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A Lesson in Virtual or Remote Employee Management

by Peter Conrad CARS, ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, Comm SEL-SES, PI

“The care and feeding of a repo agent”
Or
A Lesson in Virtual or Remote Employee management

One of the greatest challenges for an owner of a repossession company, is to control and direct one or more repossession agents, or field agents (as it’s known in the industry). This conundrum is also an exercise in virtual or remote employee management.

My experience (15 + years) as owner of just such a company.

This was my biggest challenge, and in many ways not your average remote management situation. Most, who are familiar with the challenges of this type of management challenge would appreciate the unique situation. For those unfamiliar, it is simply a special management technique that is absolutely required, when you cannot be in proximity to the employee, and all contact during the working day or time is restricted to some form of electronic communication (phone, email, text message).

When considering the challenges of managing repo agents, you could draw many parallels to the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq (2003). This scandal was a great embarrassment to the USA. Interestingly all of the abuses had occurred during the night shift.

Why the night shift?

All the managers were gone for the evening…

The Abu Ghraib debacle has some commonalities with the repossession industry. The parallel is that the average repo man almost always works alone, some work with a coworker, but never with someone that you could call a manager or boss.

Couple that with their idea of fun…

Sneaking down someone’s driveway at 2am to legally ‘steal’ someone’s vehicle, this is a recipe for mayhem. If the repo agent had a propensity to steal, they have one the best opportunities in the repossession industry. Not the vehicle per say, but they are often alone with the newly repossessed vehicle for hours, even  before it is even taken to the company storage yard. Also many of the cars are still filled with personal property which must be removed and inventoried. All by the same sole repossession agent.

All unsupervised.

Not to mention many owners simply give up the keys with the vehicle. Which can add a whole other dimension to the possibilities for mayhem (a little joy ride anyone)? How about taking some friends out on the town in a $80,000 Mercedes? You get my point. All this and much more can happen if managers get too complacent or do not take steps of defuse this kind of abuse before it gets out of control. Skills in virtual or remote employee management as well as skilled and informed recruiting are vital.

Here are some steps that will help with the process:

   1. Criminal Background check-This can be a real eye opener. If the potential employee has been involved in criminal activities, do you really want them representing you when they’re by themselves? However a criminal background check may not be necessary at all, it depends of the job. If for example you hire a person to write code from their home office 1000 miles away. Does it matter if they had a domestic violence charge 10 years ago? Probably not, but if you are concerned with for example, a programmer putting something into the code that can cause security issues later, then a criminal background check may give you some insight into their personality.

   2. Credit Check-This I never needed to use in the repossession business. Let’s face it, if I had I would not have had any employees. But this can be an excellent tool to judge character. Mostly to judge if a person will follow through, and live up to their responsibilities. A good credit score shows character, and the ability to follow through. But again here you may decide that the job you are interviewing for does not require this level of prescreening, or the pay level is such that you might never see anyone of this level of character(this was almost always the problem for me). So you may decide to either omit this or adjust your expectations if you do.

   3. Training- One very important step is communicating your expectations and the responsibilities of the job to the new employee. If you don’t, you run the risk of a “misunderstanding”, either deliberate or accidental. If you communicate each expectation and back it up in written form, it will save you many headaches in the future. Employee manuals are a real headache saver.

   4. Monitoring-You must take steps to monitor the employee. Either monitor the end result or the actual work activity. I personally prefer to look at the end result, this is the most telling and it is what is most important. If an employee is not doing their job, then it will show in the end product. But in case of hourly employees you have to monitor the daily work activities. Computers are fairly easily monitored through key loggers or web based productivity monitoring.

   This can take up a great deal of time. So I would look at random times during every other day if I saw something that looked suspicious (example someone playing a game) then I would look further. But if you let the prospective employee know they are being monitored, then this sort of activity goes way down. And productivity goes up.

   So in conclusion while the pre-employment steps are vital, it is far more important to the overall performance of the virtual or remote employee to maintain a vigorous monitoring program, one also coupled with a reward system for work well done.