Our business is all about being virtual. We’re an Internet-based company that distributes free e-books online. Our rapid growth and evolution have naturally led to a need for an international staff. Currently, we have people in the U.S., Canada, Costa Rica, India, and Macedonia.
The first hints of the virtual possibilities came long before remote work was the norm. I would get instant messages from colleagues who were in the same building or even the office next to mine!
However, make no mistake: This kind of work environment can be challenging. Luckily, there are many solutions.
4 Challenges to Managing a Business Virtually
When you transition to a new way of working, there are bound to be issues with workflow, communication, and time zone differences.
There’s nothing like face-to-face communication when emphasizing the importance of meeting a deadline. An email memo doesn’t have the same power as an in-person meeting, and meetings can be delayed when dealing with different time zones.
Solution: Always set clear expectations and document everything. Software, like Basecamp, is great for tracking individual responsibilities and accomplishments on a project-to-project basis.
Miscommunication can occur easily in any situation, but it tends to be more common in written media since it’s hard to comprehend tonality and attitude. Reading facial expressions isn’t foolproof, either, even over Skype video calls.
Solution: You may think that you’ve made yourself clear, but if the receiving party doesn’t actually understand your message, it doesn’t matter. Avoid this by asking colleagues to verify the message. Over the phone, have colleagues repeat what you’ve just said in their own words. With email, I ask that recipients not only confirm the receipt of the information, but also agree to meet deadlines and other requests.
Maintaining Group Dynamics
Social interactions and building camaraderie are much easier in person. Creative brainstorming sessions are also generally more energized and productive when everyone’s in one room. That same level of connection is difficult—but not impossible—to achieve remotely.
Solution: We utilize a group-posting feature on Skype that’s open all the time. Everyone can share comments and links, whether they’re industry-related or social. We say “good morning” or at least touch base when we first fire up in the morning and “goodbye” at the end of the day. Because we cover many time zones, our staff began saying “Mo’evening!”
Keeping projects on track is more difficult when employees are spread across different time zones. Developing a complex website or product requires each person to complete his part in a timely manner to keep the team—and the launch dates—from getting held up.
Solution: Predictability inspires profitability. Completing revenue-generating projects consistently is the foundation for any successful enterprise and contributes to managing expenses and increasing profit margins. We collectively set reasonable, attainable project goals for each team member by creating a calendar of deliverables as a group via Skype, while one person enters everything in Basecamp.
Managing a business virtually means finding creative ways to communicate and collaborate. Tools such as Skype, Speek, and GoToMeeting can help connect your entire team. You can manage projects via Basecamp or Asana and share documents via Dropbox or Google Drive. With these tools, you can maintain the cohesion of your team, no matter where individual members are located.
The best advice I have for leaders looking to take their businesses virtual is to talk with someone who has done it. You can prepare yourself to avoid common missteps from the outset. Ideally, try to hire team members with previous virtual experience who can adapt quickly to your policies and procedures.
Success comes down to your team’s ability to communicate. If you can achieve that, you’re much more likely to succeed in a virtual environment. When you’re not tied to an office, you can take your business anywhere with unlimited potential.
What strategies do you employ to overcome the obstacles of working remotely?