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    How to Create a Productive Work Environment for Virtual Employees

    By Chuck Cohn | Yahoo Small Business

    As online collaboration tools become increasingly sophisticated, a growing number of virtual companies are learning to take advantage of the global talent marketplace. My business employs over 70 people from across the country, and a remote model has worked well for us. We recruit based on candidates’ skills and work experience, rather than their geographic location, and our team members have the flexibility to live and work wherever they choose. This also means that we don’t face the expenses or overhead of maintaining a physical workspace.

    However, managing a virtual company requires a different mindset — both for employees and employers.

    How to Set Expectations for Success

    Whether you’re starting a new business or transitioning your existing company to a virtual model, it is important to set boundaries and a clear vision, establish effective processes, and create measurable goals. Doing so ensures that your team feels supported and produces high-quality work on time and on budget. Here are a few ways that can be accomplished:

    1. Explain to job candidates and current team members how working remotely will differ from working in an office environment. There are real challenges, and you should be emphasizing them rather than downplaying them. Candidates who know they are not a good fit for a remote environment can opt out of the hiring process.
    2. Establish a system of clear and open communication throughout the organization. Make every employee feel comfortable pitching ideas directly to senior leadership. Whether you decide to use email, instant messaging, the phone, video chat, or a combination of those mediums, it’s crucial to establish consistent expectations from the beginning.
    3. Set measurable benchmarks. Team members should meet certain goals throughout the duration of a project, sales cycle, or specific time period.

    Know Your Processes Intimately

    With a virtual business, it’s tempting to bombard your team with emails and telephone calls. Instead of spending your time and energy managing every small detail, focus your efforts on building processes that allow employees to use their time as efficiently as possible.

    When leaders create appropriate processes, they have a much better understanding of the steps necessary to produce a given result. If you don't understanding the process, it’s far more difficult to fairly evaluate your team members’ contributions.

    How to Measure and Manage Productivity

    When you do experience a drop in productivity, as happens from time to time in all companies, it can be difficult to quickly determine the cause. Below are several suggestions to help you avoid and identify potential pitfalls before they negatively impact your bottom line.

    1. Establish a standard protocol. You must have a system for periodically evaluating certain company-specific benchmarks. Attach benchmarks to periods of time or stages in a process — do not simply evaluate final results.
    2. Measure everything. You cannot objectively evaluate business results without having access to quantifiable data. Invest in resources to identify and measure your business’ key performance indicators, then track them over time.
    3. Teach. Observe. Review. Show your team what must be done, then observe them doing it independently. Review your findings with team members and explain how they can improve.
    4. Anticipate and plan for declines. Create reward systems, processes, and training that guide individuals down the most productive path.
    5. Extinguish small fires immediately. Address small issues before they become major crises, and demonstrate to individuals how they can improve before they’re underperforming.

    While shifting work from the office to a remote setting can be profoundly beneficial for your company, keep in mind that reducing overhead does not mean reducing the amount of guidance, direction, and leadership you owe your team.

    Virtual businesses require strong, consistent leadership to ensure that both employee growth and productivity remain on track. In some cases, such a company may even demand more from you as a leader. However, with the right processes and the right people in place, going virtual can work wonders for your business.

    Chuck Cohn is the Founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors, a leading national tutoring and test prep company with operations in 25 cities, 2,000 tutors and 80 employees. 

    Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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