Posts Tagged ‘Employee Management’


Tips to Effectively Manage Remote Workers

I may not be Captain Kirk, but my extensive travel schedule makes it imperative that I meet my business responsibilities while remaining connected to my base.  Some of your employees may have the same needs.  Sales territories keep your reps far from your home office, but even local workers may need to work from home during inclement weather — or even just because they prefer wearing fuzzy slippers from 9 to 5.

Remote work can make sense, as long as your employees have the resources that they need to excel at their jobs wherever they are.  But it also takes disciplined workers and supportive managers.  Here are some tips on how to decide which employees will be effective remote workers and how to ensure that they provide professional representation for your company.

Identifying Good Remote Workers

If an employee that reminds you of Ferris Bueller or Dude Lebowski asks for the opportunity to work from home, just say no.  Self-motivated employees, on the other hand, are likely to be even more productive when they don’t spend time commuting to an office where distractions and interruptions typically exceed those that workers might find at home.

Still, employees who want to work from home need to show that they have an appropriate, interruption-free work area.  For example, they probably need to send the kids to daycare or hire a nanny.  But just as important, look for employees who already display dedication, as evidenced by the following traits:

  • They consistently meet or exceed deadlines, even if it means coming in early or staying late;
  • They take work home while still putting in a full workday, particularly when that work requires unfettered concentration;
  • They keep you informed of progress without the need to prompt them;
  • They are good problem-solvers on their own, but they know when to seek your help.

Remote Employees Must Maintain a Professional Image to the Outside World

No customer, vendor or other outside party should ever see the laundry basket in an employee’s living room and seeing the inside of a coffee shop is no better.  In other words, business contact must occur outside of the home in professional surroundings.

You work hard to develop a professional image for your business and your employees need to maintain it, no matter where they are.  I count on Regus (who, for disclosure is a client of mine, and whose services and locations I have used as a client of theirs for years), one of the largest providers of flexible workspaces in the world, for the professional image that I need. 

Using professional remote workspaces allows you to rent anything from office space to meeting rooms on an as-needed basis, but if you regularly provide remote workers with access to flexible facilities, a resource like Regus’s Businessworld card can help keep costs under control while providing a professional working environment.

Technology Creates a Bridge between Workers and Home Base

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Most remote workers use a computer in some capacity to do their jobs.  It doesn’t matter if 

they carry a company laptop back and forth between home and office or if they use their own computer — as long as they have access to the right functions.  But once you take employees out of the office, you often need additional technology such as the following to keep them connected:

  • A reliable Internet connection;
  • High-quality and secure access to your office computer network, including email, using collaboration suites like Office 365;
  • A quality phone system, like those provided by Nextiva;
  • The ability to attend interactive meetings and video conferences online.

Having appropriate technology makes it seamless for you to collaborate with your team or even your vendors from almost anywhere in the world.

Avoiding the Isolation of Remote Work Environments

I know someone who was forced to work from home during her first months with a new employer simply because her office computer did not work.  She would come in to the office for meetings, but she lamented that the delay in getting to know her co-workers made her feel alienated from the team.  Years later, after she formed a bond with the team, she started working from home several days a week.  She enjoyed her time at home, but she always felt a sense of renewal when she returned to the office.

All employees must feel a close connection to the company and their co-workers, and it is your job to make sure that happens.  By conducting regular one-on-one and department phone meetings, you provide them with vital information relevant to their daily activities, but face-to-face contact is incredibly valuable as well.  You should make it clear that you expect local employees to come to the office on a regular basis, and even workers on the other side of the country might be able to travel in for the quarterly company meeting or other major events.

Everyone would enjoy the chance to wear fuzzy slippers and PJs during their work day, but this is just one of many reasons why studies have shown remote workers to be generally happier and more productive.  Still, it is important to make sure that a remote workplace does not equate to a remote connection with the company team.  With your guidance, employees who receive this benefit will earn your trust every day — especially if those fuzzy slippers have your company logo embroidered on them.


Good, Better, Best: How to Be the Best Leader for Your Small Business

Stocksy_txp4741dc94fC8000_Small_17003Like it or not, as a small business owner, one of your primary roles (if you’ve got employees, that is), is that of leader. If you haven’t had a lot of experience in the past in leading people, you might need a few pointers for polishing your skills. Not to worry: even if you’re not a born leader, it’s something you can improve with a bit of effort and education. And don’t be afraid to sign up for a leadership course.

The Qualities of a Great Leader

While everyone’s got their own opinion about what makes for killer leadership skills, most can’t argue that the following are qualities that can help you manage others with grace:

  • Solid listening & communication skills
  • Striving to help employees succeed
  • Empowering employees to make decisions
  • Striving for self-improvement
  • Learning from mistakes

How many of these qualities do you possess? If you need a brush-up, here are tips for expanding your abilities on each point:

  • Listening & Communication: Let your employees speak without you interrupting them. Pause before responding, and really consider what they’ve said.
  • Help Employees Succeed: If an employee comes to you with a problem, don’t just listen; act. Show him that you keep your word by making change to help him overcome his obstacle.
  • Empower Employees: Show your staff that you trust them to make decisions without your constant approval. They’ll blossom if you let them.
  • Self-Improvement: Realize that good leaders never assume they’ve reached the top, and keep striving to better their skills.
  • Learn from Mistakes: Just like anyone, you’re fallible, so rather than try to deny your errors, take them as valuable lessons.

Why You Should Strive to Be a Great Leader

Do you really need to improve your leadership skills? If you care about keeping your staff happy (and at your company), you should care. As Eric Jackson quotes the old saying in this Forbes article, people quit their bosses, not their jobs. Do you really want to be the reason you keep losing good talent?

Your staff looks to you for guidance on how to conduct themselves, as well as how your company is run. A good leader inspires her staff, not makes them cower under their desks.

Owning Your Leadership Style

If you’ve been to business school or any kind of leadership training, you might be familiar with Lewin’s Three Leadership Styles. These date back to 1939, and while others have been identified since then, these styles of leadership still ring true today:

  • Autocratic: You make decisions on your own without the input of your team, and your word is law. You’re not open to suggestions from your staff, which may make them fearful of you, and may cause employees to be difficult to motivate or keep on board.
  • Democratic: You involve staff members in key decisions, though you still have the final word. Employees feel more vested in the company when they are encouraged by you to provide input.
  • Laissez-faire: This style of leadership isn’t always effective. You put the responsibility of decision-making in the hands of your employees, which may cause your team to feel confused and without strong guidance, since that’s not a laissez-faire leader’s strong suit.

Each of these leadership types (as well as others) has its benefits and drawbacks. The key is understanding which comes naturally to you, as well as which your staff responds best to. For example, if you identify with the autocratic style, but your staff seems afraid to come to you with ideas or issues, try on the democratic hat for a week or two and see if results change. It’s better to align yourself with your staff’s needs than stick to what’s easiest for you.

The better the leader you are, the happier your employees will be. And a small business with happy employees makes for a successful company.


Should salespeople be doing customer service?

Prosser BlogThis is a question of great importance to companies with 20 to 50 employees. While there are exceptions, companies with only a few employees don’t have the resources to allocate separate people to sales and customer service. Larger companies tend to divide up these roles, providing different training and compensation plans for employees that do sales and customer service. But, there is not necessarily a clear path for companies in the 20 to 50 employee range. Here is why my former company decided not to separate these functions at first, and then went with a hybrid solution in which certain types of support were done by specialists.

My former company was in an industry with a really bad reputation (ten years ago). The industry was known for high-pressure sales tactics and shady practices. Our company was different.  We wanted to create a reputation for outstanding customer service, instead of pushy sales people.

We believed that having the sales professionals handle responsibilities for both closing the sale and dealing with any communications that occurred afterwards would dramatically change the way they approached selling. It would encourage them to do a good job setting expectations and educating customers prior to closing the sale. If they didn’t, the salespeople might have to deal with unhappy customers later on.

This approach was “mostly” successful, however, it did create some problems:

  1. Great salespeople tended to dislike this system and felt they were undercompensated. Some left the company, because they could make more in a “pure” sales job where they wouldn’t have to devote time to customer service.
  2. Many of our customer service oriented salespeople did not make any effort to close sales.
  3. Resolving certain types of customer service issues like a hard technical support question, sometimes took a while.

Before I discuss how we dealt with these challenges, I would like to emphasize that combining these functions did achieve the intended goal. Our company received very high marks for customer service, and established a reputation as having more integrity than our competitors.

Great salespeople want to both be recognized and rewarded for their skills. The key to both is tracking their performance. We heavily relied on our CRM system to see how different salespeople were performing.  We measured both their performance on the sales side (new leads that opened accounts) and customer service side (how many interactions they had with existing customers, and how frequently they were able to resolve the customer’s issue).  This information was used both for performance reviews and in making decisions regarding bonuses. While salespeople may not have been able to devote all their time to closing, they received praise and financial compensation for bringing new business.

It should be stated that we did not pay salespeople a commission, but a base salary and a quarterly bonus based on both the company’s and their personal performance. We believed that providing commission based compensation would lead to poor customer service.

We did lose some good salespeople, but many good salespeople liked the customer friendly environment.

The bigger problem was getting customer service focused employees to close sales. Surprisingly, the solution to this problem turned out to be “social” pressure. While these employees earned 0 or smaller bonuses, this did not seem to motivate them.  After a few warnings about putting more effort into sales, the company had to let a few of them go. However, there was a better solution that we found only years later. When we put the sales numbers of each employee on public whiteboards, there was a dramatic cultural change, and we saw an improvement in their performance. Because bonuses were based on personal and group performance, the weaker salespeople and their colleagues were suddenly aware of how these people were hurting their own compensation.

As the company grew, we did start separating certain customer support functions. The first area was technical support. Instead of having a general salesperson be the client’s point of contact in handling difficult tech issues, the company created technical support specialists which only dealt with technology related issues. This enabled tech support issues to be resolved more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keeping sales and customer support together sends a message to employees that customer support is not a second class job, but integral to the company’s success. On the other hand, it makes it harder to keep sales stars happy, and can create motivational issues for less sales driven employees. Combining sales and customer services puts more pressure on management and in the short-run can hurt sales.

Marc Prosser is the publisher of Fit Small Business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Managing Employees’ Internet Use

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Has the World Cup had your employees on the edge of their seats watching every game—at work? Today, it’s common for just about every employee of a small business to have Internet access on the job. While that generally enables your team to do their jobs more efficiently, other times it can really slow things down—or even put your business at risk from hackers, viruses and more. How can you protect your business and ensure productivity without becoming “Big Brother” when it comes to Internet use? Here are some tips.

  1. Protect. It’s easy for busy employees in a rush to accidentally click on a link or open an attachment that unleashes a computer virus. Take the basic step of ensuring your network and each computer has security software and that it’s updated regularly.
  2. Mind their own devices. More and more employees are going “BYOD,” or “bring your own devices,” to work these days. While this can seem like the answer to a budget-minded entrepreneur’s dreams, if employees use their own personal tablets and smartphones for work, it can open up a whole can of worms. In the long run, it may actually be more cost-effective to provide company-issued devices that you can control, update and monitor.
  3. Educate. No matter how much security software you install or how many automatic updates you run, most data loss occurs due to human error. Create a policy for what employees can and can’t do on their work computers, tablets and smartphones, and make sure everyone understands and signs it. Regularly remind employees of the importance of changing passwords frequently, keeping them secure, not installing software without permission and avoiding questionable emails or links.
  4. Check it out. Being on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube can be part of an employee’s job—or it could just be distracting them from their jobs. If things are out of hand, you might consider installing monitoring software on stafffers’ computers, which can tell you what websites they visit, what emails they get and what they do online. This seems like a drastic step, so a more comfortable solution may be simply for you to get out and walk around your business and interact with your employees. You’ll be able to tell who’s goofing off.
  5. Be real. Don’t pretend no one ever goofs off online. Instead, acknowledge the reality and work around it. For example, does your staff want to watch a sports event? Talk about ways people can get their work done early so they can enjoy some bonding time watching the game together. That can be just as good for your business as working can. 

Mondays with Mike: Make Micro Employment Work For You

Gone are the days of offices packed wall-to-wall with full-time employees pretending to be busy when the boss walks by.  It’s too expensive to keep a staff waiting around for your busy times, and savvy entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to micro employment to handle their fluctuating needs for staff.

Micro employment is employing contractors on an as-needed basis, and it works best for companies who have varying needs, based either on fluctuations in work load or based on shifting expertise requirements.  IT services is the perfect example:  from time to time, every single company is going to have technical difficulties and need the services of an IT professional.  But think about it … do you need one every day?  Every week?  If your needs are occasional, then you may be better off outsourcing your tech support.

Your first step is assessing your needs.  Do you need occasional articles written for your blog (and spend three days dreading the writing and another half day slogging through it?)  Find yourself a freelance writer.  If you’re an accountant and need additional help during tax time, you can find freelance help to help you get through the busy time.  Is your customer service department overwhelmed at the end of every month?  Find a temp to help ease that crunch. 

One important tip:  always, always try out your new contractor with a small sample job.  Hire your writer for a single article before you commit to a larger project, or bring your temp in during your slow time so that you can assess their abilities.  The point is to line up your freelancers before you need them so that you know you can count on them in a pinch.

It’s a big old world, and you may find that the contractor who best suits your needs lives on the other side of the planet.  While you can find good folks without having to meet them in person, I strongly advocate a virtual face-to-face via Skype.  There’s no substitute for spending a few minutes getting a feel for your micro employee.  You create a connection that’s impossible to forge via email.

Stocksy_txp28c9325ayB7000_Small_210944The key to finding – and keeping – good contractors at the ready is to pay them well.  The rule of thumb is that you’ll always pay more per hour for a good contractor than you would for a full-time staff person, but in the long run, it’ll almost always save you money.  How?  You only pay for the hours that your contractor is actually working, and you save on the benefits package as well.  I’m not advocating that you strip benefits from deserving staff, but I am suggesting that you have a responsibility to your company to staff it according to your needs.  In the long run, if you’re paying a highly hourly wage to a skilled contractor, they end up with the flexibility to work when they choose, and you end up with high quality work at a relative value.  Another tip:  always, always pay your contractors promptly.  You want them eagerly anticipating your next call, rather than looking for excuses not to work with you again.

At the end of the day, micro employment provides both you and your contractor with flexibility; you have the option to scale your staff up rapidly, as needed, and your contractors earn a higher hourly wage than they would if they were full-time, and they can schedule their work to suit themselves.  Micro employment works for everyone.


Using Internet Monitoring Software to Increase Employee Productivity

Stocksy_txpe4825224HV7000_Small_184198Small business owners used to be able to walk around their offices to see the work that their employees where doing. But as organizations are have become increasingly virtual, it is now impossible for a manager to accomplish this since work is now done at client sites, coffee shops, and homes. As a result, many small business owners are up at night wondering if employees are working or just playing video games during the day.

Productivity is being impacted. A 2013 salary.com survey showed that 58% of employees waste up to 60 minutes per day on non-business related websites during the work day, not including lunch or break times.

One solution to this problem is to use an internet monitoring software service for employees. Web monitoring and filtering is traditionally installed to block adult content, phishing sites, or to reduce time wasted on shopping and social media sites. One company, Rawstream is a cloud-based web monitoring and filtering product that helps employees spend their time online productively, profitably and safely.

This tool shows the exact amount of time a user spends looking at a particular website. It gives managers the visibility to see what employees are working on in real time no matter where they are via the application dashboard and report generation function. It also allows managers to see what files are being put into sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and Cubby. The software shows who is using the content sharing apps and lists any files shared that break company policy to protect against the sharing of files containing sensitive data such as credit card numbers. More importantly, employees have access to their own web usage reports, so they can examine their own habits and learn to use their time on the internet more effectively. Managers and employees can also set time limits to access to sites or block certain sites.

There are several benefits for small businesses to use web filtering solutions. Company production can increase when employees are not wasting time on websites that have no business value. Additionally, managers can have more confidence in allowing employees to work off site, giving employees the flexibility to work in an environment they can be most productive.

Too “Big Brother” for you? Remember that just letting employees know that the company is using an Internet monitoring tool will actually boost their productivity.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Declare Your Employees’ Independence

???????????????????????????????The best thing the owner of a growing business can do is give his or her employees their independence. No, I’m not talking about firing your employees; I’m talking about giving them the freedom to make their own decisions about how to get their work done.

As you undoubtedly know by now, it’s pretty much impossible for a small business owner to single-handedly do everything that needs to be done. That’s why you hire employees, right? Then why do so many of us refuse to let employees do their jobs, instead micromanaging them until they (and we) are miserable?

Here are four steps to giving your employees their independence.

  1. Provide training. Of course, you don’t want employees to totally wing it. Provide training in how to do the job, and give them direction in terms of what you want the results to be and what the overall goal is.
  2. Step back. Once employees know what you want and how to get there, step back and let them get from Point A to Point Z without offering your help (unless, of course, they ask). Who knows? Your employees might figure out a better way of getting things done.
  3. Empower decision-making. Customers hate it when employees have to “ask a manager” about every little thing. Provide parameters within which employees can make their own decisions about customer service, such as offering $X amount of comped food in your restaurant or refunding a certain amount of money with no questions asked. When employees feel trusted, they feel valued.
  4. Plan for the future. Discuss with your employees where they want to go in your company and how they can get there. When employees feel you have a stake in their future, they’ll give the business their all.

By giving your employees their independence, you’ll also gain freedom—the freedom to focus on what really matters in your business instead of sweating the small stuff. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Stop Wasting Time With Meetings

Are you and your employees spending too much time in meetings? In-person meetings can be the best way to get everyone on the same page, brainstorm new ideas or inspire teamwork. But meetings can easily spiral out of control and start devouring your workday, preventing you and your team from actually accomplishing all the stuff you’ve been meeting about.

Here are five ways to keep your team meetings manageable and productive.

  1. Stop the status meetings. Many businesses set up a weekly “status meeting” for everyone to check in and let the rest of the team know how their projects are going. Typically, this information could be just as easily conveyed by sending a status report everyone can read in 10 minutes.
  2. Keep it short. You’ve heard the saying “Work expands to fill the time available,” and the same is true of meetings. Always have a firm start and end time for your meetings—ideally, no longer than half an hour. This keeps everyone focused. Start wrapping up five minutes before closing time.
  3. Meet on the move. Try holding meetings with everyone standing up or meetings walking outside (obviously, the latter works better with a small team). Attendees will feel more energized, which makes standing meetings a great way to announce companywide changes or other news you want everyone to be excited about.
  4. Ban device use. Smartphones can make meetings take longer as people distracted by their devices miss key information and have to be brought up to speed. If your meetings are half an hour or shorter, it shouldn’t be a problem for everyone to put their phones face down on the table and focus. For longer meetings, set hourly breaks when people can grab refreshments, use the restroom and check phones and tablets.
  5. Be tough. Whoever’s in charge of the meeting needs to be tactful, but strict about keeping conversations on topic, managing “meeting hogs,” ensuring the meeting ends on time and clarifying next steps. If you can’t do this, appoint someone who can. 

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Mondays with Mike: Great Meetings In 4 Simple Steps

We’ve all had to sit through them – big old snoozefests of meetings full of buzzwords and BS.  Hell, I think I even conducted a few of those before I figured out how to get the most out of the times when I bring my staff together.  Meetings shouldn’t be a chore; they are an opportunity to share ideas, devise solutions, and inspire better performance from your whole staff – but only if you run those meetings right.  Here’s how it’s done:

  • Outline objective as a group.  My meetings start with a blank whiteboard.  I kick things off by establishing the reason for the meeting, and then every member of the group contributes an objective they want to accomplish in that meeting.  I write the objective down or designate another staff member to record our objectives, and the amazing benefit is that every single person is immediately engaged.  They have a stake in the meeting, and they know their priorities matter.  Don’t worry if you have more objectives than time … you’re about to refine and focus your list.
  • Consolidate your objectives.  Combine and condense your list of objectives into a manageable number – three to five is a perfect number for a brief meeting – and list those goals for everyone to see.  Tackle each objective – collect information, collaborate to find a solution, and move on through your list.
  • Confirm that you’ve achieved each objective.  Not only does this step ensure that you’ve accomplished the meeting’s goals, but you’re also modeling a thoughtful, efficient approach to problem solving.  Focusing on measurable progress sets a good example.

Not every problem needs a major meeting, and my next and final step lets you address smaller issues by holding a meeting with an appropriate scope.  These micro meetings can be held on short notice and should only involve the essential staff. 

  • ???????????????????????????????????Hold a stand-up meeting.  When you sit folks down for a meeting, they tend to settle in.  There’s no hurry, and there’s little excitement in a room full of people looking at their watches.  I like the stand-up meeting, and I keep ‘em brief.  We use raised tables for standing note-taking, and I always appoint a timekeeper, with instructions to cut the meeting off at fifteen minutes.  Giving yourself a brief window means that you have to prioritize your objectives, and you’re eliminating unnecessary fluff.  You have to be prepared, and you must be efficient.  Training yourself and your staff to stay on topic in these quickie meetings will pay dividends when you discover how much you can accomplish in a relatively short period of time.

A meeting should always, always be the means to an end.  The point of holding a meeting is to accomplish an objective, not to appear to be busy and engaged.  If you’re meeting just to have a meeting, you’re doing it wrong.  If you see your staff propping up their eyelids to stay awake in your meeting, then you need to examine and improve your meeting protocol.   Your objective should be efficient, effective, goal-oriented gatherings.  




 
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