Q: I love being my own boss and working from home, but I miss the daily camaraderie with my former team. How can I create that feeling from a distance?
A: Consider setting up a virtual team of colleagues whose skills and expertise complement yours. You’d talk regularly with this team to receive advice and help on projects. Other benefits: You might be able to delegate tasks and projects you can’t or don’t want to do. And you’re likely to land more clients and business through referrals from your virtual team members, says Janine Heydrick, a Florida-based project manager who advises small businesses on connecting via email, text, recorded team phone calls, or video chats via GoToMeeting, Skype or Google+ Hangouts.
How do you put together your team? First identify specific areas where you could benefit from others’ knowledge to enhance and grow your business. This may include admin support, bookkeeping, graphic design, marketing, sales, etc. Create postings to share socially and through your network to identify virtual workers with such skills.
Before jumping into virtual relationships, use Skype chats and phone calls to get to know potential teammates and their work. Ask questions to learn their work styles and preferences. For example, what are their work environments and schedules? A mom may work from home while her kids are in school, which defines her hours of availability. Learn what work resources a candidate can tap. A virtual assistant may need only a mobile phone, laptop and Wi-Fi to manage a project; a photographer should have studio space, lighting, a camera, computer and editing software to produce catalog shots.
Most important, do you like the person? “The relationship must come before skill set,” Heydrick says. “Skills and business protocols can be learned.” If everything clicks, at this point you can create a well-defined 90-day trial that allows either party to bail for any reason.
To manage your virtual team:
1. Clearly communicate your expectations.
An assistant can’t effectively manage a project for you without knowing the challenges and desired outcome. A photographer can’t deliver useful product shots without understanding your customer base and marketing and sales strategies.
All members must value a free flow of ideas without any one person dominating. “Treat your team the way you want to be treated,” Heydrick says. “Trust that each team member knows what she is doing and will get the work done to meet expectations and deadlines. If a team member has an issue with a project, we share PC screens via Skype, Join.me or similar applications so everyone is looking at the same thing and working together to come up with a resolution.”
Remember birthdays, and compliment a job well-done. “Each team member needs to invest in one another, learn each member’s strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes, and inquire about their personal lives,” Heydrick says. “It’s all about relationships.”
3. Interact regularly.
You’ll probably meet once a week to plan the week ahead. You’ll need to cross-train members in case of emergencies. Adopt an open-access policy that encourages phone calls and instant messages. You want to explore proposed alternatives and receive great tips.
4. Beware of any breakdowns among team members.
These problems invariably result from mistrust, a lack of communication or becoming too comfortable with the status quo. “A solopreneur needs to stay on top of the business,” Heydrick says, “and not get complacent and rely solely on the team.” To keep this message top of mind, she sends her clients this framed quote from Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success!”
This article appears in the March 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.