The mobile-virtual workforce has become such a growing part of the economy that the Department of Labor has officially taken notice, announcing recently that its statisticians are making new efforts to measure the “gig” economy.
Businesses of every size – from startups to established large companies – are finding ways to leverage these flexible workers to their advantage. However, unless owners and managers use the right tools and have the right systems in place, a mobile-employee strategy can backfire. Here are five essentials you need before considering if you want to gain the productivity you envision.
1. Scope of work
The single biggest element you need to have in place before bringing virtual workers – either freelancers or remote employees – onto your team is to understand what you want them to accomplish. Clearly defined duties and goals are fundamental for any position and they are even more important when a worker isn’t going to be in your physical location.
If you were hiring a traditional employee, you would have a job description in place before starting to advertise and interview. While the format may be different for a virtual hire, the underlying principles are the same. If you can’t put the requirements in writing, you can’t count on anyone meeting your expectations.
Once your goals and duties clearly defined, consistent communication and follow up then become important ongoing checkpoints. Fortunately, the same technology that has powered the growth of distance workers – the Internet – has also provided the means to easily communicate with these professionals.
Email, while still playing an important role, is definitely becoming less of the “go-to” means of communication. Instead, communication is moving to apps such as:
- Skype: video, voice, meetings and text messages all have their roles in day-to-day management.
- Slack and HipChat: these apps are fundamentally chat apps designed for work groups. However, they feature third-party app integrations that make them much more powerful than any standard chat app.
- Facebook at work: this is in beta right now and you may not be able to get your business enrolled. However, it may be the next major player in this area and could be the ultimate email killer.
There’s a saying in quality assurance: If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it. The principle also applies to managing your mobile workforce. The various freelance sites, such as Upwork, provide time-tracking apps that contractors can use with the freelancers they hire.
Being able to track time on task in light of work accomplished is the cornerstone of measuring and managing productivity. Closely associated with this is the ability to collaborate, share and review work products, and that’s where project management and file sharing software comes in.
4. Project management
Projects are generally more complicated today than they were a generation ago. When you add mobile workforce to the mix, management becomes even more difficult. Don’t fret, there are several good cloud-based project management services. Among the most popular are Trello, Asana and Basecamp. When you start adding apps, such as a project management app, be sure it integrates with your chat app like Slack or HipChat, if you’re using one.
Be sure to choose the apps that work best for your business and stick with them. If you fail to settle on just one file sharing service it can eventually create confusion. For example, having some documents shared via your Dropbox and others via Google docs is just a problem waiting to happen. Decide in the beginning which you prefer and be sure your freelancers and long distance employees use it too.
When you have these fundamental tools, services and strategies in place, you’ll be able to successfully start and grow a productive virtual workforce from anywhere.