Chris Ducker has made an art out of outsourcing. He not only writes about effectively building virtual business systems and teams at Virtual Business Lifestyle, but he also operates Virtual Staff Finder. Ducker’s in-depth knowledge of how to work with team members who may be on the other side of the world gives him special insight into managing teams virtually. He answered a few questions for us about his process.
Thursday Bram: How do you make sure that, day in and day out, the team members you work with virtually stay on top of your projects?
Chris Ducker: I use a project management system that I had one of my staff program — it’s very close to Basecamp, but watered-down. I also have my personal assistant speak with them on a daily basis, too. I am not a major slave-driver with my virtual assistants. I allow them to pretty much do whatever they want, and work whenever they want‚ just as long as the work itself gets done and to the high level that I expect.
Thursday: What training or tools do you think someone interested in working with a team virtually needs?
Ducker: This really changes from one case to another. For some it can be very little, for others, quite intense. For sure, the virtual assistants have to be very, very web savvy. They should know their way around all the social networking sites properly, blogging tools, and be able to use Google and Google Apps. Training can be done mostly via videos on YouTube and perhaps some more personalized screencasts that you can make with software like Jing, for example. I also use Dropbox for all of the sharing and back-up needs that we have, too.
Thursday: What problems do you commonly see with organizations or individuals interested in working with a virtual assistant?
Ducker: It has to be that they believe that one single virtual assistant is going to be able to perform like a team, and do the different tasks that an entire team would do, too. I get requests from clients and entrepreneurial consultant clients that want their virtual assistant to be able to handle all their email, SEO, design, writing, accounting, support and general VA tasks, plus a load more — it’s simply not possible. You have to hire different people for different roles.
Thursday: Considering that a virtual staffer may be based anywhere, how can a person or organization working with them avoid cultural or language-based misunderstandings?
Ducker: I think that it comes down, at least at first anyway, to being thoughtful and understanding more than anything else. You can read books and speak to other people you may know from the country where your virtual workers are based, but 99 percent of the time it just comes down to being understanding and not expecting too much straight away. As time goes by you’ll find that you get to know your VA very well, and vice-versa, too — so any “issues” that come out of the cultural differences or misunderstanding will become less and less. Just being nice goes a long, long way!
Editor’s note: If you’re interested in how businesses can take advantage of technology to build and manage virtual teams (“the human cloud”) you should come to our Net:Work conference in San Francisco on Dec. 9th.