Within the last 6 years of my professional life, I have managed virtual team members as a project manager working with software developers in Asia and Europe. I also have had to manage virtual teams as a business owner.
With today’s technology, it’s not necessary for everyone to always be in the same room together.
Many startups or small businesses with smaller budgets utilize a global network of freelancers or contractors and even hire full-time employees around the world.
Using virtual team members can help you save money if you are trying to grow your business. The other benefit is that you can find very skilled people who may be located in a different city or country.
However, there are some people who believe that face-to-face interaction is better and necessary at times to establish and strengthened relationships. This is also a core Agile software development philosophy.
In my personal experience, I have found that it really depends on your goals and your organizational culture. There are pros and cons to both.
For startups and some small businesses on a tight budget, having an all virtual team with no physical office location gives business owners and team members more flexibility with less overhead.
Working with virtual and remote team members has taught me the importance of having good communication when you are working with people who are not in the same office as you.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when working with a virtual team to grow and manage your business:
1. Communication Needs to Be Very Detailed
When you are assigning a task or a project to a team member who is remote, you need to be very detailed in listing step-by-step what you need that team member to do.
You can write everything down in a process manual if you have something they need to do repetitively.
You can also use online tools like Trello which allows you to list out each task and their due dates.
Setting a due date for each task is very important because otherwise you may not hear back from your team member or virtual assistant. (Or they might forget to complete the task).
Some business owners get very upset and agitated when the assistant doesn’t complete the task on time or does the task incorrectly.
As business owners, we can’t expect for people to just download everything we have stored in our heads or read our minds.
To avoid this frustration, you need to set the expectation within yourself that you may have to spend some time training new team members.
This means you need to put all your instructions, logins, passwords, links and any other information within a document.
You can use Google docs, Microsoft Word, Excel or any online communication tool you prefer. But the main goal here is that everything needs to be spelled out.
Take screenshots to show how to use new tools or complete certain tasks.
2. Hire the Right Team Members
In the beginning when hiring a new team member, you will have to really test them out. Give them a task and a deadline on when you want to get it done.
Then evaluate their work and look at how they communicated with you. You also need to really understand what their individual career goals are and if it will fit into what your business goals are.
Once you find someone who provides good work, train them and be patient. You will still need to spend some time showing them what you need on a regular basis.
A good team member will ask good questions, do their own independent research to figure things out and communicate their progress with you.
You will eventually find your virtual “rock star” team member who you really don’t need to give too much direction to. This person can even grow to take on management duties eventually.
The key here is to build trust over time.
3. Work with People Who are Consistent and Reliable
When working remotely, people need to be clear about when they will complete their tasks. If you find that a team member is not answering your emails or instant messages, then you will have a problem.
This shows they aren’t reliable. A good virtual team member will be very quick to respond to you and if they are busy, on vacation, or not working that that day they will let you know.
They will not just disappear on you.
I can recall a few times when I have hired people through freelancer sites and some of them would say that they were doing to get a task done and I wouldn’t hear back from them again.
I have also worked with very good freelancers on these sites as well. Through trial and error, I have learned how to spot the wrong type of people.
Remember this when testing out new team members and during your ongoing relationship with them.
4. Establish Clear Timelines
As a project manager who has their PMP, I was trained early on that for every project you manage, you MUST set a timeline with deliverables in order to have a successful project.
One of the most frustrating things in project management is when team members aren’t communicating the status of their progress.
This is even more frustrating to the customer who is paying for your services. The customer wants to know when they will receive what they paid for.
If you have a B2B company where you provide services to other businesses, you REALLY need to set clear timelines for each deliverable to provide to your customers.
So if you tell your customer you will deliver them something within a week and then you can’t make that deadline, you have to communicate clearly why you couldn’t make it and provide the next available date you will be able to deliver.
If you know you are going to be late, then you should communicate this to your customer ahead of the due date.
In order to meet your customer due dates, your team members have to meet their dates. It’s one big domino effect.
So as a business owner, make sure you set clear timelines with your team members.
5. Use the Right Tools
Using the right tools to do online collaboration with virtually dispersed team members in different time zones is very important. Like I explained earlier, when you use screensharing or online meeting software, this can really improve communication.
There are a number of other tools like Skype, Slack, and BaseCamp that you can use to communicate regularly with your team. Time tracking software may also be very useful if you are paying your team members hourly.
When I managed large software projects with 30 or more team members in different time zones, we used Webex meetings exclusively and everyone was able to get the job done.
Having a virtual team can really help startup and small businesses save money while they grow.
To be effective, you really need to take advantage of the technology that is available to make this happen successfully.
About the Author:
Alma Abreu is the founder of 360 Content Pro, a content and social media management company.