A friend of mine recently completely, and radically, changed how he does business. This guy has been in business for 10 years and has a staff of 10. So, what does he do differently now? He shut the doors of his office to go completely virtual. He rarely sees any of his staff face-to-face anymore, save for an occasional breakfast meeting at a local coffee shop. And – it’s working. He doesn’t miss his monthly rent payments, and he actually feels that his staff is more efficient working remotely from home than they otherwise would be because they are not commuting or getting distracted by the shuffle of an office environment.
Similarly, in the book, The 4 Hour Work Week, author Timothy Ferris explains that he was able to whittle his hectic schedule down to only four hours a week in large part by hiring and training part-time remote virtual assistants. But as much of a fan as Ferris is of this method of business, he cautions that when people try to adopt it, one of the first mistakes they make is one of poor communication.
Although open, consistent communication is important, there are other areas to consider when managing remote employees. While the idea of working with and using remote workers is one that is definitely catching on, it takes both some getting used to and some trial and error to get it right.
Here are the four most common mistakes small business owners and managers make when working with remote employees and here’s how you can navigate these tricky areas.
1. The owner or manager is not ready: Even though there is no shortage of innovative technological tools that enable an entrepreneur to work with and handle remote employees – smart phones, texting, software, collaboration tools, etc. – The fact is, if the manager is not ready, no amount of high-tech gadgetry will make a difference.
So what does being ready mean?
- It means being clear about what is expected of the employee: You cannot expect an employee to be able to handle the freedom of working remotely if you are not clear about how the job will be handled, what the benchmarks will be, and so forth.
- It means being committed to the process: If you are going to let employees work remotely, then you need to be enthusiastic about it, what it offers your company, and how it can benefit your staff. You set the tone.
- It means being a clear communicator: Understand that having people work virtually requires that you need to communicate exactly what you will need, and when. If not, too much is left to chance and without the face-to-face ability to check in, costly mistakes can easily be made.
- It means being available: Your staff will need to be able to check in with you when they need to, and not when it’s convenient for you.
2. The remote worker does not get enough support: If you want people to be able to do a job on their own, without direct supervision from you and the benefits of having a main office, you need to equip them with the tools necessary to do their job right.
First, this means having the right technology. Whether it’s an iPhone or expense tracking software or an intranet, you will need to equip your employees with the right tools. Second, support means just that – support. Is there tech support in place? Do they have virtual office space available to meet clients or prospects? Remote workers work best when they have the tools and support they need to succeed.
3. The owner or manager is too hands-off: There is a fine line when handling remote workers between giving them the room they need to do their job and not managing them at all. Remember, these folks are still employees. They need guidance and direction. After all, even with the most diligent employee, there is a tendency for the mouse to play while the cat is away, so be sure that they know that the cat is still around. By the same token, providing regular guidance, support, and feedback will also give you the confidence that they are on task and not wasting their time and your money.
4. The owner or manager is too hands-on: This may be an even bigger problem than the previous one. One of the beauties of working remotely is that you get to do your work in your way, as you see fit. But if the manager constantly requires the remote employee to check in, if the owner loves minutiae and insists on correcting every little thing the remote employee does, you will risk making the employee feel less empowered in their work, or may lose them altogether.
Bottom line: Companies that have the best success with remote workers establish ground rules and protocols, create routines and processes, and then communicate consistently and effectively. Do you have any remote workers? What have you found works and doesn’t work? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.