The biggest frustration a lot of business owners face when working with virtual team members and freelancers in different parts of the world is not meeting deadlines or coordinating things like time differences. It’s making sure your team members are all working towards the same business goals.
It’s far easier to communicate your vision, plans, and goals when sitting down face-to-face in a typical meeting setting. You can read body language, get instant feedback, and address questions on the spot to make sure everyone is on the same page. Working with a virtual team of employees or freelancers spread out around the globe is far more difficult.
So how can you work around that distance in time and space? What tactics can you employ to make sure your team understands and keeps working towards the same end-goals that you have envisioned for your business?
We’ve put together some top tips for the business owner or team leader looking to combat this common challenge of a virtual, dispersed team.
When you start working with new team members, it’s important to provide them with very clear and concise goals, written in a way that’s impossible to misunderstand. Give them your mission statement. Let them know where you see your company in a year, or five years. Most importantly, tell them their role in those plans. What do you expect them to bring to the table to help you achieve those goals?
2. Find a balance of contact
If many of your virtual team members are freelancers, they are probably working that way for a reason. The idea of having a ‘boss’ is against their nature, and they want to feel more in control of what they do. This means that they probably won’t appreciate being micromanaged or bombarded with calls/emails/messages. However, it’s important to keep in touch to make sure everything is going according to plan.
Coordinate with all of your virtual team members to schedule regular updates so that they’re prepared for this contact. Accept that it might take a little while to find the perfect balance for both yourself and for them. However, it’s essential that you’re both happy with the level of interaction if you want to maintain a great relationship while working towards business goals.
Circumstances often change beyond our control and we need to be prepared for that. But if something happens that means certain goals you’ve set need to alter, even slightly, make sure your team members are the first to know. For example, if a date change occurs while you’re planning a product launch and your graphic designer is working on marketing materials, they’ll need advance warning so they can adjust their schedule.
Don’t underestimate the ownership that your freelancers give to their work. Appreciate the pride they have in what they do and how important it is for them to know exactly what’s required to do a good job – even if the specifications suddenly change.
Team members who feel that they’re being encouraged to work to their best potential are far more productive than those who are just given a ‘job’ to do. In a traditional office setting, it’s easier to set motivational goals; such as ‘whoever sells the most this quarter wins a long weekend at a spa’, or smaller incentives such as dinner to celebrate successes.
You can achieve the same results with a virtual team by finding the right incentives for them. Think again about why they do what they do and provide encouragement appropriately for hard work and success. For example, for a virtual team member who wants to improve their skills, you could send them to a workshop. Or for a virtual assistant who’s gone above and beyond, you could award them with a new laptop.
5. Always hold up your end of the deal
If you’ve agreed on a set amount in payment, on a set date, then ALWAYS honor that. Disenchanted team members will quickly look for alternative avenues and your best people will not find it difficult to find opportunities elsewhere.
6. Provide ownership
Encouraging your team members to feel attached to the development and success of the business is essential if you want them to coordinate their own goals with your own. This means reiteration of the fact that when the company does well, they also do well. You can do this very easily by outlining the roles they have played in successes.
If something goes well, don’t be afraid to send out an email or quick article on how Mandy’s slideshow was paramount in securing that new contract, or Dave’s problem solving avoided disaster. Encourage team members to take ownership of their part in the team as a whole, and be proud to do so.
7. Acknowledge failure correctly
Knowing how to handle failure is a tricky yet essential skill. When things go wrong that were out of someone’s control, it’s important to make sure that everyone involved understands why things went wrong, before moving on and past the issue.
Making team members feel that they have to pay for mistakes they make will have an opposite effect on motivation and goal alignment. They’ll be so focused on not messing up they won’t allow themselves to look forward to what really needs to be achieved.
8. Have appreciation for their own goals
Perhaps the most important part of leading a virtual team is understanding what their individual goals are outside of the business. If you take the time to get to know your team members and learn a little about what drives them, you can provide them with tasks that will not only work to their strengths, but will also encourage them to feel more connected to your business.
The benefits of having a virtual team as opposed to an in-office one are enormous. You and all your team members benefit from the flexibility of the arrangement, which produces a happier, more motivated team. At the same time, you get the benefit of a reduction in overhead costs. With today’s technological climate, it’s possible for almost any team member to work at least partially in a virtual set up.
But you do need to be prepared for the differences that such an arrangement can highlight. By focusing on making sure that every member of your virtual team is working towards the same goals and with the same vision and values, you’ll be ensuring both the success of your team and your business.
Want to get started with hiring some virtual team members?
We’ve created a Virtual Team Member Interview Template that you can download for free.
The template will guide you through some key questions you need to answer before interviewing new team members for virtual jobs. Then you’ll get some sample ‘starter’ questions to ask in those interviews, so that you can find people with the characteristics you’re looking for.
Want to help your own clients and customers build their ‘dream team’, whether virtual or in an office?
Just grab a license for our done-for-you course on Leading & Coaching Your Dream Team.
All you have to do is edit it to fit your audience, put your name and brand on, and then teach to your prospects and clients.
CLICK HERE for Leading & Coaching Your Dream Team