I’ve been working from home for more and managing an international virtual team for more than 20 years. So, it’s not surprising that the recent shift to remote work has big and small businesses asking me for my best tips on how to hire and manage a virtual team.
Rather than keep repeating myself, I’m going to share my tips for hiring and managing a virtual team — even if you’ve never done it before.
You can do this!
What is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team consists of a group of people who work from different locations. These are also called remote teams.
Remote team members can be located anywhere in the world or they can be in the same city.
Characteristics of a Successful Virtual Team
Successful virtual teams are like successful families and companies. They need a shared culture with shared values and a commitment to a goal.
There are really two goals for most remote teams; the project goal, and the goal of successfully working together to complete the project.
Here are seven characteristics of successful work teams that incorporate both goal and team performance:
You know why you are there
When you’re asked to be part of a team, the goal is for you to feel a sense of unity with the team. If you or your team members sense disorientation or confusion, it’s time to step back and review why you are all there.
Shared responsibility and reliability
You can trust the other people on the team to do what they say when they say. If you find yourself covering up for non-performance, then it’s time to come together and have an orientation conversation.
Goals are clear and understood
What are we all doing and what does success look like? If you sense scepticism around the team, apathy or competition. It’s time to get together and re-state the goal or adjust the goal.
This phase is all about HOW the goal will be accomplished, what is the strategy, the tasks, the assignments. If you get push-back or resistance, you need to dig deeper around what the challenges are and brainstorm around what’s missing and how to access more resources.
This stage is all about production; who does what and when. A great way to manage this is to give each process an owner and empower the owner the make adjustments to move forward. If there is conflict or confusion, you may need to move back to the commitment stage and redefine roles and responsibilities.
With practice and open communication, you will be in high performance. You’ll notice that meetings don’t take as long. Your group will be well practiced in having open communication and be able to adjust on the fly.
At this stage, you are celebrating success and taking the lessons you’ve learned on to a new project.
(Source: Drexler-Sibbet Model)
How to Hire a Virtual Team
Most people have a general idea of what they want help with and jump straight to looking for someone. This is a mistake.
Break down your project into smaller tasks
The first thing you need to do is clearly understand exactly what you need to do, what someone else can do and what only YOU can do.
Identify “hidden” requirements
There are also “hidden” requirements that you have that aren’t immediately apparent.
The best way to uncover those hidden requirements is to go through the process yourself so that you can deal with important decisions before you hire someone. This will nip any potential misunderstandings or problems in the bud.
- Write out the exact tasks that you need and want done. Keep it simple at first. So that the person isn’t overwhelmed and so you can make adjustments.
- Highlight the specific skills you are looking for – something like getting things done on time, using a particular software,
- Do the process yourself – and find the best way to do it then document it on paper.
- Screencast yourself doing the process and talk your way through it – talk about what you’re thinking and why you are doing what you are doing. This puts the person inside your head and way of thinking and making decisions
- Choose how you will communicate — email, text, some type of instant message
- Have the person complete a portion of the task and create an opportunity to get together to answer any questions and make adjustments.
- Review the process and make sure that everything is working as planned.
Break down your tasks
Once you’ve broken down your project into tasks, you’ll immediately notice that there are two types of tasks; thinking and doing.
Doing tasks include things like data entry, social media scheduling of pre-written posts, data analysis.
Thinking tasks include things like writing social media posts. If you have a “doing task” where language skills are not as important, then you can hire someone from anywhere in the world — as long as they have the skills. For thinking tasks, such as writing and sometimes even website development and work – it’s best to work with someone with whom you can easily communicate.
Set your budget
Consider your budget very carefully. Don’t just opt for the cheapest rates. Take a look at the rates for the tasks that you have and choose something more in the middle.
Consider your software
What software will you be using? This is critical because Upwork is filled with people who are experts in different software. And, the software they list in their profile will tell you a lot about their level of expertise.
Where do you want this person to be located? Don’t just default to your own country or time zone. Think about how you work, what types of tasks this person will be working on and your team requirements.
For example, if you have data entry work, you might choose someone in a time zone 12 hours ahead. This way, they work while you sleep!
Match language skill level to tasks
Does your team member have to be a native speaker or fluent in English? You wouldn’t want to miss out on a brilliant web developer because they weren’t a native English speaker.
Where to find and hire remote workers
Fiverr is a great choice if you have a single, simple project with a start and finish that will take less than a week.
For more in-depth or longer-term projects, I recommend Upwork.
Regardless which freelancer platform you are using, the process is the same.
Search on the broadest terms to see what you get
Pay attention to the different skill sets or rates: You’ll find that some rates are insanely low and others are 10x or 20x higher than the lowest rate. Typically, the quality of work for those that are at the highest level isn’t going to be 20x better than the lowest. Start with a rate that is somewhere in the middle and select people to interview inside that range.
Filter by ratings
The best filters to use are, customer ratings and the last time they were active on Upwork — this will tell you if they are responsive.
Read the profile
Think about the project you’re hiring for and with that in mind, read the profile. Did they mention the software that you’ll be using? If so, that’s a good sign. If you’re hiring someone to write articles, or websites, make sure that they’ve included examples of their work.
Trust your gut
As you’re reading, you’ll get an immediate sense of whether or not this person may be a good fit. If you’re left wanting to learn more, save the profile and come back to it.
How to Manage Your Remote Team
Before you can start managing your virtual team, you have to be clear about your expectations.
Sit with yourself and write your expectations down
Start by asking yourself what your expectations are in terms of deadlines and how to manage them.
How do you want to receive feedback about your projects and assignments. For example, do you typically know exactly what you want and you want your requests implemented exactly or are you open to input?
Ask team members how they want to be managed
Next, you want to ask team members how they like to be managed or communicated with. The positive side of that is that you might learn something new to add to your set of management skills.
How to Keep Virtual Teams Engaged
The best way to maintain engagement with a virtual or remote team is to be in communication regularly.
How often you meet depends on your business and the projects you are working on. It’s common to meet weekly just to check in, review deadlines, resources and clarify any questions.
Acknowledge great work regularly
You can never hand out too much praise. If you’ve hired each team member for a specific skill, and they consistently deliver — then tell them how much you appreciate it.
If and when a team member goes above and beyond — acknowledge the effort and tell them how much you appreciate it.
Make it a regular point to praise every member of your team for something during every meeting or transaction.
Ask for feedback, advice and ways to improve the process
Don’t be shy or stubborn about asking and receiving feedback.
One of the great things about hiring other experts as team members is that they can offer important feedback that will help you improve the process.
Benefits of Remote Teams
Small business owners with no staff stand to gain the biggest benefits from working with virtual teams.
Take on new business
The biggest benefit is having the ability to take on new business and new projects that go beyond your personal skill set.
When you hire a full-time employee, you’re confined to their specific skill set. Asking someone to go beyond that skill set will sacrifice quality and productivity.
Working with a virtual team, you can add or remove resources to maximize your profitability.
Expertise on demand
Finally, virtual teams give you the ability to add add and leverage expertise on demand and on a budget.
If you haven’t tried working with remote teams, this is your opportunity. Use these tips to hire, manage and engage virtual teams in your business and see how far it can take you — without sacrificing quality, productivity or adding unnecessary risk.