand what needs to get done and when it needs to get done by.
It’s also important to consistently communicate and check in with each other. You can accomplish this by scheduling an in-person meeting or phone meeting at least once a week and stay connected through email in between. Staying in touch by email does not mean sending your virtual employee 10 emails a day and freaking out when they don’t get back to you ASAP (unless of course, there is some work emergency, deadline change, etc.). Remember, there is a big difference between managing an employee (being productive) and micromanaging an employee (wasting your time and theirs).
Benefits of Virtual Employees
Besides the cost-saving benefits of having virtual employees (less office space needed, less utilities, etc.), successful mobile employees are able to schedule their work, play, and domestic/personal responsibilities in a way that makes sense for them, which in turn leads to much happier and less-stressed employees.
As an employer, having virtual employees also allows you to concentrate on the work you really need to get done, which can help you become a less-stressed boss. Of course, since not everyone can thrive at a traditional office, it’s also true that not everyone can thrive in a virtual one. When you are hiring a virtual employee, make sure to ask them questions about how they manage their time, what their expectations are, and their prior experiences in completing jobs outside of a 9-5 office structure. This can save both of you a lot of headaches later on!
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