Telework teams are becoming very common these days, especially with the growing amount of tools available to help companies keep remote employees accountable. In fact, an article on telecommuting in the NYTimes.com mentions that “those who work at home tend to put in longer hours and are often more productive.” Small business owners and freelancers can certainly vouch for this and know just how beneficial building a team that mainly is working remotely, even if only for single projects…if you have the right team building techniques in place, that is.
The entire process can be a bit intimidating if you have never used a virtual team before now. Hire the wrong members, and you could get burned pretty badly and may even lose valuable clients. Without the right processes, possibly even training, and of course the right technology, building effective teams is nearly impossible.
On the other hand, using team building techniques that have been tested by those who have forged the road before you can make your experience a very positive one. A virtual team can save you money, time, and energy, providing you with a much better outcome for your clients than you could have produced on your own.
So, where to start? With the hiring, right? Wrong. Before you ever start looking for your team members, you first need to come up with a plan. The same NYTimes.com article from above points out that telecommuting “works best when a company has developed a plan, including the best technology to use.” The following will take you from the very beginning, your plan of action, to the actual management of your team using the right resources. Of course, you have to decide what works best for you, but the tips below should give you a great starting point for the best possible results in building a team no matter the length of your project.
Developing a Plan
Depending on whether you plan to hire a team for a single project or for an indefinite length of time, your plan could be quite short to several pages. Basically, develop a team charter that defines different aspects of the work and roles each team member has. The key items to keep in mind for your plan for building a team are…
- Description of the client and needs – for example, building an interactive website for a product-based company.
- The overall mission or objective of your team – what you will do to meet the client’s needs and possibly within a specified time frame.
- The roles of each team member – what tasks you expect each person to complete.
MindTools suggests a couple of other important aspects you can include in your team charter. One of these includes the resources you will provide as well as what resources they need to provide (i.e. you provide collaborative software but they should have their own access to Photoshop CC). Another specification you may want to include is that of how to keep in touch (Skype, phone, email, etc.) or even planned cyber meetings. We’ll discuss more about technology after the next section on hiring.
One final important note: before hiring, decide if you will hire independent contractors or employees. This should be stated explicitly in the job offer and possibly in the team charter as well. Many virtual teams are made up of independent contractors, simply because the team members often hired are freelancers operating under their own business name already. Plus it’s cheaper and comes with less liability. SBA.gov gives a very legible, short summary of the differences between employers and contractors.
Finding Your Team
Now we’ve come to the million-dollar question: where the heck do you find team members you can trust? There seems to be so much out there on collaborative tools and advice on managing your team…but very little on where to drum up reliable, honest talent. There’s a reason for this: finding the right people for your team isn’t an exact science. Where you go for your team members depends on you, er, rather who you know.
After all, one of the best places to start is within your circle of family and friends, according to an article on Zapier.com about hiring remote workers. People you already trust will, of course, be your most reliable sources for finding someone trustworthy to hire. As such, also check into your network of contacts, either those you have worked with in the past or maybe even someone you met at a conference and have kept up with since then.
Other great ideas for finding members of your virtual team include advertising on your blog, if you have one, or spreading the word on your social networks, especially LinkedIn since you can quickly check their work history and recommendations.
You can also check on job boards, but you’ll want to be very selective as sometimes these contain folks who are constantly jumping from job to job. One way to shield yourself from hiring an untrustworthy crew member is to use job boards that rate users, such as Guru.com and Elance.com.
Or you can search for talent on either more elite job sites, teams that offer specific services, or on a website with talent but not traditionally used for finding remote teams. The following are a few examples:
Toptal – A marketplace for top developers and companies to connect, Toptal hires less than 3% of developer applicants due to a very strict screening process. Toptal only hires the best developers across the world, so you know that you are getting a team member worth your time and money.
WPCurve – (Update: WP Curve was sold to GoDaddy) This is a very reputable company, led by founders Dan Norris and Alex McClafferty, that you can hire for WordPress needs. They even monitor your WP site for ways to improve it, if needed, with services such as core and plugins updates to stop hacking, SEO, landing pages, theme clash repairs, and auto responder email. The teams made up of WP experts from across the world work 24/7 for you for only $69 for a single job, $69 monthly, or $99 monthly.
Udemy – This is an excellent resource for remote training, but we’ll discuss this aspect more below. Right now, let’s look at how Udemy can be a great place to make connections and find people for your team. For instance, many of the courses are created by skilled freelancers trying to get their name out there for hire. You can check out their bios and link to their websites. Also be sure to check on the reviews of their Udemy course to see what users have to say about their depth of knowledge and communication skills.
Treehouse – Same as with Udemy, you can use Treehouse to browse courses and find instructors available for hire. Or you could even browse through the users, the students. Everyone has a profile, which you can view without starting the free trial, although one of the only ways to find profiles without a free trial account is in the forum. Each profile shows how many points accumulated total and also in what areas. Profiles also indicate if the student speaks English and if they are available for hire. You can also see all of the courses they took.
Who Should You Hire?
Only the best, of course! Well, at least the best within your budget range. Definitely don’t just hire the first applicant that comes along. You will want to ask some serious questions first to find out if the applicant is good at communication, self-motivated, honest, and a goal-attainer. Don’t forget to consider any time zone differences between you and your potential teammate as well.
Ask the right questions, and you will know if your applicant fits your ideal description. On Inc.com, Jessica Stilman points out some excellent questions to ask, which are a good base for your list:
- Have you ever worked remotely before?
- Describe your home/work environment.
- Explain your level of comfort with troubleshooting connectivity.
- What are your daily work rituals?
- What are your preferred methods of communication with colleagues?
- How do you track your progress on a remote project?
- What are your concerns about working for this team as a remote worker?
And, of course, don’t forget to give them a sample project to complete, similar to the project for which you will hire them. If a sample project is too time-consuming, you could always just ask more in-depth questions for how they would solve problems related to your project.
Use Reliable Technology
Thankfully, there are lots of technology tools for remote teams, many of which are either very low cost or free. If you don’t have the right technology, you can’t monitor and measure the output of your team, an important aspect of keeping everything running smoothly. On VentureBeat, John-Paul Narowski makes an important point that good communication and having the right processes in place, such as check-ins and weekly meetings, are an important part of keeping a team from feeling alienated.
Some of the resources you may need include are training videos, content organizers/planners, brainstorming tools, communication tools, task managers, screen sharing tools, just to name a few. While you will need to find what works best for you and your team, probably through a frustrating period of trial and error, the following are some resources that others have found useful in building a team.
Team building workshops:
As mentioned above, if you need to train members of your team to make sure everyone is on the right track, Udemy or Treehouse are both excellent options. Benefits of Udemy include the cost of exactly $0 and easy accessibility for your team. And large corporations can use the Business option to train teams remotely through a custom online learning portal.
Treehouse does not allow you to create your own training, but there are some very excellent courses on here that you could still point your team to. This would also save you the time of creating your own training. However, you do have to pay a group monthly fee, which is definitely worth the cost if your budget allows and your team needs solid training in a few areas.
For content organizing, planning, and brainstorming:
Trello provides an excellent platform for keeping track of projects. You can create cards to organize what tasks need done, what tasks are in progress, which are completed, and even assign certain tasks to team members. You can also upload images and files, and it comes with real time syncing as well. Plus, it’s all free, although there is a business option for a very cheap price if you need greater admin control.
Wunderlist is a free list app on which teams can collaborate by creating lists, assigning due dates, and even have conversations right in the app. It also allows for real-time syncing, a bookmark Wunderlist button so that you can directly add links to lists, notifications, and much more.
HipChat has a free version that allows for group chat and instant messaging between unlimited users with syncing between devices, and even allows for guest access. It’s great for businesses because of the tight security. If you want screen sharing and more, pay only $2 per user…still pretty close to free, in my opinion.
Working remotely can sometimes mean that team members feel a bit lost as to what their co-workers accomplished while they were asleep halfway across the world. iDoneThis helps you avoid the headache of browsing through every list app when you start your workday. Team members list what they accomplished before signing off at the end of the day and iDoneThis automatically sends the recap of everything that teammates worked on right into your inbox.
Skype is an excellent app for instant messaging, video conferencing, group calls, and even screen sharing. Many know of Skype and even use it, but don’t know how much Skype really does…something definitely worth exploring since there’s too much to list in this article. Plus, if all of your team members use Skype, all calls are free through this app, no matter your location.
WorldTimeBuddy is one of the more streamlined time zone apps out there. Unlike other time zone apps that show you only major cities and their time zones, this one allows you to add only the cities that you need to keep the view streamlined for your team. You can even use it to schedule and share meetings with the team quickly and efficiently.
Remember that regular group meetings through apps such as Google Hangouts is an excellent way to keep everyone connected and on the same page. Plus, if you use Hangouts along with other Google apps, such as Drive and their calendar system, it makes sharing documents during meetings much easier.
Final Thoughts on Building a Team Remotely
Remote teams are something that takes some time on the front end to plan and hire the right people. And it will also take lots of excellent communication as you and your team try out new technologies for keeping up with each other. Having the right members who are willing to troubleshoot and offer positive criticism is arguably one of the most important aspects in building effective teams, especially if this is your first.
So definitely spend lots of time finding the right people. And I would suggest hiring someone who communicates well and has a positive attitude over a super talented member who gets frustrated easily and can’t give other members the time of day to provide respectful responses. Choose well, though, and your virtual team will become like a well-oiled machine…or even better, a happy, well-communicated family.