Struggling to keep up with the momentum your business has gained? Congratulations! That is an awesome place to be.
Going from being a solopreneur to a team leader, even if that team is a virtual team of one, can be equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. No matter where you are in your hiring process, here are five things you must have (or be prepared to have) for an engaged and productive relationship that will work for you now as well as into the future.
Before building your virtual support structure, I strongly suggest that you get crystal clear about the 5 W’s — who is going to do what, when, where, and why? Perhaps the most important of the W’s (and the one that gets missed a lot in my experience) is the ‘why’. To create a dynamic where your new team member is truly invested in the work they do, you need to be prepared to explain how their contribution fits in with the big picture. No matter what the task, people perform better when they are able to put their work in context.
Having said that, you might not be in a position to be super clear about your support requirements because you see them evolving over time — and that’s absolutely fine too. But you need to be upfront with your potential hire, understand his or her appetite for change and fluidity, get a sense for the full breadth and depth of skills on offer. Take the time to understand what your team members love and hate doing so that you can harness their strengths.
It’s important to remember that you might need to pick your ‘who’ based not only on their skills but also on their motivations. The person you hire to do repetitive tasks may not be the same person you trust to take on a high-profile project requiring creativity and a willingness to think outside the box.
Finally, when it comes to defining your team’s roles and your expectations, take the time to spell out the details. Don’t make any assumptions, because that results in mistakes, lost time and money.
Communicate well, and often
As you might expect, communication in virtual teams is quite different when compared to communication between coworkers who share a workspace. Virtual team communication is oftentimes less frequent and less rich relative to a face-to-face interaction. This, in turn, introduces scope for messages (and feelings) to get lost in translation. However, that doesn’t mean that good communication isn’t possible!
There are so many options when it comes to collaborative technologies and innovations to be leveraged. For those instances when all you need is a quick conversation, you have tools like Slack, Voxer and WhatsApp – all of which allow you to respond to your team in real time, while on the go. For the heartier “face-to-face” meetings that require a more robust discussion, there are tools like Skype or Google Hangouts that work perfectly. While working around time zone differences may be challenging, taking the time to schedule in regular virtual team meetings enables everyone to build common ground, develop an effective collaboration dynamic and move business decisions along quicker.
If the thought of setting up and hosting virtual meetings seems excessive, remember that we are all social creatures. Even though we may all have different communication styles, people crave interaction. Taking the extra time and allowing yourself to be more personal with your team will help build cohesion.
Like communication, trust is often inhibited by the challenges of working in a virtual environment instead of a traditional, physical workplace. Building trust is hard in general, but it’s even tougher when you don’t get to meet in person, or see your team as they’re working, or fall back on the security of an overseeing agency. Here’s the bad news: developing trust is always going to be a bit of work. The good news is that there are ways to make it easier.
Doing your due diligence up front is the best way to calm any concerns that you may have. Before you hire a freelancer, be clear about the role and the criteria you’re using to make a selection. Give potential hires the opportunity to ask you questions and make sure they fully understand your expectations before you make the leap to hiring them. Do your research by asking for samples and client testimonials, and don’t feel guilty about looking the person up online to get a sense of who they are and what they stand for. Once it’s time for the interview, listen to your gut – if you get a not-so-good feeling from someone, trust it and move on.
Once you’ve made the decision to hire your first freelancer though, you have to give the individual an honest go and trust your process. Set them (and you) up for success. Start with small finite goals that you can track easily – it’s less risky to increase the workload incrementally than it is to find yourself in a position where you are having to hire a replacement to pick up the pieces after things have gone to pot.
Give your new hire some space to breathe as they learn the ropes of your business. Even the most qualified and skilled hires will (and should) ask questions early on. Remember – you’ve done the hard work of choosing qualified, skilled people so trust them to do their job. As hard as it might be, don’t manage tasks … manage results.
Systems & processes that work!
You need to have systems in place to set your team up for success – otherwise, how will you be able to measure whether your team has met their goals and truly achieved “success”? Thanks to technology, there are lots of platforms that can provide systems to allow you to manage and track your team’s work and how it fits within your business.
Systems like Asana or Trello are popular project management software apps that allow you to give structure to projects, tasks, and workflows. They allow for seamless team collaboration and can be customized to allow you to track your projects in ways that make sense to you. Slack is another great application that provides an advantage for teams who need to communicate and collaborate more frequently. There are lots of great resources online to help you decide if one of these systems is a good fit for your business.
However, you don’t need to use a software system to ensure success. For some people, it makes more sense to top and tail the week with a detailed email or a Skype call to set the tone for the week and take stock of progress. Whether you use a software system or your own personal system, it’s crucial to be structured in how you plan ahead and check in. As the saying goes, you cannot manage what you do not measure!
After action review mechanism
You’ve heard of review mechanisms before — after action reviews, performance reviews, debriefs … whatever you choose to call it, you need to commit to the process of following up with a review after a task or project has been completed. Teams need feedback to improve, and a review mechanism will make sure you’re consistent with providing feedback that will help your team and your business grow. As long as the structure is consistent, it doesn’t even need to be a long, drawn-out process. I personally prefer to build this into my monthly client catch-up meetings by asking the simple questions, “What went well?” and “What can be improved?”
As long as the structure is consistent, it doesn’t even need to be a long, drawn-out process. I personally prefer to build this into my monthly client catch-up meetings by asking the simple questions, “What went well?” and “What can be improved?” This is an opportunity to brainstorm, catch issues early, to remove roadblocks, and to build a positive working relationship established on being both supportive and goal-oriented. It’s also a great time to offer praise and to ask for feedback – some of the best ideas for business growth come from within, so how can you get that feedback if you don’t ask for it?
Ultimately, you’ll find that a successful relationship with your virtual team has many of the same building blocks as a successful in-person relationship. In my experience, front-loading the hiring and onboarding process will result in calmer waters later on. If you take the time to define the role … to understand the skills and motivation of the person in relation to your own skills and goals … and to establish systems and processes to allow for positive communication and measurement, you’ll be well on your way to success.
And once you’ve done all that, invest in the relationship, nurture it and go in with the understanding that an engaged team is a productive team. There are no two ways about it.