In a global economy, competition can be fierce and tight. Businesses will need every advantage they can get to stay ahead of the pack. Outsourcing services to virtual assistants has become an increasingly popular strategy. In the United States alone, 30-45% of the work force is made of virtual teams. But managing virtual teams can present many interesting challenges because of logistical issues, cultural and social diversity and other barriers. Here are a few tips to find the best way to manage your virtual team:
- Design an Operational System
The first step is to develop a system that will ensure efficiency and effectiveness of operations. A system is made up of frameworks, programs and processes. The system will depend on what your business needs.
A standard operational system to accommodate virtual assistance services include:
- Project Management software. These are online programs that will help you organize, delegate and follow up on tasks.
- Collaboration. All businesses need a file sharing platform where all tasks will be downloaded for distribution. Completed tasks will be uploaded in the system for review and submission.
- Communication. A virtual team must have more than three channels for communication. These include e-mail, chat, video call and mobile.
Keep working on it until you are satisfied with your level of proficiency. Prepare a manual for distribution to your virtual team.
- Hire a Project Manager
If you have a virtual team, you will need someone who can oversee their performance. You should not tie yourself down to the virtual team because it will defeat the purpose.
Hire a Project Manager who has the experience and disposition to manage the team and keep them moving along schedule. The Project Manager will keep you from micro-managing the virtual team so you can focus on the businesses’ core functions.
The ideal Project Manager is a candidate who can work with people from different backgrounds, levels of experience and knowledgeable of the required skill sets for the team.
- Be Available
While you should not micro-manage your virtual team, you should find time to be available for your team. Set at least one day in the work week to meet with the Project Manager and the virtual team.
Your agenda must follow the “80-20 Rule”. Only 20% of discussions must involve direct business matters. The other 80% should cover more informal matters that revolve around their day-to-day experiences, behavioral nuances and socio-economic issues.
You should make an effort to build a relationship with your team. Forging a strong relationship is essential to encourage a more productive culture within the virtual team. Once you establish connectivity at the emotional level, there is nothing the team wouldn’t do to make your project succeed.
- Advocate Cultural Sensitivity
If your virtual team is composed of virtual assistants from different parts of the world, chances are there will be great diversity in cultural and social practices.
Even before your virtual team launches its first official day of working together, you have to put the matter of cultural sensitivity on the table. Encourage everyone on the team to engage in informal conversations on cultural diversity. Share certain aspects of the culture and social practices which others may not know about.
By having everyone embrace cultural sensitivity, you are able to mitigate misunderstandings before they happen. Misunderstandings occur simply because there are differences in perspectives. And a person’s perspective can be influenced by his or her cultural nuances.
- Implement Proactive Systems of Instruction
As mentioned, cultural and social diversity can cause misunderstandings because of differences in perspective. There are virtual assistants who will say “Yes” even if the truthful response is “No”. This happens because the Virtual Assistant could be shy or introverted by nature.
A better approach is to be proactive. Do not assume the Virtual Assistant knows the task 100%. Instead of asking her, “Did you understand the procedure?” create a feedback loop.
A feedback loop basically reverses your roles. This time, ask the Virtual Assistant to feed back the instruction by teaching you the process. Teaching forces the Virtual Assistant to articulate her ideas and eventually will come to a better understanding of the procedure.
- Overlap Work Schedules
If you are working with virtual assistants from different time zones, make sure there are at least three hours in a day where their schedules overlap.
Even if their scope of work has no relationship to others in the team, having the opportunity to be together builds more effective collaboration. Also it could improve turnaround time of deliverables if one Virtual Assistant needs immediate information from another Virtual Assistant.
As an example, supposing the Virtual Assistant for customer support receives an inquiry on his or her travel discounts. The Virtual Assistant for customer support would need to get the information from the Virtual Assistant for accounting.
- Establish a Professional Work Environment
Even if the members of your virtual team are working from the comforts of their own homes, they should still follow professional courtesy and decorum.
They should value time- keeping and make an effort to be punctual for work all the time. A proven idea would be to require the virtual assistants to dress as if they were going to the office. You’d be surprised how many virtual assistants like this idea.
Dressing up for work even when it is in the virtual world gives them a feeling of professionalism which improves their level of confidence.
- Practice Meritocracy
A meritocracy simply means reward your people for a job well done. Is this possible in the virtual world? Yes!
Set up reward systems which can encourage your virtual team to accomplish more. Create two reward systems; one for the team and the second for an individual.
An example would be to give the team a bonus on the next payroll if they attain a target. The top Virtual Assistant will be sent a box of his or her favorite donuts or cupcakes.
Managing a virtual team is not difficult. For the most part, the key to successfully managing a virtual team is to find ways and means to circumvent differences. It is pretty much the universal truth in getting a team to work together.