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Rice University research calls for more ways to measure virtual employee success

As more and more offices have remote workers, managers need to know how to measure virtual employee success. Getty Images

Managers are always hunting for ways to measure performance. They need to know what's succeeding and what's not so they can make adjustments and improve a work team's output. This has led to countless research that looks at ways to measure and boost employee performance. Indeed, one recent study showed there were more than 130 models and frameworks for measuring team performance in the workplace.

But how we do business has been changing in the last two decades. Communication technology and information sharing increasingly has decentralized the workforce. More and more people are working remotely. Consider telecommuters, online messenger services such as Slack and customer service call centers routing their calls across the world. What forces determine how these virtual teams function?

In a recent study, Rice Business professor Utpal Dholakia and colleagues René Algesheimer of the University of Zurich and Călin Gurău of GSCM-Montpellier Business School looked closely at what motivates remote teams and how to measure what they do. They began with a standard input-mediator-output-input model (IMOI) to measure team characteristics such as size, tenure, communication, strategic consensus and intentions. Then they dove further, including expected team performance, actual team performance and past team performance into the equations. Finally, they analyzed the influence of motivational (desire to perform) and rational (shared goals) dimensions.

To conduct the research, Dholakia, Algesheimer and Gurău analyzed professional computer gaming teams, reasoning that such teams work together in highly competitive environments. The gamers' lack of organizational context, meanwhile, eliminated any bias that could be linked to traditional institutional structures such as culture and goals. There was a downside, however: the gaming teams didn't fully replicate the situation of virtual teams in business organizations.

Still, by choosing the European Electronic Sports League (ESL) the researchers were able to pick from more than half a million teams that play in excess of 4 million matches a year. In the end, 606 teams participated in the study by answering a questionnaire in the course of a year. The teams all had stable structures and specific objectives, strategies and training, just like virtual work teams. Data was also collected from the ESL database and included in the model.

The findings: most studies do not consider expected and actual team performance in their calculations. This is important because research shows a strong link between expectation and performance. Including both sets of results can help managers choose the right steps to enhance team strategy and effectiveness. (The study did not analyze issues such as trust, training, conflict resolution or leadership, areas Dholakia recommends for further research).

The framework devised by Dholakia and his colleagues gives researchers a more precise way to analyze remote or international teamwork. It also could help guide managers in examining a team's cultural diversity, and how that might affect output. In a time when the workplace is growing ever less tangible, Dholakia's model is a sturdy tool to measure what's happening out there.

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This article originally appeared on Rice Business Wisdom.

Utpal Dholakia is the George R. Brown Professor of Marketing at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Budgeting your startup is one of the most important aspects of ensuring success. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

According to Jean Murray, a business professor at Palmer College where she taught business startup and finance, the most important thing an entrepreneur must meet head on is budgeting. Startup budgeting is important because it allows you to make an educated guess as to what your expected income and expenses will be.

Murray recommends planning for the first day of your startup.

"You have to start by determining what you'll require on the first day of your business in order to open the doors and start accepting customers or having your website go live," she says.

Your first day budget

Murray says it's best to break down your "day-one startup budget" into four distinct categories:

Facilities cost. This is the cost of your startup location. Your office. Your company building or office or warehouse.

Fixed assets. These are expenditures for furniture, equipment, or company cars that you'll need to establish your company on the first day.

Materials and supplies. This is pretty straightforward. It includes office supplies and promotional stuff. In order to get your company started, you'll need these materials on the first day.

Other expenditures. This can range from paying an accountant to help you build a reliable and efficient HR system, licenses and permits, deposits, legal fees, or any other fees needed on the first day.

Monthly expense "guesstimate"

Murray recommends that you estimate monthly expenses, too. Both of the fixed and variable variety.

"Fixed expenses are expenditures that don't rely on how many customers or subscribers you have. We're talking expenses like rent, utilities, office supplies, insurance, loan payments and utilities," Murray says.

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are expenses that actually DO change with how many customers and subscribers you have monthly.

"Variable expenses range from production costs, commissions, postage and shipping, packaging, and wholesale price of items," Murray explains.

Estimating monthly sales is the hardest aspect of startup budgeting. Nobody can forecast what sales for a new startup will be.

"You'll have to take an educated guess. What are your best and worst case scenarios? Then come up with something in the middle," she advises.

For realistic budgeting, you have to understand that not every sale will be counted. It will depend on what kind of business you are running and how your customers and subscribers pay.

"It's wise to include a collections percentage with your monthly sales estimate. If you estimate sales for February to be $100,000 and your collection percentage is 70%, then you should show that your cash for February is $70,000," Murray suggests.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.