Three Tools to Help You Thrive in a Virtual Environment
If you’re like many business owners I know, you’ve still getting the kinks out and continuing to learn how to be productive in a virtual environment. You’re beyond the basics like getting people connected from home and teaching them how to use Zoom. By now, your focus has shifted to balancing productivity and keeping your staff accountable with the need to be empathetic (especially towards employees with children at home) and keep engagement up.
As someone who’s managed virtual workforces for 18 years, I’ve had more time to work this out than most of you. After much trial and error, my businesses now rely on several tools and tactics that have helped me grow two successful businesses with an entirely virtual workforce.
And by successful, I mean companies that have millions of dollars in revenue and dozens of employees. My two established companies currently employ 70 people and are collectively on track to hit $8 million in sales in 2020. They have both been recognized in “Best Place to Work” lists and have each been honored as one the fastest growing companies in Philadelphia, PA multiple times. They have always been 100% virtual. I mention this as proof that your business can not only survive, but thrive in a virtual environment.
Without further ado, here are the three tools and practices I have adopted that have helped me create accountable and engaged virtual teams.
Project Management Software
One of the biggest challenges any manager has, virtual and otherwise, is to keep on top of what her team members are doing and hold them accountable. Once you are managing more than one person, it’s almost impossible to do this without a technology-based system. Very early on, we implemented and mandated company-wide use of a project management platform. In our case, we chose Teamwork, but there are many other software products that do the same thing. Teamwork lets us assign tasks to each team member and track completion of them. We can assign due dates and quickly see who is behind. Teamwork also features time tracking, which comes in handy for my agency which needs to keep track of time spent on each client project. Teamwork provides a framework that helps managers clearly communicate what needs to be done and manage that work is gets completed. It also helps provide structure for everyone. In just one click, you can see what you need to work on next. With 611 active projects, we are power users, but even if you are managing a handful of clients, project management software will improve efficiency and accountability.
In addition to making sure your team is doing what it’s supposed to, great managers keep everyone on their team focused on the company’s big picture and provide coaching and training. This is where one-on-ones come in. Although planned one-on-one meetings with people you manage are helpful in any environment, they are essential in a virtual one. They ensure that your team members get dedicated time with their managers. I also use one-on-ones to get to know know my team members. I always spend the first few minutes asking personal questions, which has helped me better understand what’s happening at home that might impact them at work. One-on-ones give you the structure to make sure you’re on top of your team’s work and that they are working towards achieving goals that are outside of day to day tasks, for example training for a certification test or working on a long-term, internal project.
Although you don’t need software to manage the process, we use Lattice. It provides a place for you and your team to record both recurring and ad hoc talking points. It provides the ability for you to create and track progress towards goals. It also integrates with Slack, which makes it easy for any team member to send feedback which gets saved directly in the Lattice profile. Since we started using Lattice, my one-on-ones have been more consistent and more effective. My team feels more engaged, and I feel like I’m managing my team’s long term projects and developmental goals better.
We have weekly all-hands meetings Thursday morning. We report high level financial and sales results and use it as an opportunity to develop staff skills and engagement. Most often, we talk about soft skills or other topics that are useful for everyone in the company. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we have used this time to talk honestly about the financial impact of the lockdown on our business, kept everyone informed about our application for our PPP loan, and discussed what we could do to pitch in and cover for team members with small children at home. Your all-hands meeting agenda will very likely diverge from mine, but having a weekly get together goes a long way toward making everyone feel more connected in a virtual environment. We also use this forum to make sure people understand where we are headed, which reduces anxiety and reinforces engagement.
Using project management software, being consistent with one-on-one meetings, and having all-hands meetings are useful tools for any business, but are vital to build and grow a productive, engaged team in a virtual environment.
What tools and systems have helped you manage your virtual workforce? Share them below.
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