Tips for Managing Virtual Employees

While at one time it may have seemed like a fleeting trend, virtual and remote work has proved in recent years that it’s far from temporary. That is truer than ever today, as companies – including PeopleScout and the entire TrueBlue organization – are operating with an abundance of caution to keep employees and clients safe during the fast-evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

As companies and leaders around the world enact work from home protocols, sometimes for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to start. If you are managing virtual employees, here are some helpful tips on ways to promote engagement and business continuity during this uncertain time.  

Communication

When managing virtual employees, ensure your communication is effective and regular. Set guidelines for how your team should communicate with you, each other and those who they support inside or outside your business.

It’s important to continue holding any meetings that you would have before you began working virtually. That includes one-on-ones with direct reports, as well as ongoing team meetings. During the meetings, it may be helpful to discuss the following:

  • How are the tools you use as a team working for virtual workers? Are they handicapped by poor audio on Skype or do they struggle using any tools the team uses?
  • How could I better support you while you are remote?

Use a mix of structured and informal communication methods. Blend structured communication approaches, such as weekly check-ins via phone or video chat, with informal, real-time communication methods, such as Skype, Yammer, Teams, Google Hangouts, Slack, etc.

Structured communications ensure that is dedicated time to discuss the ongoing needs of direct reports, such as performance updates for newly virtual workers or the need for time off or modified schedules during this time where things are changing day-to-day and employees’ health is paramount. Informal, real-time communication methods can address immediate needs, like updates on tasks and deadlines.

  • When working remote, consider using video for one-on-one check-ins and coaching – especially if meeting face-to-face is something that you and your team are used to.
  • Encourage camaraderie through team communication. Newly remote workers may miss the opportunity to interact with teammates on a regular basis.

Keep your virtual employees informed about your business, the current situation related to both coronavirus (COVID-19) and the working from home policy, or other things impacting them during this time. Continue recognizing anniversaries, birthdays and team wins, even if working remotely is new to the team and not a long-term plan.

Expectations and Accountability

If your team is working virtually for the first time, it’s critical to establish clear expectations and accountability for each person. For example, letting your team know that everyone should be available on Skype (or your preferred messaging platform) during their regular work schedule. Depending on the role, you could also ask that each person puts a message on their Skype when they are taking their breaks.

Other examples of setting clear guidelines around virtual work expectations include:

  • Ask employees to create a dedicated workspace in their homes that will maximize productivity and ensure professionalism, e.g. free from noise and distractions.
  • Set expectations with your team on how you would like to review work and when, e.g. on a conference call or Skype, by a specific due date, etc.
  • Track work output, focusing on goals not activity. Determine how you will measure ongoing productivity and provide feedback during your virtual one-on-one sessions.
  • Schedule regular check-ins to gauge progress. Many teams may find daily stand-ups—aka daily scrums or huddles—are essential for productivity, transparency and collaboration. And, they hold everyone accountable for their daily tasks and ongoing projects.
  • Hourly employees should continue to take lunches and breaks, just like they would in the office.

Finally, be understanding that employees may have to navigate a new way of working, schedule and routine. For example, an employee’s children might be home from school, spouses or roommates could also be working from home, or an employee could have pets that are not used to having their owners at home or on the phone while at home during the day.

System Access and Equipment

Ensure each person on your team has the equipment necessary to continue working effectively at home. If they have any questions or issues related to access and equipment, be sure that your IT and support teams are also prepared to deal with what could be a greater demand during this time.

To learn more about ways employers can respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, visit our Resource Center.