Working in Harmony with Your Virtual Employees

Make sure your telecommuters are part of the team just like regular employees.

According to research from the Telework Research Network, 20 to 30 million people currently work from home at least one day a week. Another 15 to 20 million are road warriors / mobile workers. An additional 10 to 15 million are home businesses, while another 15 to 20 million work at home part time. Maybe one or two of these millions of people do work for your small business. Maybe your entire staff works outside the office.

Either way, harmony needs to be maintained between you and each telecommuters in order to ensure that these folks are comfortable with doing their work and productive enough to do it well and on deadline.

Here at Smallbiztechnology.com, many of our writers telecommute, so we’ve learned a thing or two along the way to make sure that our writers contribute timely and quality work. To have this happen consistently, no matter the writer, here are a few tips and tricks on working with your telecommuters.

1. Set Up Goals

Ensure your teleworkers have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. Create a task list or set up milestones with dates. The due dates allow teleworkers to manage their time in light of other work commitments. Using a project management tool, like Basecamp or Huddle, also allows you to be updated on progress. Elance, a popular online employment platform, allows employers to set up milestones for each worker and each project.

2. Introduce Them to the Team

If your teleworkers will be collaborating with other team members, use an email or conference call to formally introduce them. This courtesy helps them feel welcomed, and prevents any awkwardness when they have to communicate with your team. oDesk, another popular online employment platform, allows for employers to set up groups or teams, so every worker knows every other worker.

3. Provide Proper Tools and Resources

Grant your teleworkers access to necessary applications, files and documents so they can complete their job properly. If you’re worried about security, set them up with temporary and limited access to your intranet, collaboration platform or file repository. Keeping everything in the cloud is an effective way to work with teleworkers.

4. Communicate Regularly

Good communication is especially invaluable in a telecommute relationship. Be available to your teleworkers for their questions and concerns. If they’re staying quiet, it’s alright to check in occasionally to ensure there are no obstacles and everything is on track. This is also a key point with per-project telecommuters. Keep in mind the possibility that you are not this worker’s only client or employer. Good communication would ensure that you understand that their time isn’t entirely yours, and that this worker may not necessarily be able to take on a last minute project.

5. Keep Them in the Loop

This complements the previous tip. Temporary teleworkers can be made to feel like they’re at the bottom of the rung, the last to hear about important company news. Put yourself in their shoes—it’s no fun finding out at 5 p.m. that, oh by the way, no one’s working tomorrow. If it’s relevant information, keep them abreast. This also involves your workers in the company, gets them invest, and improves work quality because your virtual employees are now more likely to care about your company.

6. Build Human Relationships

Remember, teleworkers are not worker-bots. Alex Yoon, Director of Marketing and Social Media at freelance site Elance, explains, “It’s easy to forget that those on the other side of the network are human just like you. Be sure to spend some time building a more human relationship with those that you work, online or off. It doesn’t hurt to add a friendly greeting or ask how the other is feeling for the day.”

7. Again, Trust Your Worker

If you did your hiring process correctly—checked their references, maybe had them complete a trial project—you should be confident about their abilities. Yoon suggests employers give teleworkers the space and freedom to complete their assignments in whatever way works best for them. They may not wake up till noon, but if the work gets done, let them be. If a night owl telecommuter is going to bother you, make sure you specify availability requirements before handing him or her the position.

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About Allison Midori Reilly

Allison Midori Reilly is the CEO and Founder of Stirring Media, LLC. Stirring Media, LLC is a content marketing and news production firm that provides content marketing and business blogging services to the small business market. Prior to that, she was a freelance writer, who was published in over a dozen print and online publications, such as Smallbiztechnology.com, American City & County, Ideabing.com, Transport Topics and St. Louis Commerce Magazine. In her spare time, Reilly is an active member of Amnesty International as well as an avid poker player.