A Few Practical Tips & Tools
Unlike any other time in history the advancement of technology, the world wide web, and a plethora of communication options provide the ability and practicality of building a business on a virtual team. It is very doable and can be more effective than traditional business models, depending on your field and niche.
For those who want to work from home, launch a new start-up, or are looking for less overhead by moving to a virtual team model, here are a few thoughts and tips to consider:
Team Management ~ Do you have employees or subcontractors who are “running their own business”? What type of communication is needed? How often? Where are they geographically located in relation to you? Are you working across time zones?
Whether regular face-to-face meet ups, video conferencing, group virtual chats, audio calls or a combination thereof, you can begin planning, experimenting and securing methods that are right for you, your business and the needs of your team.
Tip: As appealing as working from home may be for less experienced workers, I would recommend that a virtual model works best for those who are strong, experienced self-starters who have already had the opportunity to personally cultivate work ethics, integrity and self-governed responsibility.
Tip: Include time to meet with your team members individually and collectively outside of the project or work order in your weekly, bi-monthly, monthly or quarterly leadership plans. Be intentional in an effort to bridge the gap and isolation of working remote. Envision your people regularly, and do more than say you are available to them; pursue and engage them.
Rather than giving you list of apps, software, and options (there are many blogs that provide extensive lists) I am focusing on the ones I have personally used and recommended.
Communication ~ In working with a team of subcontractors who were geographically across continents, I discovered a few helpful communication tools:
Video Conferencing: For boardroom meetings we used HighFive. As long as everyone on the video call had strong Internet, it worked great.
Video Calls: If both parties have a Skype account, it is free and works great on mobile or computers. Google Hangouts is free and requires downloading the app on your device, clicking on an invitation link sent via email, and a strong Internet connection. Both Skype and Hangouts allow for multiple callers and sharing your computer screen if you have visual content to display.
Text: There are lots of apps out there and security is a concern when sharing proprietary information. We’ve used WhatsApp, Messenger, and Signal along with others. In my view, if it’s digital it’s never fully secure. This should be for the small chatter not any content that should be tracked, recorded, or is proprietary in nature.
Project Management ~ BaseCamp is an online project management platform that allows for effective organization, management, scheduling, document upload, messaging and collective teamwork. This works especially for projects that have many moving parts; keeping track of details and data is essential. BaseCamp is based on an annual subscription and may be pricey for self-funded new start-ups.
Bookkeeping ~ Quickbooks Online is a widely known bookkeeping software and their cloud based version provides a completely virtual option. It allows you to set up several users, including a log-in for your CPA to access and pull all the data needed to do your quarterly and year-end reporting.
Tip: I am an advocate for outside bookkeeping and reporting for the security of experience and the checks-and-balances. If there’s a question of where to shave expenses, don’t do it here.
There are many online tools available. Start by evaluating what you need and then research the options to see what’s best for you. Focus on functionality with the options measured according to the appropriate level of security, ease of use, and initial cost.
Hire experts where possible. Training unskilled people to handle aspects of your business works well when you have a central physical location or the consistency of working in proximity together along with the necessary time to invest in their training and ongoing support. If this isn’t doable, I recommend that you hire skilled and trained experts for your virtual team.
There may be other challenges to forge like building a strong and cohesive team and company culture. Accountability from remote employees can be tricky. Even maintaining an accurate pulse of movement within ranks is different when the people and operations are not under one brick and mortar roof. We’ll tackle these topics in an up and coming article.