Virtual executives face never-before-seen challenges: Managing individuals who are — frankly — located all over the place. Being a leader when those who report to you are not in a central location, is not easy.
It requires you to have trust and confidence that those who report to you are actually doing their job. It also requires you to develop processes to better manage virtual employees.
Here, we’ll look at 5 best practices to for managing off-site employees when you can’t be beside them every day.
Best Practice No. 1: At least twice a year, get the entire group together to socialize and discuss upcoming projects, what’s happening with the business, etc. The goal is to keep a connection between your employees and yourself and keep them connected with the business. Alternate locations if your business has a number of different locations.
Best Practice No. 2: In between getting together, use a collaboration portal to share information about what individuals or teams are working on, as well as to problem solve, have discussions, and generally keep in touch with each other. Consider this a “gathering place” for all employees to share information and support each other’s efforts.
Best Practice No. 3: Schedule weekly one-on-one phone calls to catch up with your employees on an individual basis. While e-mail is certainly a good way to communicate, a phone call enables a better conversation, especially when you cannot meet in person regularly. It also helps to keep you directly connected with employees and ensure that they’re getting what they need to do their jobs.
Additionally, encourage the use of video calls (via Skype, for example) and provide your employees with cameras as part of their office equipment. This will help you address small issues early on, before they balloon into major problems.
Best Practice No. 4: Provide each employee with a mentor, someone who can provide guidance and support for each role. Since you are not co-located with the employee, having a mentor who is available and in the same location provides the employee someone to meet with should an issue or general question arise.
Best Practice No. 5: Have a company electronic newsletter. An e-newsletter enables those employees working virtually to stay connected with the company and learn what is going on in various parts of the organization. Have various employees contribute to the e-newsletter on a regular basis, so they can share what they are doing within the business.
Consider social media for the same purpose; for example, you might set up a company group on LinkedIn for employees only.
Ensuring that your virtual employees remain connected with the business enables the ability to:
- Develop stronger teams
- Increase employee engagement
- Build trust
- Ensure open communications
- Increase sharing of knowledge
- Maintain commitment to the job, to the business, and to each other
These are just a few ideas to get you started in providing leadership in an increasingly virtual world. Often, even in the smallest businesses, employees are working virtually. In fact, some businesses don’t even have an office for people to go to!
Also remember that leadership is as much about reading body language and developing a relationship with employees (especially in a virtual environment) as it is about communicating and directing tasks of employees. With that in mind, you should use a variety of methods to keep employees connected with the business — and you connected with the employees.
Gina Abudi is president of Abudi Consulting Group, LLC, providing strategy around projects, process, people and technology to businesses of all sizes. Gina can be reached via her website: GinaAbudi.com.
Originally published: Sep 20, 2011