In my decade plus as an entrepreneur, my business-related travel schedule means I'm often on the road. Even when I'm not, I usually find myself feeling more productive when working from home. As a result, I've often managed my employees virtually.
Fortunately, there are many great tools that have helped me be as productive as possible. Here are the six that I recommend, with tips on how to make the most of them so you, too, can manage virtual employees.
Skype is a virtual communication tool that allows you to make voice calls and video calls—for free—online. But, there's even more functionality for managing virtually when you utilize Skype's paid option, Skype Premium.
Skype Premium allows you to have video conference calls with up to 10 people (the free option only allows for two people). So I can meet with every member of my team from their desk, in office or out, and have us all be able to see each other and communicate "in person." It also means I can go over everything once and have all of my employees on the same page. Additionally, the premium service allows group screen sharing, making it an economical replacement for other virtual meeting and group screen share applications.
Dropbox is an online file storage service that also allows you to collaborate with anyone you choose to via the cloud. You can give people access on a folder-by-folder basis, allowing you to share documents with the team members who need to see them. Better yet, Dropbox allows you to use the service with up to 3GB of storage space for free. If you need more storage space, you can upgrade to the 50GB plan for only $99 dollars per year (larger plans are also available).
We use Dropbox to share files with everyone from employees to our accountant. Our office manager scans contracts to a folder available to me and my partner and scans bank statements into yet another folder accessible to our accountant. Yet another folder contains contracts that our lawyer can access. We've found this to be the simplest solution to multiple people needing to access various files from multiple locations.
Basecamp is an online project management software that is perfect for small business use. Unlike many project management solutions, Basecamp is focused on simplicity—offering just what small businesses need without all the huge corporation features they don't.
Project task lists and time trackers top the reasons why I love (and use) Basecamp. We put each client in as a project. Then we create tasks lists for that client and assign those tasks to our employees to ensure everything gets done. We can click on the to-do lists and see what each individual employee still has outstanding. Then we use the Milestone feature to help us track when each portion of the project needs to be done.
Basecamp also makes a great collaboration tool when used between several companies working on different pieces of the same project.
4. Google Calendar
The popular, and free, Google Calendar service allows users to share virtual online calendars with specific people and groups.
We use the Google Calendar in various ways. One calendar has company and project deadlines listed within it so that everyone knows when things are due. We use another to specify travel schedules so we know when employees are away or so that they know when we (their bosses) are. We use yet another as an editorial schedule on blogs we run so that people know which days and times they're expected to post. No matter what you need to organize, schedule-wise with your staff, you'll likely find a functional way to do it with Google Calendar.
ShoeBoxed is an online receipt management tool. It enables you to upload your receipts by mailing or e-mailing them. You You can then categorize each receipt by expense type.
With free DIY plans and paid plans starting at only $9.95 per month, we've found this to be an extremely economical (and useful) tool for both our virtual staff to submit receipt expenses and for our off-site accountant to be able to access them at any time. Additionally, ShoeBoxed also allows for business card scanning and is compatible with QuickBooks.
Think of Yammer as being a private Twitter for companies to communicate securely online.
We use Yammer as a communication tool, motivator and proverbial online water cooler. Our virtual employees can communicate as a group in real time, creating some camaraderie, without the rest of world listening in. Only the boss.
What are the most useful tools you've used for managing virtual employees?
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