Being a leader is always hard – but being a virtual leader to a team of remote workers is nightmarishly hard. When I first thought of starting a virtual firm providing digital services to an International clientele through a team of Pakistani women working from their homes I was so excited. I couldn’t believe no one had ever thought of doing that before. Imagine reaching women in far-flung areas of the country enabling them to work from their homes with just a PC and a dial up Internet modem doing simple Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) for big names like Google and Facebook! It sounded ridiculously easy but the truth has been far from it.
Over the past year and a half I have been battling with keeping my work and team organized. I have used several project management tools (Basecamp, Yammer), tried Skype conference calls, GoToMeeting webinars but though these helped I found out the hard way that team management is not all about cool software and web tools but there is a lot more involved. Here are my 6 secrets to managing a successful business that is growing every day. I dedicate this to all those freelancers who have worked with me and the few who dared to stay full-time:
- Human Interaction: A virtual team thrives on human interaction. A constant flow of communication, reliance and high efficiency are key to a successful virtual business. It’s imperative for a leader to find means of keeping her team together and to encourage it to interact – I have found that public acknowledgment and encouragement for even the smallest thing a team member does for me works wonders in raising morale and giving an incentive to other team members to do their best. Also, celebrating success as a “team” and raising a toast to everyone is the best form of motivation.
- Decision Makers: Have faith in your team and make sure your team members know you trust them. Let them come up with solutions to every day problems and allow them to implement those solutions. Only step in if there is a conflict that has the potential to grow into something bigger.
- Group Training: Get your teammates to train together. One of my clients required that all 15 of us counterparts get together on a call every month for an hour or two to talk about work, share problems, troubleshoot as a team. We had a very strict schedule and everyone was overworked and we grumbled the whole month to our supervisors about these team calls but you know what? These calls kept us together. We learned a lot about each other – who was good at what, who could be depended upon to help with an issue, etc. Plus, we also got to know each other personally and friendships were formed that lasted well after some of us left the work. It made us feel like a team. What I am trying to say is that soft skills are important.
- Performance Peaks: If you have had a team working together for three years or more you probably have a very efficient virtual firm. However, there are times when a performance peak is reached and the team tends to slack. As a leader you have to find a way to define roles and responsibilities making each members accountable for her work. It’s also a great idea to get feedback from stakeholders and share it with concerned members to make them bring their best to the table.
- Get Togethers: Yes, Yammer and Skype and webinars are all great for staying together and working in an organized manner but nothing works like direct human contact. If possible, bring your team together even if it’s once a year. Have them meet each other face-to-face so they know that those are not just names that log in and out of Skype but real people with lives beyond their computers.