12 Strategies to Keep Virtual Employees on Task


Last week, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer informed the company’s employees that they could no longer work from home. Here is an excerpt of the memo:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.”

Yahoo! is a big company with many employees – and many who consider working from home as one of the job perks. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. If you’re going the virtual employee route, here are some suggestions to help make it work, from a dozen YEC entrepreneurs…

-Editor, AlleyWatch 

How Do You Manage Virtual Employees and Keep Them On Task (And On Message) From Afar? 



“Sites like Basecamp and Asana have made virtual work management a lot easier. With the ability to assign tasks and check them off lists, you can cut down on all of the “Did you finish this yet?” emails!”

– Caitlin McCabe | Founder & CEO, Real Bullets Branding

“A remote position can feel very unstructured, so it’s important for you to create that structure via a consistent schedule for what tasks happen when, what is expected of them on what day each week, etc. Create a very consistent schedule for them in terms of day-of-the-week projects, reports, and deadlines, and do your own part to stay on that schedule too.”

– Stephanie Kaplan | Co-Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Her Campus Media

“Be very clear about individual responsibilities and expectations. Don’t worry so much about where an employee is at any given time, as long as he or she is getting the necessary results. And as a manager, show up in person from time to time — it makes a world of difference in terms of their level of trust and respect.”

– Alexandra Levit | President and Founder, Inspiration at Work

“The best way to keep everyone on track when working virtually? Over communicate. Make sure that goals, deadlines, and expectations are clearly outlined from the onset, and clearly articulate these milestones throughout the process to ensure things stay on track. Open and clear communication is essential, especially when working with others through a computer screen.”

– Matt Cheuvront | Founder, Proof Branding

“Set the proper expectations from the beginning of the relationship, and do not let people slide. Let them know what you expect, when it will be expected and how you will inspect what you expect. If they don’t fulfill their agreements for work, do not let them off too easily. You must have consequences in place, and don’t be afraid to fire someone until you find the right match for you.”

– Louis Lautman | Founder, Supreme Outsourcing

“About 40 percent of our staff is remote, so we use chat (Skype and HipChat) to maintain an ongoing connection. It’s a great place to share quick updates, ideas and files. When a concept takes further explanation, we just jump into a quick video chat and talk it through — “face to face.””

– Allie Siarto | Partner, Director of Analytics, Loudpixel

“What will your employees complete each week! Set a list of goals each Monday morning. As the week goes on, see if they are making progress or not — and intervene if necessary.”

– Nathan Lustig | cofounder, Entrustet

“It’s not as easy or as spontaneous to check in with employees who work remotely, compared to team members around the office. For virtual employees, consider breaking up tasks into milestones of a project. This will ensure consistent communication throughout the life cycle of the project, saving time and effort in the long term.”

– Doreen Bloch | CEO / Founder, Poshly Inc.

“I like project-based rates over hourly rates. It’s much easier to check if a project is complete than try to check up on just how an individual spends her time. I’ve got better things to do than to play nursemaid: I bring in good people and I pay them specifically for the work they’ve completed. It’s not my responsibility to watch over their shoulders.”

– Thursday Bram | Consultant, Hyper Modern Consulting

“I hire virtual employees on oDesk and then manage their work with Google Docs. Employees update spreadsheets and check in with questions while oDesk tracks their hours and keeps them accountable.”

– Lucas Sommer | Founder CEO, Audimated

“Especially when you have people working virtually, it’s essential that you make time to regularly review their work and give them feedback. This keeps them accountable and gives you the opportunity to redirect them if they start to get off track.”

– Elizabeth Saunders | Founder & CEO, Real Life E®

“We utilize a lot of technology to keep everyone focused, including Google+ Hangout and Yammer. Still, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. We have daily, weekly, and quarterly meetings for virtual employees to come in and reaffirm goals, tasks, and progress.”

– Nick Friedman | President, College Hunks Hauling Junk

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

About the author: YEC

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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