Laptop and plant

Growing a business is hard work. At the beginning you think that if you can only get things started; establish your product or services; find some customers; earn some cash; make some profit; get through your first year, everything will be alright. But once you do get through that first year, or even your second, or third, you find yourself facing another problem: the issue of growth.

Of course, you can just stay still and let your company stagnate, but that’s not really the point; most people who get into business want more than that. The trick is to grow, but to do it your way. One of the simplest ways to get your business moving is by going virtual – but not in the way you might think.

Full time permanent employees are expensive, and bring their own complications – holiday pay, sick leave, PAYE obligations, endless health and safety and compliance paperwork. The fact is that they’re often an unnecessary luxury. Unless you actually physically need someone on your premises to operate machinery, provide care, work a till or greet customers, the chances are that a virtual employee could do the same job more quickly, efficiently, for a lower fee, and bring fewer productivity hurdles. Your only problem then, is how to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth.

Managing a virtual team brings its own issues, but if you follow these simple hacks, you’ll soon get your business growing.

  1. Communicate Clearly – One of the biggest problems in virtual team management is a lack of communication. You may think that you’ve explained a task, but just because it’s clear to you what you want, it may not necessarily be clear to others who are only just joining the team. Let all team members know that questions are welcome and make sure that it’s known by all that lines of communication are always open – whether by email, video calls, telephone, or text message. If you are approachable, then there’s no reason for crossed wires. Encourage informal exchanges too, so that your virtual workers feel part of a team, and not just an afterthought.
  2. Define Expectations – All workers, in any job, need to know what’s expected of them, so make this clear from the beginning. Set out – in writing – any deadlines, responsibilities and all other requirements before they start work. This way they know what you demand of them and you have measurable objectives to monitor.
  3. Show Trust – There’s very little more discouraging to an employee than to feel that they’re not being trusted. Many virtual workers choose this form of employment to fit in around their lifestyle, so as long as the work is done when you need it and to the standard you require, it doesn’t really matter how, where or when it is carried out. If their phone isn’t being answered it’s only an issue if you’re paying them to pick up calls at that time, and even then they’re still allowed a loo break. If you show trust in your virtual employees you’ll be less stressed, they’ll be happier, and you’ll all be more productive. Set out guidelines on how you wish to be reported to right at the beginning, that way you’ll only have reason to worry if the reports fail to show.
  4. Face Time – If a member of your virtual team lives on the other side of the world it’s not going to be possible to meet for a coffee. That doesn’t stop them from being the best person for the job, but it can create a barrier. Video conferencing can vault that hurdle, helping to reveal personalities and build relationships through body language, facial expressions and the simplicity of a shared smile.
  5. Tried and Trusted – If in doubt, seek professional help. There are thousands of freelance virtual workers trying to find a place for themselves and it can be confusing. If you know what you’re looking for, but you’re not sure where to start, try a virtual agency, like AVirtual. Agencies vet all of their workers, checking for credentials, experience and quality, taking a lot of the work off your hands. If you’re thinking about dipping your toes in the virtual employee waters, then an agency could be a good place to start.
Virtual workers can be an absolute boon for a growing business, allowing you to throw your net far wider to attract the most suitable employees; find niche experts; and reduce your overheads. If you use this resource properly, there’s no reason why you can’t make it pay dividends, and that, after all, is what business is about.

By Richard Walton, Founder and CEO of AVirtual