One of the easiest ways to trip up a new venture is single points of failure. If you want your business to succeed at some point you’re going to need to delegate off portions of the work. This can be hard personally – as a founder your startup is your baby and it can be hard to let go of pieces of it – and financially – in the beginning there is only so much cash. Luckily for new entrepreneurs there are a variety of resources that exist that can help you find virtual employees. Finding them is half the battle. Once you have virtual employees how do you manage that virtual talent?
Whether you acquire your virtual talent from an online marketplace or the old fashion way of through your own personal network, getting the best out of an employee who is not in the same room with you is never easy. Management in general has always been more of an art than a science. Why are there thousands of books written on management? Because it is hard. Add in the virtual layer – how do you influence through written communication? How do you nip issues in the bud when your team is working while you sleep? – and you have an even greater challenge ahead of you. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to help ensure you’re providing the right level of guidance and motivation to your employees – wherever they are in the world.
The hardest thing for new managers to do is let go. Shifting from a contributor to a manager is not easy. You go from being judged on your ability to accomplish work to your ability to motivate others (Luckily for any entrepreneur there is still plenty of work to get your hands dirty with!). Many new managers react by not ceding control and either micromanaging or not giving enough to their employees. This leads to bored employees, which is never a good thing.
There is no magical solution here. You simply have to let go and give your new team member a chance to thrive. The best thing to remember is that they are going to do things differently than you. The final product will not be what you would have done because you didn’t do it. Not only is this OK, it is the point. New perspectives add value. Of course, it is important to give clear instructions, which leads me to the next point.
As the founder of your blossoming enterprise, you have been thinking about your big idea, product or business for a long time. You are probably at Stage 75. Whoever you are hiring is at Stage 0. Tribal knowledge transfer is not often talked about but is crucial in arming your employees for success. They do not know everything you know about your business. Many founders make assumptions that people know or understand more and in doing that so much is lost. Not only does this mean the person you are hiring is less likely to succeed but it also means, even if they do succeed, it will be a watered down version of what your company could be.
This loss of knowledge is even more prevalent with virtual employees, whether it is a startup or a multinational corporation. Being remote means you are away from the epicenter (for a startup that is usually the founder’s head and for a multinational it is corporate HQ). Disseminating information often becomes a game of telephone gone wrong. The message changes every time it is retold until it morphs into something entirely.
This is why it is good to write things down and when I say things I mean everything. Not only will this help you get information out of your head and onto paper in an organized manner but it will mean it is repeatable. It is why I believe so strongly in the power of the messaging hierarchy. You can share the same information with the next person you hire. If they hire someone, they can share that information. It creates a continuous message, which is crucial for any startup’s success.
Lastly, when hiring someone new, knowledge transfer can seem like a very, upfront laborious effort. Isn’t it easier and quicker to just do it myself? It may be in the short term. But it never pays off in the long run. Taking the time to properly educate and train your new virtual talent will ultimately pay great dividends.
Technology has made having a virtual workforce possible. But it can also make it feel as if they’re not virtual. While the telephone is convenient, try to do video chats whenever possible. There is a great psychological benefit to seeing a face. It makes the situation more real and increases loyalty and passion. You are working for someone. Not an email address.
While video chats are necessary, it is also important to have frequent real-time communication, which is where services like Slack can be helpful. There is nothing more frustrating as an employee than to meet a road block and not receive any feedback for a long period time, which essentially kills your momentum and flow. As the boss, you need to be responsive and provide detail instructions. This is why it is helpful to have work schedules overlap, at least for a portion. If your virtual employee is in another time zone, make an effort to be available during his/her operating hours. This will enable you to respond more rapidly and make it feel like you’re on the same team.
Having a weekly sync is crucial to maintain consistency. The saying, “out of sight, out of mind” is true.” Having something regular on the calendar keeps everyone honest. Even if you schedule the meeting for 30 minutes but finish in 10 that consistency can make the difference.
Of course the coordination and scheduling that goes into meetings is not always feasible. That’s why companies like CloudApp are helping to revolutionize remote work by allowing you to record and share now. The recording can then be consumed at the leisure of the other person. That convenience and flexibility means there is no excuse to collaborate.
Use collaboration tools
This becomes even more important when you have multiple employees but even when it is just you and someone else, there is a risk of duplicating work. You’re hiring someone to accomplish more. Lack of visibility into what is being worked on can create redundancy and waste time. Using tools like Google docs, allows you to see real-time changes and ensures you’re working off the latest version of any draft. Tools like Trello are a great way to assign and manage tasks and notify people when projects have been completed and when new ones are underway.
This seems obvious but is probably the number one complaint employees have of management – virtual or in the office. Employees want to do good work and they want to get better. If they receive no feedback – positive or negative – they can only assume. Just as you shouldn’t assume, it is dangerous for an employee to assume as well. While feedback is essential, a pat on the back goes along way as well. This is especially important for virtual employees who don’t get the benefit of office banter, which can help foster a relationship. Make sure you make a conscious effort to review people’s work, offer constructive feedback and reward them when they achieve success.