Virtual Teams

How to Manage Employee Trial Periods for a Virtual Team

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When we first launched our company Greenback Expat Tax Services, a global, virtual business, everyone we hired was brought on as a permanent hire. They would hit the ground running with everything from full project immersion to cross-tasking with central staff. That’s all changed. We now implement a probationary period to ensure the fit is right – for both the employee and the company.

How a virtual-worker probationary period works to your advantage

Even remote workers require supervision, structure, focus and rules.  So when we bring on new team members, they begin with limited key projects, reduced co-worker contact and very few client introductions. After we have confidence that both their work and work styles mesh with ours, then we bring them into the "fold" by setting them up with full functionality of their role.

Related: Hard-Earned Lessons From Building a Remote Culture

Previously we have written about our comprehensive virtual-hire screening process which is pretty close to being fool-proof to find the right fit -- but when it comes to the human condition, nothing is 100 percent! So a trial period has become mandatory and effective. 

Below are the steps in the screening process that determines if a worker should go from probationary to permanent.

Establish trust 

For virtual owners who can’t pop in to someone’s office to check on their productivity, it is critical to build trust-  not just with the owner but the entire team. While some may say trust is an intangible component, we test for trust in a very tangible way. We start by establishing shared objectives through our quarterly goals process which outlines our expectations and also keeps everyone focused on the same thing: growing the business.  

Create projects 

Another way we continue building trust is introducing one or two projects to each new staffer during the probationary period which are designed to test their skill-sets as well as their ability to meet our expectations on process completion.  Only the probationary staffer and direct manager are involved in these projects to ensure they are singularly focused and managed closely.  This ensures that other team members don’t spend valuable time getting someone up to speed when they ultimately may or may not stay on board. Successful project completion solidifies their reliability, which is the key to building trust company wide.

Related: 6 Must-Do Steps to Ensure New Employees Start on the Right Foot

Monitor and react

Most new team members want to do their job well but not all will know how.  This could lead to their frustrations being interpreted as flippant attitudes (which is even more apt to be interpreted virtually than it is in-person).  Find out what the pain point is before letting things go too far.  If there are performance issues, address them immediately because if they are struggling, they may simply need your help to find their way.

For example, are they avoiding your online portal because they are too confused and embarrassed to admit it, or do they simply think it’s a waste of time?

When you need to delve deeper schedule a Skype call (endless IMs or emails will get you nowhere).  Even if this will require you to wake up at an off-hour in your time zone to satisfy theirs do it. We all know how difficult it is to find good people, so while we highly suggest early intervention (because it’s much harder to get people back on track once they’ve taken a detour), it’s also up to you to identify whether or not the issue is one that can be resolved or is a deal breaker.

Praise and recognition  

Probationary periods shouldn’t just end with the team member getting an alert that they are now permanent. This is the time for praise, recognition and even celebration. Share the news with the entire team through your collaborative software, announce it during your weekly/monthly conference call, and even consider a “showcase” of that employee on your "High-Five Fridays" or "Get to Know You Wednesdays."  Becoming permanent means they are now an official part of your organization and that should be acknowledged and applauded.

Introducing new team members into a virtual organization has its challenges, as productivity and effectiveness aren’t measured in person. A well-designed 30-day probationary period will tell you everything you need to know.  And while the front-end task of closely managing your new addition is time consuming, identifying the right (or wrong) team member quickly will pay dividends in the end.

Related: What Are Performance Reviews Really About?