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No Office? 4 Secrets for Managing Virtual Workers
 

Concerned about getting your money's worth when your team is spread across the country--or the world? Relax. Here are the secrets from a virtual-company pro.

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Entrepreneurs and small-businesses sometimes need support, but don't want to take on the overhead of a physical office space. And for those who are bootstrapping a start-up, office space is rarely an option. Hiring staff to work remotely may be the answer but how can you be sure you are getting your money's worth out of team members who aren't physically present?

We ask James DeJulio, the president of Tongal, a social video crowdsourcing platform, what lessons he's learned from his experience in using thousands of remote staff.

"I will never de-emphasize the value of collaboration with team members, but we're really in an age where collaboration can happen in a lot ways other than purely physical ones," says DeJulio. "For example, if Yahoo started to look at the work its remote staff was doing as if no one would do it unless they really wanted to, they'd completely reexamine how they motivate employees."

Tongal also advises that employers should provide the opportunity for remote workers to be physically present whenever they feel the urge.

"This has worked wonders for us, both with the Tongal community and our staff," he says. "We have employees in various parts of the country, and if they ever want to spend time at the Tongal mothership, the door is open."

Since 2008, Tongal's formula for using remote workers to create stellar video content has earned it major clients, such as Procter and Gamble, Google, Coca-Cola, Ford, Lego, Lucasfilm, and NASA. The best part is, the company's network of crowdsourced remote staff gets the opportunity to work with these huge companies from anywhere in the world. Videos produced by Tongal's remote workforce have been used as commercials during major events, including the Super Bowl and the MTV Movie Awards. 

Here are DeJulio's tips for successfully building and managing a successful virtual team.

Make the Work Enjoyable

Find ways to motivate your remote workforce--and that doesn't just mean higher pay.

DeJulio stresses that motivation is not directly correlated to economics. Just because you're willing to pay a lot, doesn't mean that someone will do a good job. Provide a mix of challenge and fun. If you can capture the magic that makes work feel more like play, you can ensure that you'll get a great effort whatever area code your staff is in.

Provide Latitude and Structure

DeJulio believes that if people are working remotely, chances are they prefer working when they want to tackle tasks--kind of like an employee Montessori school. However, you need to impose deadlines and structure in the work. In DeJulio's experience remote workers, like right-brained people, need this--and will thrive if you give it to them.

Hire People Who Have (Successfully) Worked Remotely in the Past

If your candidate has excelled at remote work with other companies, you'll know that the work ethic and discipline are already present. If that's not an option, DeJulio recommends seeking potential employees who are motivated to do their job (or former jobs) unconventionally. For example, don't hire a remote worker whose goals are purely economic, hire a remote worker who is motivated by developing a new product, fixing a problem, or disrupting the way things have been done in the past.

Reward Overall Results

Maximize results by letting your virtual team know that you value a sustained contribution. Show that that their work is appreciated and contributing to a bigger vision and plan. For example, Tongal has a bonus system that rewards its top performers over a predetermined amount of time. Consider: What creative opportunities will you have in store for your remote staff?

 

IMAGE: Flickr/elmada
Last updated: May 20, 2013

MARLA TABAKA is a small-business adviser who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness.
@MarlaTabaka




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