Tactics for Managing a Virtual Workforce

By Greg Hoffman

A big, comfy blue chair in a living room is sometimes more effective than a cubicle in an office 10 miles from the house.

It's a great perk for employees tired of corporate America in the traditional sense, but it certainly poses challenges for management as a company's virtual workforce expands. Whether the company has two employees or two hundred spread across the world, communication and accountability are key. The goal of any manager in a company is to make sure the work is completed correctly.

It's difficult to delegate projects because one cannot simply look over the shoulder of an employee to make sure they are working on the assigned task rather than watching funny videos. Finding employees and contractors to trust is a huge concern, though it is becoming easier as more people build careers from home offices and show that they can be productive. This is a huge advantage for industry insiders looking for jobs, as they have instant credibility and don't need lots of training.

The most basic approach is "get stuff done." In other words, it doesn't matter how the task is completed, just finish it right and meet deadlines.

The personnel with the work-at-home mindset need flexibility for various reasons. If they are good at what they do, finish projects adequately and add to the success of the business overall, then it's OK if they do it at two in the morning while wearing Captain America pajama pants, burning incense and listening to Dire Straits on vinyl. Try being that creative and free in a cubicle. Whatever works for them is their own business. They need to establish their own rules for being a good virtual worker.

Companies in the Internet marketing industry are lucky enough to have conferences to attend several times a year. This gives remote employees a chance to meet each other and build relationships year-round. The water cooler atmosphere at shows helps break down the walls of impersonal conference calls, closed Facebook groups and private messages. For the rest of the year, processes and procedures need to be in place and new tools need to be tested for efficiency (see sidebar).

Top Tools to Get Stuff Done

FMTC, an affiliate content aggregating company, has streamlined the virtual process by choosing specific tools that keep everyone on the same page, including the following:

+ Slack: A private and secure communication platform that replaces messaging on social media, email and popular apps.

+ Hubstaff: A desktop application used to track time for remote teams. Reports can show clients and bosses screenshots of activity for proof of work and progress.

+ Asana: Project management platform to keep track of everything your team is doing. Keeping deadlines is a priority and clicking the check box on an assignment is very fulfilling.

+ UberConference: The next evolution of the conference call with no pins needed and screen sharing available.

The get-stuff-done-whenever policy notwithstanding, employees still need to be aware of time zones and have patience and understanding with one another. Policies need to be in place to accommodate everyone. East Coast, West Coast or international, with great flexibility comes late nights and early mornings for some.

When adding a new virtual employee, be clear about how they should represent the brand on social media. Everyone pays attention to everything and opinions are everywhere. Policies need to be in place to handle situations that can reflect poorly on the company. Sometimes it's easier to create work profiles for each person.

Finally, human resource departments usually don't exist in small companies with remote staff. It falls upon the CEO to set the tone for the company.

In a virtual setup, it's more difficult to understand personalities as not everyone has the same sense of humor or judgment and text is easily misunderstood.

All levels of management need to listen to feedback and be prepared to evolve for the sake of the company.

Greg Hoffman is an award-winning outsourced program manager in the affiliate marketing industry. He's an advocate for good affiliates, merchants and managers.