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Working with virtual staff members can take some getting used to. Just like other management skills, it takes practice; working with virtual staff is not a skill set you pick up overnight. But there are some steps you can take to make the process a little easier to manage.
- Run a test project. When you’re just starting out with a virtual team member, try running a test project. Pick something small that isn’t as potentially overwhelming as the big plans you have on the table. That will let you adjust to the situation on a low-risk project.
- Be available. It may sound obvious, but if your only contact with a virtual staffer is the occasional email, it can be difficult for them to get a complete picture of what’s required.
- Set up multiple methods of communications. Even if you plan to communicate exclusively through one channel, have other options available. After all, what happens if the internet goes down in your team member’s area and the only way you can get in touch with her is by email?
- Add more time to your estimates. Lengthening your estimates is a good idea as you can expect to spend more time communicating back and forth if you aren’t sitting next to each other.
- Record exactly how you do things. Instead of trying to explain what you do and how you do it, try recording yourself in action. With the wide variety of screencasting software available, you can have a video that shows your process in a matter of moments.
- Provide instructions in multiple formats. The more methods you can employ in getting the message across, the better. If you’re working with multiple virtual team members, it’s likely that they’ll have different learning and communication styles, making it worthwhile to use different formats.
- Set clear deadlines and expectations. Especially if most of your communication is through email or other written mediums, there are lots of opportunities for miscommunication, so you need to ensure your expactations are communicated clearly
- Be flexible about how things get done, not what gets done. You can’t afford to be flexible about what gets done: you need certain tasks accomplished. But if your virtual staff has a different process that results in the same end result, don’t let that stress you out.
- Write an organizational manual. It’s likely that if you’re working with one virtual team member now, you’re going to be working with more in the future. Creating an organizational manual based on your experiences now will make it much easier to handle future projects.
- Ask your virtual staff for suggestions. Don’t be afraid to give your virtual team members a voice; they may have some helpful hints, especially as if they’re used to working virtually, they may have more experience in the process than you do.