How To Manage A Virtual Workforce

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Guest blogger Bill Gerber has worked in the financial field for more than 18 years, bringing a wide range of expertise in technology and business consulting. Bill is responsible for setting the innovative company-wide strategies and building the overall business using state-of-the-art accounting technology. He oversees the sales, marketing, quality assurance and successful delivery of business process outsourcing (BPO) accounting and bookkeeping services to clients. With his assistance, AccountingDepartment.com has become the nation’s leader in virtual accounting services, winning the CPA Technology Advisor Award and the Forbes Award. Bill and his team design cutting-edge procedures to streamline accounting departments while providing the blueprint for accounting industry business practices.

According to Bill Gerber, Co-founder of AccountingDepartment.com, the leading provider of outsourced bookkeeping and controller services in the US, a business can be extremely successful with a 100% virtual workforce. Gerber is an expert in this area since AccountingDepartment.com has employed a 100% full-time, W-2, work-from-home staff since the day they opened in 2004.

Gerber has even found that productivity among virtual employees is often higher than those in brick and mortar offices. Though some credit should be given to reduced distractions from standard “watercooler chit chat”, AccountingDepartment.com has actually found that the increased quality of life and work/life balance satisfaction lead to increased productivity and employee morale. Here are his tips for hiring and managing a completely virtual work-from-home company:

HIRING TIPS:

  • Conduct a lot of video-based interviews to gauge culture fit, professionalism, accountability, work ethic and virtual abilities. AccountingDepartment.com employees go through at least 4 interviews before getting an offer.

  • Look for professional decorum and ease of communication. Just as you would in an in person interview, consider how eye contact, non-verbal communication and appearance convey the future professionalism of the prospective employee. Candidates who look away from the camera, arrive in unprofessional, casual attire or who are flustered or disinterested are just a bad a fit as if they were in your office.

  • Keep in mind that technology is key to success in a virtual office. Make your first test simply the ability to conduct a seamless video interview. Is the person comfortable joining a meeting or does he or she require a lot of hand holding to get up and running? Make sure to cover systems, software and processes in depth and gauge reaction over how your candidate assess the likelihood of comfort and usability. This does not mean ruling out candidates that may require some onboarding support to get comfortable with virtual technologies—but it does mean you should know ahead of time what you will need to devote to getting new employees up and running.

  • There are a lot of reasons why work-from-home positions are so in demand. But not all of them make for great employees. For example, we have an overwhelming majority of staff who are working, professional mothers. However, infants and young children require day care for everyone to be in a safe and productive environment. This can come as a shock to some interviewees envisioning their baby next to their desk. But that kind of environment isn’t conducive to anyone and it needs to be understood before an offer is extended.

MANAGEMENT TIPS:

  • Establish a clear and comprehensive training program with milestones and review periods. At AccountingDepartment.com, there is a 30-day initial training period, a three-month 360-degree review, a six month review and then annual reviews thereafter.

  • Give feedback regularly and check in with face-to-face video meetings. Unlike in a brick and mortar office, it can be difficult to “pass by” a desk and see that someone is struggling or having a bad day in a virtual environment. By getting on camera for meetings and having regular check ins, managers are more like to catch issues before they snowball.

  • Setup systems to ensure that all emails, chat messages and other communications are tracked and keep accurate logs for each project or client.

  • Leverage the power of a virtual environment by systematizing email templates, filing methods and tasks. This will make your company more efficient while also eliminating the risk of employees changing process without regard to established rules.

  • Focus on employee engagement and company culture even more than ever before. Keeping employees connected through regular surveys, social channels, decentralized activities and branded company swag will help strengthen connection to the company.

  • Launch a mentor or buddy program and make sure all employees have an assigned person to go to when in need. Schedule paid time for mentors and buddies to meet to discuss issues or simply bond over casual discussion. By allowing employees the time to create personal relationships, you improve the company’s relationship with the employee as well.

  • Get social with employees by creating private Facebook groups to bring employees together socially. Encourage sharing of personal moments and anecdotes, share company events and excitement, and even post kudos and special acknowledgements. Create a lively, interactive hub of social engagement where your employees can go to “hang” on a personal level.

  • Encourage in-person interactions when possible. With employees spread across the US, AccountingDepartment.com offers to pay for employees to grab lunch together when visiting in other areas or sponsoring local events.

  • Hold regular video-based staff calls and have members of different departments present on their work projects or updates. This will keep the company connected, introduce staff to employees they may not typically interact with, and create a more cohesive experience for all employees, as well as connect them to the greater company mission. Make sure to include a variety of staff on video and take opportunities to highlight staff and company achievements when possible.

  • Promote personal and professional development. This may mean creating health-focused groups to encourage employees to exercise or eat healthy or it may mean establishing education programs for employee development. AccountingDepartment.com holds regular physical fitness challenges to encourage employee health and wellness as well as subscribes to an on demand education channel that employees can utilize for a wide variety of development and educational pursuits.
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