There are very many benefits to bringing remote workers on your team, however, managing them well, is easier said than done. Communicating effectively still presents many difficulties for employers who choose to outsource. Part of the reason is the “out of sight” mentality and the fact that your Virtual Assistant just is not there in person for you to speak to.
The challenges of effective communication can be overcome by putting into practice effective communication practices that you will read about below. We begin with a list of “what” the best practices are, and then will follow up with the right attitude to employ them with.
Voice, email, or chat, what works best?
At Global OfficeWorks, we recommend that all task assignments should be detailed in writing in our project management system, https://app.asana.com/. If you would like to notify any member of your team by email, just add the recipient as a “follower” and Asana will send the email automatically.
Regularly speaking with your Virtual Assistant.
A voice call is very effective to clarify that your team has complete understanding. Use phrases such as “Is there anything I didn’t explain well enough?” This is much more effective than stating “Do you understand?” which will usually be answered “Yes”, regardless of whether or not your Virtual Assistant has understood it.
A few communication etiquette tips we would suggest are the following:
• Plan/schedule your calls in advance. Your VA’s value their time as much as you do, so plan your calls to show them consideration and respect for their time, and efforts. This can be as simple as sending a chat message notifying them of a call you’d like to have with them at a specific time.
• Choose the right communication tool:
1. Complex instructions: A task written in Asana is the best choice for sending complex instructions because it is permanent and can be re-read as often as your VA needs. Just be sure to follow up with a voice call to make sure that they fully understood the directions. Ask them to tell you their understanding of the task they have been assigned. Just like a waiter reads you back your order.Time-sensitive information: Urgent tasks should always be identified as such in Asana and followed up with a call or instant message so that you can immediately confirm whether the VA has received your instructions.
2. Use Instant Messaging for urgent situations only. Sending an IM is like approaching someone’s desk and interrupting them by asking them to stop what they are doing and deal with you.
3. When on a call, try to use a microphone or headset. The sound quality will be noticed on the other end. Using a laptop microphone is not the best option because you can often get audio feedback, or it will pick up background noises from all around you, whereas a microphone or headset receives more direct input.
• Become proficient at using the communication tools. Make sure that you’re able to set up and join meetings quickly so that they start on time. Learn all of the available features and set up a time with your team to practice and explore the different features and functionalities. This will save you a lot of time in the long run.
• Keep yourself focused during your calls. Maintaining focus is important as by doing that, you convey to your team that your time, as well as theirs, is extremely important to you. Getting distracted by emails, YouTube, etc., can convey the wrong message. Eventually, they will pick up on this behavior, and your meetings will become less and less productive.
• Set the right standards from the very beginning as to what your expectations are. This will give your VA’s clarity on what is expected of them in terms of how often you will communicate, the mode of communication you expect them to use, whether they can multitask while on a call or not, the tools they need to communicate with, where they should take their calls, etc. But be sure to try your best to keep yourself accountable to the same standards as this will show them integrity on your part.
How often should you call?
This is a question unique to each employer. However, we know that by and large, a consistent and genuine system usually results in increased quality and quantity of work. We suggest that they check in with you at the beginning and end of their workday (to exchange pleasantries just as you would at a local office to say good morning), and try to make contact at least once during the day to check-in and see how their day is going. A few other suggested reasons for scheduling a call are below:
• Ask your VA to send you their goals or task list at the beginning of each day.
• For employers who manage a team of remote workers, a team huddle call is a communication method that should seriously be considered. This shouldn’t be an hour-long call but should last only 5-10 minutes, with each team member running through their status on projects, questions, concerns, etc. It might seem to like a bit of overkill to schedule these every day, but it will help your Virtual Assistant be in the loop of how they fit into the big picture. These calls will also benefit you in that they will allow for you to keep yourself focused on your vision, and how each team player fits in.
Communication with your Virtual Assistants should never be a one-way street.
We all remember being the new kid on the block and joining a team that seemed to have been together forever. Although we believed in our abilities, we usually waited to be called on and were very cautious in what we offered initially. Your Virtual Assistant may be even more intimidated or cautious about jumping in or pro-actively engaging you, or members of your team.
We strongly encourage employers to consciously empower their Virtual Assistants, and help them get as comfortable and competent within the framework of the team, as much as possible and as soon as possible.
Allow your Virtual Assistants to communicate with others on your team, especially those in your office. Everyone needs to work together on the same team.
If you have both onshore and offshore working for you, allow them to communicate with each other. Effective communication extends past just them and yourself. If you want your remote workers to fully understand your company operations, strategy, vision, culture, and priorities, encourage them to have discussions with other members on your team – both remote and on-site.
Being transparent builds up trust and loyalty between employers and employees. It is important to be especially transparent about negative developments with your team. Don’t think that because they are distant, remote workers won’t catch wind of the news. One way or another, they will, and it’s your responsibility to keep your workers apprised of both good and bad developments. It’s much better if they hear such news from you, along with a confident comment from someone relevant in the organization, rather than via other means.
With everything that is happening on your end, it’s easy to tend to forget about your VA’s. However, remote workers thrive off feedback (often more so than your local team members). Feedback helps them to succeed on your team, and go above and beyond your expectations. Part of your regular communication should help your VA’s “bond” with the company. Mostly, it should be constructive feedback (positive or critical) that helps them see what they’re doing and the way they should be doing it. Not only will the feedback shape the overall outcome, but it will also reinforce the connection between you and your VA.
Try to share positive feedback in a group with their peers, but save the negative criticism for a private meeting between the two of you.
Use the Management Support Staff your Office-Based Virtual Assistant is provided.
Work together with GLOW management to set up the metrics and receive regular performance reviews. Also, try to create a culture of open feedback directed to you and your leadership. Ask them what they think about your methods of communication, strategy, etc. Doing this will increase worker loyalty on your team.
The Right Attitude in Communicating.
In all these forms of communication, it is important to have the right attitude. What you will read about below are a few suggested attitudes employers should consider adopting, as doing so may significantly increase your success in outsourcing, retaining remote workers, and ultimately building long-term, bountiful, and sustainable partnerships.
• Watch out for the “out of sight” attitude that can creep up on you. It’s very easy to fall into this trap. Most employers are used to either at some point working for someone in person, or having people work for them locally at an office. But when employers switch over to the remote field, some of them begin to adopt a passive communication approach, yet all the while expecting the same results. It’s silly to expect the same outcome without investing time in communicating with your team consistently, so don’t let a day go by without communicating with your team at least once, or if possible a few times.
• Show consideration for your VA.
• Try to set up calls during times that work for both of you, and try to avoid canceling your remote calls for meetings that are local.
– Start on time. When you do go on a call, do your best to start on time and expect the same from your remote workers.
– Canceling. If you can’t make it to a meeting, do your very best to cancel in advance (at least a day in advance to give time to schedule a replacement). Consider whether your recipient will see the cancellation in time because they may not be on their shift yet.
• Don’t assume the worst, but assume the best.
• If your VA isn’t meeting your expectations especially during your first month together, it probably isn’t because they are incompetent, but because they haven’t received enough training or direction in their tasks. It may also be that they just weren’t fully aware or understood what you expected from them. Don’t automatically jump to conclusions that may not be based on fact, but try to get confirmation as to why it happened.
• When giving written instructions, consider how your message may be perceived.
• Thinking critically and analyzing how your message may be taken before sending it is always the wisest approach to effective communication. We have all received an email in the past causing us to scratch our heads and wonder what the sender’s motive and intent was when sending it.
The remote worker also shares this challenge whenever reading a message from you. Without body language as a cue, they may misinterpret your intent or motive, so try to be as clear as possible as to what you need from them, or wish to express. One thing you can do to fix this is to add emoticons in your message to convey your intent. And when it comes to delivering constructive criticism, consider doing it over a voice call as it may be completely misinterpreted over email or instant message.
While these methods have worked for many employers, some of them may not necessarily be the right fit for you and your team. Nevertheless, every employer needs to monitor and analyze how effective their communications are and adapt them to fit their team’s needs accordingly. For example, if you know that your VA is not very talkative, you may find that a shorter conversation once a day is enough. But most important of all, go beyond how you see things from your perspective and try to commit to building a culture of communication that accounts for the perspective of every member of your team.
Remember, Global OfficeWorks has an entire management team in place to support you. Whenever we can be of any assistance, please reach out to us at any time.