Power Players

5 tricks Barbara Corcoran uses to keep her team productive while working from home

Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group and "Shark Tank" investor
Jim Spellman | Getty Images

With the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across the country (and world) have their employees telecommuting. "Shark Tank" star and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran's employees are working from home too.

"I want people working full speed ahead at home," she tells CNBC Make It.

To keep her staff productive, here's the "game plan" Corcoran has laid out for her employees. 

Set up a dedicated work space

"You need to have a work space," Corcoran, who hosts the 888-Barbara podcast, tells CNBC Make It. "A lot of people think it's gonna be convenient [working from home] – they'll use the dining room table. They'll put their computer up, and boom, they're on their game.

"It's not that way," she says.

"I find that when people work from home, they have to have a dedicated work space." 

But Corcoran recognized that, living in New York City, most of her employees do not have space in their apartment for an at-home office, "knowing people had roommates, sharing rooms." 

"Especially with younger people, with a space being so short where I operate, in these apartments which every foot costs you a fortune. They don't have extra space," she said.

So asked her team to just "partition off a spot that you don't use for anything else. And I mean just a spot," she says.

Then she asked them to send her a picture of their setup.

"I asked [my team] to be accountable and send me a photo of their work space by [this past] weekend," she said. "They have to show me their work space, not because I don't trust people, but because it gives them a deadline."

"People at the office are very accustomed to deadlines and once you get home, there are no deadlines, and that's where people fall in the craters very often and are not productive. So that was the first deadline."

Have right equipment and supplies

Second, Corcoran asked her employees to think through what they'd need at home to be productive.

"Everyone said, 'Well I have my cell phone and I have my computer. I'm fine,'" she said. "But when I challenged that, I realized everyone needed a printer. So I ordered printers to everyone's home that day."

Along with printers, she was sure to check that each of her employees had high speed internet.

If anyone needed specialized equiptment, like her video editor, she had that sent to their home.

"That would drive them crazy," Corcoran said about not having the right equipment. "They think, 'It's fine, it's only at home,' but once they get there, they're gonna lug behind. It's not good," she said.

They're "not going to get the same quality and I'm not going to get the same quality."

Along with equipment, Corcoran says employees need the right supplies.

"I told everybody, 'Go get the yellow pads, the paper clips, get a scissor, and get your stapler. Put it in a bag,'" she said.

To make it more pleasant, "I actually brought bags for everyone, nice bags, decorated bags, happy bags!" Corcoran says. "Like, 'Oh we're going to school on the first day!' So, everybody was excited packing their little bag."

Although "it sounds silly," she has a reason behind her "happy bags," she says.

"When you get home, and you can't clip a couple of papers together, you'll feel less put together if you're lacking a paperclip," Corcoran said. "So that's minutia, but I think that sets people up for success, because they feel more official versus, 'Oh it's just at home' which is not what I want."

Set meetings to check in

While working from home, Corcoran finds it especially important to keep communication flowing among the team.

"What I was worried about, and I gave a lot of thought to before I met with the team, was how we were going to keep the wonderful comradery we have at the office and the ease of communication where one person sits right next to the other," she said.

"What you miss when you're not at the office is the quick communication that happens verbally."

To keep employees communicating closely, Corcoran mandated a certain number of meetings per week.

"On Monday morning at 10 a.m., the people who typically are working on projects with each other, they must speak with each other by phone to go over what they're doing together," Corcoran says. "And by Friday at noon, they have to tell each other what they want on the agenda for Monday."

Corcoran recommended her employees keep a "running list" of topics to discuss during their meetings. 

"I think that's an efficient method where they don't drop balls on what they really want to discuss," she says.

Encourage a flexible schedule 

"Most people come in at around 9 a.m., 9:30 a.m. in my office and they stay until 5:30 to 8 at night," she says.

But she told her employees, "'if you're an early riser and want to start your day at 6 a.m., who cares. Here's a chance to see how you work best. Here's an opportunity to see really how well regulated you are and what your true work ethic is without anybody breathing down your back. So you can really see how you are as your own boss,'" she says.

"It's an opportunity to grow. If you ever want to start a business, this is going to be a great test run to see if you're able to regulate yourself."

A lesson for the boss too

One thing about working from home makes Corcoran "a little nervous."

"I haven't done this before," she says. "I haven't had where people should be going home to work. I had individual workers that work on their own at home, but never the whole team."

So Corcoran is learning to adjust her management style.

"Before bed, I gave myself a lecture," Corcoran said. "I had to remind myself that I can talk to people, push people, give them to-do's, send them emails, all day long and not feel guilty. Somehow, from a boss' perspective, when people are at home, you really don't want to disturb them so much. And I remind myself, 'They're working at home for you! You're paying them.'"

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Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to ABC's "Shark Tank."

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How Barbara Corcoran made $66 million in 2001
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