My Experiences in Managing a Virtual Team
Thanks to the Rona and the “new normal, businesses and teams are going virtual quicker than you can say “I work from home.” Work will never be the same again, and this new normal has opened the eyes of everyone from across the globe to the possibilities of remote work, remote workforce and the importance of managing a virtual team.
Businesses that used to be in a traditional office setting are now finding ways to adapt and make the virtual space work for them, their teams and their organization. Thankfully, tools like Slack and Teamwork are making the virtual working space much more manageable.
Even after this pandemic is over and the much-awaited vaccine saves the world, it won’t be a surprise if many businesses choose to stick to this remote work arrangement. In my opinion, because this type of arrangement has been working for me, I’m sure other businesses have experienced positive outcomes from this set up as well and will choose to continue it.
Some people are still learning the ropes in this “new normal” working situation, while others like me, have been virtual for a little now. Matter of fact, we are so virtual, that some of us have built virtual businesses and we have been working this way for several years now.
What started out for me as an experiment (more on that later), soon became my “saving grace” ever since the pandemic shook the entire world. Looking back, starting a virtual team was one of the best decisions I have ever made because of how quickly I was able to adapt to this global phenomenon (together with my team as well).
And because managing my own virtual team was a puzzle that I wanted to solve, I had no idea that what I have achieved now was even possible through the people that I have hired. It’s amazing how I have grown my businesses into what they are today all by working with my virtual team members… no, you can’t have them, they are mine (however you can start building your team by following THIS).
It’s no surprise that managing a virtual team is different from a physical one, but the core principles of leadership and management still stand. And I admit, I am no expert in this field as well, but I am lucky to be with team members who were willing to experiment with me along the way and learn what is the right way to manage the business with members from all around the globe.
I have been working with my virtual team for about 6 years now, and learning how to manage everyone (including myself) is a never-ending process. One that I am going to share here in the hopes that you gain some nuggets of wisdom from my personal experiences and apply them to building and growing your own virtual team.
In this blog post, I am going to talk about this experiment that ended up being something that’s changed my business forever. I will be sharing with you everything that I have encountered while growing and managing my own virtual team including the following:
- The Idea That Started It All
- My First Attempt at Outsourcing
- Focusing on the Bigger Picture
- The Challenges I/we have faced and how we overcame them
- Lessons Learned Managing a Virtual Team
- The Rise of the Tide
THE IDEA THAT STARTED IT ALL
I have always wanted to own a business.
Back when I was a teenager, I remember coming across the Cashflow Quadrant in Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad, and I promised myself that when I “made it”, I would make it as a “Business Owner”.
I want to have leverage and I want to earn money without having to worry about taking a 2-week holiday not earning because I was on a holiday.
But it’s interesting how my main reason for starting a business has changed as I grew older (maturity, perhaps?). Initially, I just wanted to earn more money so I could live a good life. But eventually, I realised that owning a business and earning money can mean so much more. It can mean making an impact as well and amplifying that impact through the business and the money it has made.
So now with my business, along with the team, I am mostly driven by the fact that I want to make an impact on other people’s lives, mine, my team and our clients’.
Anyway, back to pre-Tega before all the making an impact mind shift happened.
Because I was fixated on becoming a business owner, I took it upon myself to learn how to start. I needed to figure out a way to create leverage so I could be an actual business owner.
And that is when I came across the idea of outsourcing. Whilst scrolling through Facebook and hearing about so many people’s experience with it and how it has helped them grow and scale their business, is what spoke to my curiosity and led me to actively seek out material that spoke about outsourcing and scaling, and read a few life-changing books like Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week and Mike Michalowicz’ Clockwork.
I was curious to know what this outsourcing thing and what it could do for me.
And thus began the experimentation.
MY FIRST ATTEMPTS AT OUTSOURCING
Before I was able to successfully hire my first virtual team member, Mark, I experienced a number of stumbles with less than stellar results.
My very first attempt at hiring a remote worker was for my friend. Let’s call him James (not his real name).
James was a web developer and needed an extra hand to help him with his work so he could add more clients to his business. Naturally, James needed another web developer to do this. And me, being the curious and helpful person that I am, thought that this would be a great way to see how this whole outsourcing thing works.
So, I made a job post on Upwork (formerly Elance-oDesk), received 3 candidates, chose the guy who responded first and immediately hired him. That’s all I did. And yes, if you read my other blog post on how to hire virtual assistants, you will KNOW that “process” sounds rather unlike the more experienced Tega now.
What happened was because I never actually interviewed this person, I never got to assess whether he would be a good fit for James. And lo and behold, the two indeed weren’t a good fit and the partnership did not last very long.
To make things worse, I had to refund James AND pay the web developer since James didn’t pay him. Bummer.
As unfortunate as it sounds, it was a reality check for me and had me think long and hard about what went wrong.
A few months after that attempt, I decided to get back to my laboratory and find out what went wrong and how exactly to make things right. This is when I did even more research on outsourcing which included reading John Jonas’ blog.
I realised that I needed to have a proper system in place when hiring. This involved actually interviewing the candidates and finding out WHO they were to avoid any personality clashes just like with the whole James shenanigan.
Luckily enough, my friend Adil who owns a podcast also needed some help and I brought up the idea of bringing a virtual team member on board. Adil gladly agreed and offered to split the fee of the remote worker with me.
And because this was such an enticing offer, I took it as a sign to start my outsourcing journey again equipped with all the new things I have learned and the processes I have put in place.
This was when I found Mark.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he was picking up the tasks I asked him to do (most of which he didn’t have experience with before), tasks included Digital Marketing, working with ClickFunnels, setting up Facebook Ads, and doing some video editing. Mark proved his competency and opened my eyes to how good outsourcing actually is when you get it right.
Here was a guy (living halfway around the world) who didn’t know tons of the things I asked him to do, but learned those things in a relatively short period of time.
He was my first successful hire and this is when the gears in my head started turning.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows after my first hire. I still had a lot to learn.
Unfortunately, the gears in my head turned so fast that I got overly excited and immediately sought my 2nd virtual team member a week after I hired Mark…without following the systems I used to hire Mark.
I got too confident in hiring an additional virtual team member that I never even considered if this person would even have enough work, to begin with! To top it all off, I didn’t even provide any training and I wasn’t in a place that I could actually afford to add another team member (I was still operating in the self-employed box during this time). This person didn’t stay very long, and this gave me another reality check that I still wasn’t as competent as I thought I was.
So, going back to the drawing board, I needed to fine-tune my systems, processes, SOPs, training modules and everything else even more before I swam deeper into the ocean of outsourcing and grow my team.
It took several months and a few failed attempts (or learnings as I’d like to call them), before I was able to have the systems and processes in place I am using now to hire virtual team members for myself and my clients.
Now that I have built up my experience, I realised that every virtual team member I wasn’t able to keep was just a guide that led me in the right direction to build the awesome team that I have today. And with my current team, I am able to focus on other aspects of the business that will help us scale, grow, and eventually make an impact on the people around me.
FOCUSING ON THE BIGGER PICTURE
With all these testimonials online of entrepreneurs obtaining more freedom through outsourcing, it’s amusing how I never focused on this benefit when I started my own virtual team.
I was never really set on experiencing the benefits of this outsourcing “hype” simply because people say they can work 4 hours a week and travel the world while other people did the work for them (though I was initially attracted to starting a business because of these same benefits). Living a life of freedom (the typical “entrepreneur” variety) wasn’t my main mission of starting a virtual team and growing a business.
In fact, that barely crossed my mind because I was driven more by curiosity about the outsourcing practice than anything else.
Because I stepped up to the plate with the mindset of just “experimenting and seeing where it goes,” I never fully let go of the business so I could have more “me” time (in fact, I am still fully involved in the business and am rather busy myself).
But this doesn’t mean that managing a virtual team hasn’t helped me significantly. In fact, I am now able to personally focus on bigger leverage tasks in the business such as looking for clients, creating a direction for the team and helping the team grow and change their perspectives.
I now have more freedom mentally because I have team members that I can rely on to take care of all the nitty-gritty details. My virtual team has helped me get out of situations that would have required me to keep a close eye on because I have learned how to properly delegate everything.
The systems and processes that I have established have allowed me to arrive at a place where I can trust my team members to do the work without me having to be a taskmaster. This has given me peace of mind and alleviated my “perfectionist disease” to some degree.
Although I have no doubt that my competent virtual team members would be able to do their job, I doubt everything would go as smoothly as it does, if it wasn’t for the systems and processes in place. I realised how important it is to set up the playground before you can let your virtual team members freely do the things you need them to do and expect the results that you desire.
But even after everything is in place, managing a virtual team isn’t always a bed of roses…
CHALLENGES IN MANAGING A VIRTUAL TEAM
Each and every entrepreneur who is managing a virtual team has their own challenges for sure.
Definitely one of my challenges during the early stages of this “experiment” was making sure that the person I hired has enough work to do. Not only that, you need to make sure that with the amount of work you are giving, you need to be able to afford the compensation.
I admit that I lost a virtual team member because I wasn’t able to pay her fairly since I couldn’t really afford it yet. Plus, she never communicated this to me so I assumed everything was fine until I realised that she was finding more clients behind my back…
So before you decide to hire someone, you need to be in a place where you can actually afford it and that the tasks you delegate justify the compensation you are giving.
And speaking of tasks, it took me a while to delegate these as well.
Earlier in this blog post, I mentioned that I am a bit of a control freak and have something I call the perfectionist disease. For someone who wants to make sure everything is under control, learning how to let go and delegate tasks to someone else can be quite difficult.
I have this tendency of taking on most of the tasks instead of passing them on to the team, which kind of defeats the purpose of why I have a team in the first place, right?
This continues to be a learning process for me and I am slowly fixing this by putting systems and processes in place to help open the lines of communication and automate and standardise the workflow. That way, things are done the way I want them to be done and we all know what comes after each step.
Using automation, I can streamline some processes in the business. For example, getting and onboarding a new client becomes much easier to manage because I can pass the baton to the next member of the team, without having to do it physically. The person responsible for a task is automatically made aware of what they have to do it and when they have to have it done.
Another challenge for me was learning how to manage people and myself better. Having people work for you and knowing how to manage them can get quite challenging, especially if you don’t have the confidence.
One thing I found difficult was making sure that my team members were not taking on too much or too little work, and also communicating which tasks should be prioritized and accomplished first. It becomes especially challenging as the team grows and you start to manage more people.
Eventually, I learned that communication is key and constantly checking in on your team members ensures that everyone is managing the work well.
LESSONS I HAVE LEARNED MANAGING A VIRTUAL TEAM
Delegate, Don’t Abdicate
I talked about this in my other blog post on How to Find Great Virtual Team Members. When people hire a virtual team member, they think that this person is going to be a mind-reader and know exactly what to do and will just get it done.
From my experience, this is far from the truth. I used to get frustrated when someone new on the team wouldn’t get a task right after I had explained it the third time. I’d automatically default to thinking “that things would be much quicker if I did everything myself instead”.
Eventually, I realised that what I was abdicating responsibility instead of delegating. With the former, you’re simply passing responsibility to someone else and expecting that they can instantly submit work that matches your standards.
That is something that you should not expect ESPECIALLY not at the start. Team members have to work to a point where there is enough trust for you to hand over responsibility.
Rather than abdicate, delegate instead. This means that you take the time and effort to manage and train this person so that eventually, he or she will get things done according to how you like them to be done. And yes, it does take time and effort, but in the long run, this will result in quality work and team members who choose to stay and buy in more to the business.
And because you need to train them properly, you also need to be open to the idea that they will make mistakes along the way until they become proficient.
Systemise, Systemise, Systemise
I am a firm believer in systems and processes, given the story of Rich Dad Poor Dad and my belief that to “Make it” I gotta make it as a Business Owner.
When you bring someone else into the business, it’s very tempting to say,“Bob can you please do X?” and then expect Bob to know everything and remember the things he did.
If you don’t have systems in place and then give them the same task a few weeks later, you can’t expect them to remember every single thing he did the first time. If you don’t document your processes, doing repetitive tasks becomes a headache in itself because you won’t have a standardized workflow and you will have team members constantly asking you how to complete their tasks.
Learn to Trust Your Team
If you hire someone virtually, there is a very small chance that that person will be able to scam and take advantage of you. But what I find is that a majority of them won’t because they need a job and you have jobs that need to be done.
For those who are new to outsourcing, it can be difficult to pass on your tasks to someone you haven’t met and worked with personally. But you need to start the relationship off on the right foot by learning to trust your team.
And if your virtual team members forget something or makes a mistake, trust as well that there is no malicious intent on their end and it could be a result of the lack of experience or, in some rare cases, them not knowing how to communicate their problems with you.
For control freaks like me, you need to get comfortable with letting go and trusting that someone else will do the tasks for you.
THE RISING TIDE…
All around me, I see my entrepreneurial friends make the decision to start a virtual team when they realise they can’t run their businesses on their own anymore. And this isn’t just with my friends. In fact, according to ScienceDirect, “The emergence of COVID-19 has presented employees and employers new challenges as many employees and managers were forced to work in a remote environment for the first time.”
So it’s no surprise that we have witnessed a growth in the virtual workplace and people hiring virtual team members, and employees looking for online jobs.
But with the rise in popularity of remote teams also comes its challenges. Things like figuring out the process when hiring someone and knowing whether that someone fits the WHO you are looking for can be a challenge especially when you can’t meet that person physically.
Other challenges involve knowing what tools to use to track productivity, output, projects and other things that need to be tracked in order to know whether a team member is doing the work well.
You also have problems with time zone differences since outsourcing mostly involves hiring people from countries in Asia such as China, India or the Philippines. Having team members from all around the world pose a challenge when you need to set up team calls.
I am no exception from encountering these types of problems, but as I mentioned, I have learned a lot in these 6 years and am continuing to learn.
I’ve had friends ask me how to find, train, and manage the right people for their business because I’ve been doing this for several years already. This was what made me decide to write a complete guide on How to Find Great Virtual Team Members, and this process has helped me, and other entrepreneurs successfully grow their virtual team.
Because at the end of the day, when you hire someone, you don’t hire for skill. Rather, you hire someone for their values because I found that 8 out of 10 times, if you don’t hire someone with the right personality, that person won’t stay long in the business and you’ll end up right back where you started.