Organizing virtual teams are gaining popularity due to its effectiveness in streamlining costs without compromising productivity. Virtual teams are composed of people who work online from remote locations, often across geographically dispersed regions as India and the Philippines. People who make up these virtual teams go by many names; Virtual Assistant, freelancer, telecommuter or home based worker.
In a study conducted on US companies that used virtual teams yielded the following numbers:
- 13% increase in productivity
- US$1,900 cost savings per head
- Virtual teams make up 30-45% of US companies; in 2011 it was 15% to 20%.
If the largest US companies are finding success with virtual teams, small business should be more confident implementing the strategy in their development plan. But how do you outsource services to a virtual team, in Australia?
- Identify the reasons why you want to outsource services
It all starts with the basic reason, “Why?” There are several reasons to justify your decision to build a virtual team such as to lower expenses, improve business flexibility and learn new technology. Whatever your reasons are, you must pinpoint and list them down. If you don’t have a clear idea on why you need a virtual team, you will not have a clear vision on how to go about the strategy.
If you made a business plan, review your development time-table. On a sheet of paper create a list on the right-hand side a summary of the scope of work. Then on the left hand side, write down your skills, strong points and business priorities. Compare both lists and mark the work functions which you cannot cover.
It is very important to note that you should consider the amount of time you will be spending on your business every day. If you have listed 12 skills, surely you cannot perform all of these consistently. You may have to delegate some of them.
- Identify the qualities needed for the virtual team
Once you have identified the reasons for building a virtual team and the skills needed, now you have to develop a criteria for qualifying candidates. Think of your ideal team of people you want to work with.
- Competency levels.
- Communication skills
- Years of experience
- Availability of certifications
- Recipient of additional training
- Behavioral profile.
- Ability to manage stress
- Disposition; ability to work with other people potentially from other nationalities
- Predominant values
- Result of due diligence work
- Size and scalability.
- Number of people in the team
- Period of scaling
It’s not just about assembling a team of talented people. When you say “ideal” the greater meaning is to put together a group of people who can work together as a team and with you. This is much easier said than done because relationships start to form only when the team commences work. In a relationship, that’s where you have “The Great Reveal”; all the beauty and ugliness of working together come out. And oftentimes, this takes some time.
- Establish the culture
A big mistake made by entrepreneurs who launch virtual teams is their failure to understand the process. In the brick and mortar business model, organizations are collapse because within thrives a culture that discourages productivity.
The same holds true in the virtual world. Despite being separated by oceans, everyone remains connected to the Internet. These social and cultural nuances remain. If your team consists of North Americans, Indians and Filipinos there will be cultural gaps and you have to bridge them before these grow wide.
You can do these by understanding the nuances that exist and put them down on the virtual table for everyone to be aware of. Open up the floor for discussion and make sure these have been acknowledged by everyone on the team. Just like in a physical location, you have to establish the culture in your virtual team.
If you detect a problem or see signs of discontent, address it right away and nip it in the bud. Don’t allow disruptive behavior cultivate within the virtual team.
- List down your sources of talent
There are several avenues where you can source virtual talent:
- Online job markets. These online job markets are communities that match clients and service providers. The largest online job market is Elance which claims to have more than eight million freelancers servicing 180 countries worldwide.
- Social media. Popular networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Plus have focus groups which you can join and advertise or post job openings.
- Virtual assistance websites. There are thousands of virtual assistance websites online which offer talent sourcing services. Always check the veracity of these sites before you reach out to them.
- Referrals. Contact associates and friends who have hired virtual assistants and ask for referrals or recommendations.
- Create an online profile
Due diligence is a two-way street. It’s not just the prospective client who does due diligence. Even virtual assistants conduct due diligence work on potential clients. The Internet is so vast that unlike the cliché town in the west, it will always be big enough for the legitimate players and the scammers.
As the prospective client, make sure you put up a professional looking profile in any of the online job communities and social media networks that you will be utilizing. Upload a professionally done profile picture and well-written company profile.
Most important of all, have a website! If you are planning to ply your trade in the virtual world, the website is your virtual address. A website gives your business greater credibility. It’s not just candidates who visit websites; potential clients and subscribers are always on the Internet looking for the most reliable and reputable proprietors.
Your website represents who you are and what your business is all about. The chances of landing the best candidates for your virtual team will rise exponentially if you have a website.
- Acquire a pool of candidates
Never hire the first applicant! It’s not because the first applicant is the worse; but you may deny yourself a greater opportunity of hiring the best.
For every skill or position that you need, build a pool of five to 10 candidates. The higher the number, the greater the chances of landing a qualified candidate because you have a larger data base for comparison.
- Prioritize the Project Manager
In a virtual team, the most important position is the Project Manager. This is the person in charge of overseeing the performance of the team. Remember, you are the business owner. Your primary task is to build the business. Despite your skills, your talents are best served macro managing the business.
Getting the right Project Manager is crucial because you will entrust the operation to him. You focus should not be on finding the “perfect” Project Manager. Instead look for someone who is dynamic; a person who can analyze yet make decisions within an acceptable time-frame. He openly accepts accountability for these decisions and has the ability to rectify mistakes and problems that come up.
Most importantly, he should respect the people he works with and can extract their best performance on a daily basis.
A word on pricing: in the words of the late founder of Apple Steve Jobs, “pricing does not equate to quality.” Be wary of candidates who flaunt glowing CV’s and parade certifications. As another saying goes, “the proof of the pie is in the eating.”
Do not compromise your budget because the “best” candidate is charging you twice your stated amount. If he is not willing to follow your conditions, chances are he only looks out for himself. The best ones are not in it for the money but for the challenge and the career.
- Contracts and other paper work
Even in the virtual world, you cannot escape paper work. Make sure everyone on the team has a valid contract that stipulates all the provisions for the project. Attachments include the following:
- Scope of work; the detailed job description or summary of responsibilities.
- Fee schedule; breakdown of payments including schedules and mode of remittance.
- Project paper; the details on the project.
- Non-Disclosure Agreement and Non-Competitive Agreement. This document protects and secures all data shared within the virtual team.
- Operational framework; indicates reporting system, process for downloading/uploading work, file sharing procedures among others.
Contracts may seem tedious but these ensure everyone knows where the boundaries are; it keeps people honest.
- Schedule weekly meetings
Communication is very important when managing virtual teams. You have to be on top of the situation and even if you don’t micro-manage you must know how the team is performing.
The reporting schedule is very important because it gives you empirical evidence on how the team is doing its job. Go through it and schedule a meeting with your Project Manager to take you through it in detail. Then schedule a meeting with your virtual team on the last work day of the week to discuss:
- Pending issues
- Performance notes
- Project updates
The weekly meeting also allows you to interact more closely with your virtual team. It gives you better perspective on the people who are tasked to run your business. Keep in mind that these weekly meetings should not be used to showcase your level of authority; instead use them to build relationships within the team.
Creating a virtual team is an effective strategy to take your business to the next level. To reap its benefits goes beyond finding the candidates with the best qualifications of acquiring top talent money can buy. A successful virtual team is one that fits together perfectly and works like one.