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How do you manage and measure home-based employees?

               Do home-based employees work with the same dedication and productivity as those in office cubicles next to each other?  That depends upon the management as much as the employee.  I have a friend who is a CEO of a recruiting firm who “virtualized” her company after a decade of maintaining a fixed office location.  She organizes morning conference calls, has each employee tweet the others in their department when starting work and ending the day, creates the feel of closeness with employee contests, and rewards her best sales people by assigning them the best leads, creating an environment where the best excel and those unable to cut it in a virtual environment fall out on their own accord for lack of revenue.  But most important, the unpredicted benefit of having very low infrastructure overhead may be the one most important element in saving the company during the strongest and longest downturn in recruiting industry memory because of the recent recession.  Much larger recruiting companies are in trouble, with high fixed costs for facilities that cannot be shed quickly.  This CEO’s decision to try to retain an excellent, motivated staff in a virtual environment is paying off in every way.  The employees are more satisfied, actually work more hours in a day even if spread over a longer period, and uniformly claim a better lifestyle as a result of the move.

                But as you see from the story above, it does take more creative management to make this work. It is a management skill that was not taught nor learned until recent times. A creative CEO will find ways to motivate and compensate for the lone nature of working alone, but using social networking tools to make office workers and home workers feel and behave as a unit.   After all, with this generation of texting, tweeting, IM-based workforce, you’ll find as much of this kind of communication from adjacent cubicles as from distant home offices.

[Email readers continue here…] Let’s pause for a word about dress code and formal accountability for the home office worker.  Employees working at home must dress for work, even if casual, and find a schedule for the start of each work day that is to be counted upon by fellow workers.  It won’t be long before home workers will routinely greet each other via video conference from the home desk.  Although possible today and used by some, it is not a requirement of most employers with home-based workers.  Someone who “comes to work each day” even if to the computer in a separate part of an apartment, is putting on the business hat in a much more formal way that one who drifts to a computer in the room beside a blaring TV, dressed in pajamas and arriving whenever convenient.

                How about the employee unable to self-motivate in a home environment?  With the proper measurements of productivity, it will soon become quite obvious to both the employee and manager that such an opportunity is not right for that person.

                Ask any CEO who has tried letting employees work from home, whether for a day a week or as a rule with occasional office visits.  You’ll find stories of emails time stamped well into the night, work performed at unusual hours and productivity increases.  You’ll also hear a bit of pride in the telling.  A CEO that encourages this once-risky venture and is rewarded with increased performance, is a person fulfilled and willing to tell anyone who’ll listen.

  • We have had great results with a combination of SalesForce and frequent calls. SF lets us monitor real time activity with our distributed sales team, and frequent calls keep people connected at an emotional/team level.

  • Having 53 virtual employees, the life balance experience is well worth the strategic time needed to create a “real” virtual business. After all the tactical issues have been addressed, it’s critical to look at what I call the soft skill side of the employee experience, with a serious focus on corporate culture, retention, rewards, building a virtual water cooler and establishing a sense of pride in their work and the work family they belong to.

  • I am a new entrepreneur who has chosen to ‘virtualize’ my business and allow all employees to work from home full time. I can tell you, it can be challenging at the beginning, but once you implement measures and controls (as suggested by Dave) it can be tough to ever want to go back to the corporate office.

    Dave, thank you for your posts. They are extremely helpful to people of all ages and backgrounds. As a young entrepreneur, I always find a wealth of information from your blog. Keep up the great work!

  • I have worked in both corporate environments and in a home-based office. While there are clear advantages such as the obvious gains including lack of travel to and from the office, flexible scheduling, reduced overhead and dis-advantages like un-anticipated isolation, lack of in-person collaboration; managed by both parties appropriately, can provide great value to those with the right motivation. Those without the proper self-motivation will get lost in the shuffle and find themselves out of a job in a short period of time.

    As an executive evaluating the option for someone to work in a virtual environment I have to take into consideration the employees level of self-motivation. In weighing this I look at things like “does this person meet deadlines on-time, early or tardy, and are they typically running late to the office or are they on-time?” Both examples can be telling; virtual workplace has some strong points, but we cannot overlook that it is still not an option for all, regardless how much both parties may wish it.

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