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How to keep 'work from home' employees accountable--without spying

Liane Cassavoy | April 2, 2013
We all hear the jokes about employees not-really-working at home. If you're not sure what remote employees are up to, use these tech tools and management tips to get the most out of them and take the worry out of your work-at-home policy. (Surprise: Spying is not the best answer.)

"In a big company, the CEO is tasked with keeping track of the actions of tens of thousands of employees, and checking VPN logs is a perfectly rational way to start that process," says David Bloom, the CEO of tech startup, who manages a team of five employees, one of whom works remotely. "But if you're doing that for your small company, you've already lost. You've lost a measure of trust. In a small company, the CEO should have much more personal and interactive relationships with their employees. You should have a system in place to know that they're doing their work, without looking at any server logs."

Talking face-to-face

Bloom says that he relies heavily on daily video chats conducted via the free Google Hangouts video chat service. "Everyone logs on for 15 minutes each morning, so we can all talk about what we've accomplished and what we're working on. We have five employees, and four of us are in the same place, but we all log on separately. This allows us to have a face-to-face meeting where everyone's equal. It's not the four of us sitting in one place, with our colleague sitting somewhere else."

Arriving at this system wasn't easy, though. Bloom says he tried daily email exchanges, weekly meetings, and weekly reports from the CEO and CTO before realizing that a quick, daily, face-to-face, (albeit virtually so) meeting was the best way for staffers to touch base. And the arrangement keeps all of his employees accountable for their work.

In addition to conducting these daily meetings, uses Asana task management software, which is free for teams with up to 29 members. The software runs $100 per month for teams that have 30 to 50 members, and prices go up from there.

GoToMeeting and a dual-monitor setup help HiringThing's Director of Finance and Operations Jess Tejani work from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Josh Siler, the founder and CTO of HiringThing, which creates software for companies looking to post jobs online, likewise believes that virtual face-to-face contact is one of the best tools for managing remote employees. He founded HiringThing as a virtual company from the outset, and its six employees live in various places on the West Coast.

"We use GoToMeeting for video conferencing three times a week," Siler says. "Being able to see someone's face makes a big difference." And it doesn't cost a lot: GoToMeeting, which lets you conduct high-definition video conferences that attendees can join from a PC or from a mobile device, starts at $49 a month for unlimited meetings of up to 25 attendees.


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