If your small business employs or plans to employ virtual workers, check out the recent article by software analyst Ashley Verrill on TechCrunch. In it, Verrill says she emailed more than 40 current and former employees of Apple’s At-Home Advisor program to learn how to run a team that’s based in disparate locations. These Apple staffers work remotely, offering customer service and tech support to its customers.
Apple’s management methods “in every case were intense, sometimes sort of silly, and at other times borderline extreme,” Verrill writes. But the company’s style offers some insights that may help you evolve your virtual management practices or develop a strategy for future work-at-home employees. Here are three tips based on Apple’s practices.
1. Make them part of the team. When At-Home Advisors are hired, Apple sends them a care package of items such as a company T-shirt, gift cards, and a mug that makes the employee feel welcome, Verrill reports.
When you hire a virtual worker, invest time and effort in making them part of your team. If you’re transitioning on-site employees to at-home jobs, convene regular meetings and get-togethers to foster a “family” environment. Employees are more likely to work harder and stick around when they feel valued.
2. Set expectations during training. Working as a virtual employee for Apple means completing an intensive training program. It’s a four-week program in which prospective employees are required to participate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the end of each week, trainees must pass an exam, Verrill reports. This makes it clear that working from home isn’t casual or easy. It also requires employees to invest time and energy in the program, which makes them less likely to quit soon after training.
The takeaway here for small-business owners is that, if you make any kind of training casual, employees may view the job as casual. Testing new employees’ work ethic and setting clear expectations are as important as teaching them the skills needed for the position.
3. Conduct real-time checks. There’s a fine line between micromanaging and encouraging efficiency, but Apple employs “big brother”-style strategies to monitor employees. During training, employees are asked to answer questions during live instruction. Mouse movements are monitored, and trainers may ask class members to turn on their cameras for group instruction. This extends after training as well, Verrill reports.
Monitoring your employees is easy: Services like Google Chat, Skype, and FaceTime allow you to speak with employees and catch a glimpse of where they are. Some employers require remote staffers to have their computer’s webcam turned on while working to more mimic the office environment. This allows managers to talk to workers in real time just as they would in a traditional office. If you use cloud-based services like Dropbox, you can view files as they’re updated, which time-stamps work as it’s delivered.
Apple’s methods may be “intense,” but they’re effective. By following its lead — and making adjustments to suit your small business — you can successfully manage home-based workers, too.