Useful Resources and Tips for Managing Your Virtual Staff
If you are a typical freelancer, you probably started your business as a one person show, working from home, and spending much of the first year performing every aspect of your operation. But as your client list starts to grow, there soon comes a time where you will find yourself with more work than you can handle, but you aren’t ready yet to take on the hassles of setting up an office location.
Also, at this stage of your business, you may feel a sense of uncertainty and resistance about letting someone else handle aspects of your business which are confidential in nature. Can you really trust another person to do the right thing by your business?
A trend that has been gaining in popularity is hiring virtual staff (employees who work via the Internet) to help manage your business. It is a relatively easy matter to visit online job boards, or outsourcing and freelancing sites to recruit a suitable person for your business. Recruitment can be done in a matter of hours or days, and the successful candidate could be starting work with you tomorrow!
A virtual assistant (VA) can be given various administrative tasks to complete such as checking your email, data entry, and formatting documents. Other tasks could also be included within their job scope, such as managing your blog, and completing online research and social media tasks. A skilled VA can perform many of the tedious administrative tasks for you, freeing up your time to work on more productive matters that will generate extra revenue.
In addition to VA’s, other staff to consider hiring are those with specialized skills such as an SEO/link building expert, a social media person to perform online marketing tasks, and/or a web content writer to craft content for your website or blog. Any skill set that you need can be hired through the Internet, and the process can now be completed very quickly compared to traditional recruitment practices.
Once you have recruited online employees, you then face the challenge of learning how to manage virtual staff and co-ordinate their work projects in order to achieve your business goals.
Here are some suggested resources and tips to help manage your virtual staff effectively:
To manage virtual staff, it helps to have a reliable web based project management solution that suits your specific business requirements. The list of web based project management tools are endless – Basecamp, ActiveCollab, and CentralDesktop are a few of the most popular web based project management tools on offer.
For a comprehensive discussion on popular web based project management tools, check out 6 Web Based Project Management Tools.
If you are still in the early stages of your freelancing business, choose a software solution with the basic features, but without too many extras. You can always upgrade to a more feature rich software application as your business grows.
In your project management system, document work tasks with key milestones and defined delivery dates to help keep your business activities firmly on track. If you are working on multiple projects, tag tasks that relate to one project with a unique identifier so that all tasks associated with that project can be easily found within that project or sub-project category. It’s also a good idea to flag priority projects, so that you and your virtual staff can commit more time and resources to those projects.
Plan ahead so that you are able to manage the workflow for all your projects, including any peaks and troughs. Inefficiencies or holdups will occur when your virtual staff are delayed because they are awaiting your instructions to complete tasks. Run your business efficiently by planning ahead for the upcoming weeks, months and year.
Communication with Skype
Working virtually doesn’t prohibit you from speaking to your online staff, or seeing them face to face. Skype is an excellent way to communicate instantly with your virtual workers, whether your preference is through Skype messaging or via a webcam. Email has its place in communications, although it should be used sparingly to avoid unproductive time spent waiting for the recipient to reply.
File Sharing with Dropbox
Dropbox is a convenient application that allows you to share work documents and files with virtual staff. You can upload and sync files, images, and documents to a virtual hard drive. As long as you have Internet access, both you and your virtual staff can access shared files with ease.
For more information about Dropbox, read Travis King’s product review of Dropbox.
Focus on Output
Since you can’t keep an eye on your online staff physically, focus instead on their output. Don’t get too hung up on hours worked (unless you are paying for their time by the hour). Instead, concentrate on ensuring that their output is of a high standard and completed on time, and focus on whether their work is providing you with good value for money.
At the outset, it is important to define clearly to your virtual staff your expectation in terms of deliverables. The exact mechanics of how a task is to be completed is generally of lesser importance, so communicate clearly the output that is required, and let your virtual staff use their own creativity and ingenuity to work out the best approach to get the job done. In cases where a specific sequence of steps must be followed, make sure that these steps are well documented, and the sequence understood by your staff.
Build a Long-term Relationship
Building and developing a long-term relationship with your virtual staff can help create a productive workplace. Take the time to get to know them a little better, and let them get to know you a bit as well. It’s more pleasant working with people than just faceless names on a computer screen, and you will be more likely to get better work from employees who see you as a person rather than just a disembodied task allocator.
At the initial screening stage when hiring a person, find the person with the best fit for the job. There is a fine balance between hiring someone who can grow into a role, versus hiring someone who’s set of skills and experience make them completely unproductive. In this situation, it is best to move on to hire someone else who has a better fit with your business requirements. Remember, your virtual staff are supposed to be reducing your workload, not increasing it!
Another factor that comes into play is the alignment of your virtual staff’s ethics, values, and attitude to work. Ask yourself whether their values and approach to work matches well with your own business attitude. If it does, it’s more likely that you’ll work well together. If not, then sooner or later you’re likely to have problems due to your differences in approach.
Learning and professional development is another important aspect of working with your virtual staff. Once you’ve worked with someone for a while, and gotten to know what they are capable of, work on broadening their skill set by providing professional development opportunities to help them grow in their job.
Most successful start up freelancing businesses will need to use extra staff to cope with their increased workload at some point. Employing virtual staff to handle the extra work is a rising trend amongst businesses, with many benefits if managed correctly with the appropriate tools and work practices.
Photo credit: Eliffio on Flickr