Getting a virtual office is the easy part. The hard part is virtual office management, keeping tabs on your virtual office company or on your team members that are also working from virtual offices. It’s not the same as managing people in the traditional office, and managing them the wrong way can lead to bigger problems down the road. To help, here are five quick tips to virtual office management to help you get the year started the right way with your team:
- Build and Maintain Camaraderie – Just because everyone on your team is working by themselves in different parts of the country doesn’t mean that they have to operate in silos. Take the time to share successes, catch up about the holidays, offer feedback, or just to say, “Hello.” Don’t forget to introduce everyone to everyone else. Not only does it make the team more cohesive, but it also means your team doesn’t have to go through you to get a question answered by someone else or to get their contact info.
- Be as Clear and Specific as Possible – Since you and the team can’t see each other, it means that everyone loses out on the facial cues and voice tone that are helpful in communication. Because of this, a joke can be taken out of context or a team member might not know if you’re angry about the project results. Therefore, be specific by explaining that you were disappointed, and would like X, Y, and Z to be improved. Clarity and specificity are especially crucial when it comes to date and time. If team members are in different time zones, then saying that you want something in by 4 p.m. is vague. It’s better to say 4 p.m. EST.
- Set Boundaries – With a virtual office, it’s easier to get caught up in the work and end up putting in extra hours, or to be available 24/7. Although that might not be a problem for some, if you still want time to spend with family or to pursue a hobby, or to just not be bothered with work-related stuff, then set a few boundaries. Have an automated email go out at a certain time, explaining that you’ll get to the message in the morning. Or, turn off your Skype, cell phone, and other communication devices and step away from them. Or, simply let you your time know that you aren’t available at certain times, and should avoid bothering you unless it’s an emergency.
- Establish Trust – It goes both ways. Obviously, you need to trust your virtual workers to get the job done right and to do it on time, and there are many tools in place to help you do that. However, you need to do what it takes so that your workers trust you as well. Pay them on time. Answer their questions in a timely manner (and actually answer the question and answer accurately) so that they can get the job done. Acknowledge when you’ve made the error instead of blaming someone or something else.
- Don’t be Afraid to Hold Your Team Accountable – Virtual office management isn’t always about being the nicest boss or having an easier time at things since you don’t have to talk to people face-to-face. Sometimes, you have to do the tough stuff, like letting someone go, being critical about someone’s work, or making extra sure someone keeps this deadline. Hold your team accountable through progress reports, keeping tabs, or issuing warnings when they start to give too many excuses. If you don’t enforce protocol, then your virtual worker won’t follow them because they’ll think it’s okay to miss deadline or to do something incorrectly. Enforcing protocol and following the rules doesn’t make you a mean manager or a stiff person. It holds you and your team accountable.