94: 3 Tips on How to Manage a Virtual Team

3 Tips on How to Manage a Virtual Team

Episode 94 on the Business Bites Podcast

The Gist Of This Episode:  Managing a team isn’t always easy, but managing a virtual team presents its own challenges. Learning how to do so isn’t always textbook but rather by trial and error. In this episode, Rachel gives you a few tips she has learned from her own experiences as a virtual team manager. 


What you will learn:

  • How to be an effective manager
  • Why you should use employee handbooks and have a written workflow
  • The importance of feedback…both you to them and vice versa
  • How to keep everyone on the same page when it comes to tasks and projects
  • and more!

Expand To Read Episode Transcripts

Wahoo! We’re at Episode 94 of the Business Bites Podcast. You guys can find all of these show notes at RachelBrenke.com/epi94. Also, don’t forget to jump into the Business Bites Facebook group. We have threads dedicated to each of the episodes so that we can hive-mind and talk about the specific topic and it’s awesome and wonderful to see what everyone has to say, but for this podcast I want to talk a little bit about how to manage a virtual team.

Here’s the deal. I’m going to be 100% transparent that management is one of my weaknesses. I think I’ve got better at it over the years hopefully. One of my tips that we’re going to talk about here in a little bit is really about asking for feedback and not taking offense to that. I really do feel like I ask that a lot and I’m still making it a mission to ask that even more of my team because the only way I’m going to be able to figure out if I’m an effective leader, if I’m an effective manager, and being able to pour into my team so that they feel valued because a valued employee will also value you and your value your brand, and the only way I can do that is by hearing their feedback. Right? I can try to sit here and think about all the theoretical things that I’ve learned through my MBA or what I think sounds good, but the reality is it is all incumbent upon exactly what your employees want.

By that same, there is a little disclaimer. Obviously, you can’t sit here and cater to every need of every employee of your business depending upon how business… how big your business is. What I was going to say is how busy your business is, but that’s also true. You can’t cater to everybody’s needs, but you can try to find common ground in order to meet that. This is transparent. I’m also sharing with you some of my failures.

So, one of the biggest things that I have realized with a lot of solopreneurs… So, individuals that are working by themselves, they maybe have contractors, they might have a VA, which is like a virtual assistant, but they don’t really have a lot of employee handbooks or any workflows written down. I understand that sometimes, and I fell into this, and I still even find myself thinking this mindset of, “Why am I going to create a handbook or a workflow process book if it’s all ever changing?”. I get it. It almost sounds like it’s a bad idea and repeated work, but here’s the thing. Everyone’s perception is their reality.

So, when you communicate to someone, however they perceive it is what is real to them. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s actually really what’s occurring. What I mean by that is I could tell my team, for example, I say to them, “Oh, yeah. I give you ownership so anything under $200 you guys can gift, you guys can refund, whatever customer service. Make the customer happy”, but in their mind, they may think, “Oh. Does it have to be a $200 product, or is it $200 off a more expensive product, or is it a $200 credit to use later?”. I wasn’t specific enough. Right? On my side of it I’m thinking, “Yeah. I want to give you guys ownership. I’m just telling you use the $200 however you want”, but on their side it may cause a little frustration and stress because they don’t necessarily know what it’s attached to.

So, I think it’s important that no matter steps you go through… Obviously, this step we’re talking about is having a workflow process or an employee handbook, which they can be one in the same, but they can also be distinct documents as well, it’s important that you always follow up. So, maybe that’s point two with this. I’m jumping a little ahead, but you want to make sure that whatever is in the workflow, whatever’s in the handbook they really, truly understand because, again, their perception is their reality. So, you want to make sure they’re executing your reality and not their reality because their reality may not match with your reality. All right?

So, number one is having the proper employee handbooks, which is more of a legal thing, and then having the workflow processes in play because then they don’t have to guess because, especially, of being in your specific services. As you guys know, I have a law firm as well outside of RachelBrenke.com, my brand, and this podcast. So, over there, the employees sometimes can feel paralyzed because they’re afraid to do something wrong because there is a little bit extra oomph, a little extra overwhelming in the fact that it’s a law firm, and they don’t want to do something wrong. That may be true in any sort of industry. So, you need to internally reflect that as a manager and see if that’s an element because then you may even need to provide a little bit more guidance. Right?

So, step number one is having the proper employee handbook and/or workflow processes written out. I highly encourage having these written out, especially, if you plan on evolving them because you’re not going to be able to evolve something if you don’t know what it started at. Right? It sounds inverse in that you think, “Oh, if I write it down then we’re stuck with it”. No. You’re actually writing it down. You’re going to be able to identify the inefficiencies and the burdens that maybe that workflow provides to you. Okay? So, write down the employee workflow and outline the workflow… Well, the employee handbook, which is the policies and regulations that govern the employee, but then also the workflow processes. I kind of give you a two-for on number one.

Then, I think the second thing is also making sure that you do proper performance reviews and follow ups. The reason I combine these two into the same step is that when you do a performance review for somebody, especially, if they’re a virtual team, you need to provide to them a mechanism to be able to give you, the manager, feedback. Obviously, if you’re in person I think that’s important also, but if you are doing stuff where you guys literally don’t see each other at all… I may hear my team’s voice every once in a while. They probably hear my voice more than anyone else’s because I’m putting voice messages out to the team, but literally I don’t see their faces, I don’t hear their voices, and so I don’t know the inflections. I don’t know the responses when I provide them a task, or an advisement, or a review.

So, my biggest advisement on the performance reviews and evaluation, put them into a consistent workflow. Make sure you’re doing them routinely for everybody. Have a stacked standard of questions, but then also making sure that they’re going to review you as the manager and provide you some feedback because I’ve seen that a lot of times the corporate culture can really be based in, especially, in virtual environments, more so in a virtual environments, that a virtual team can become extremely toxic in the corporate or company culture based on the management of that boss, which is typically going to be a solopreneur because that’s primarily who I’m talking to here. Right?

So, you need to have the specific feedback, but you also need to be ready to get back feedback. So, that’s kind of double edged sword here is you got to give them feedback, ask for feedback, and then also be prepared to really, truly accept the feedback, and then do something with it. You know? It sounds so simplistic, but when I work with many of you all that are having problems with virtual teams, you’re not doing these steps. You don’t have an employee handbook to outline the legal stuff. You don’t have a workflow process written out. You don’t invite them to give you feedback when you are providing them a review. So, it’s only a one-way street.

Now, I’m not saying like you need to bend your whole life and your whole business to exactly what you’re employees or your team members… I’m really am not a fan of the term employee. I really utilize the term, team member, a lot because that’s really how I feel that they are. We have a very big open door policy here, but it’s incumbent upon me to keep reminding my team that we have an open door policy. I’m always inviting them to say, “If you don’t like something, speak up”. I obviously have the say at the end of the day, but that is really important.

The third biggest tip that I think I have for having a virtual team environment is… Well, again, this is another two-for, is having daily check-ins so you don’t have to meeting people to death, but let’s talk about what we’re working on and free flow of questions, but also working with a running task list. My team utilizes Smartsheets. We may change in the future, but we have found that it’s been really one of the beneficial ways because we are very simplistic. We are not… It’s not super complex what we’re doing. We have multiple brands. So, we have Help Scout for emails and everyone has their own specific email box. They have their own profile. They can respond accordingly. Everyone knows what their job responsibilities are, but everything’s really boiled down to Smartsheets.

The reason that we utilize Smartsheets is because there is a lot of functionality there that we can’t get on other spreadsheets and we also can’t get from these other systems that are out there. Now, I’ll 100% invite you guys to email me and tell me if there’s a system that absolutely can replace this, but because we have our workflow down that I have someone who’s my right-hand, she knows exactly what she has to govern. I have a specific brand manager, she knows exactly what she has to manage. We don’t really need to be assigning new projects. If we do, I just go directly to the person and then it trickles down.

We do a lot of that through Smartsheets. It is an Excel-ish spreadsheet type format. We’re able to append links, and screenshots, and files, and we can track everyone’s progress through the different task. We can identify the people. We’ll send them an email when they’re ready and we just found that Smartsheets has been a really smart way. Smartsheets obviously isn’t paying me to say all this. I pay them for our usage, but Smartsheets a really good way to track everything in a very fluid fashion.

No matter what system you use, I think what’s most important is that don’t rely on a chat function or a team chat, Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook group. Don’t rely upon that to disseminate tasks. I think it’s really important that there’s a track record in workflow. So, Smartsheets has been the go-to for us to be able to do that.

So, these are the three major tips, which is so funny because they sound so simplistic, but like I said during this episode, and again, Episode 94, RachelBrenke.com/epi94, for all the show notes and links related episodes, and products, and resources that you guys can check out, but what is important through all of these is making sure that you really grind into really applying it to your business because I think it’s easy for people to listen and stuff and go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah”. I got it. By-pass it. Then you’re in my inbox with either a legal issue or you’re, “Oh, why is my business failing?”, and I’m like, “Well, honey. You didn’t ask for reviews of yourself, of your management style. You didn’t ask for feedback back so no wonder you have a high turnover of team members”, right?

These are my three biggest tips. Again, this is stuff that I’m learning. I’m still trying to do better at. So, team, when you guys are listening to this, I’m not trying to purport that I know everything. You guys know that. I’m trying my hardest. You guys teach me a lot and really, what I’ve shared on this podcast really is primarily is what my team has taught me. This is stuff that really can keep you on the straight and narrow. Again, this is primarily focused on those that are small to medium businesses. Once you get into larger corporations, you may need a more sophisticated system, but I still think even at that level, point one and two… Actually, all three of them are super important. You may not use Smartsheets at that level, but you’re still going to have all tasks in one central place and identified to who they belong to. You want to make sure that you have the routine reviews and make sure that’s a two-way street. Then of course, obviously, have the proper employee workflows and the employee handbook that’s going to guide everything.

All right. So, I know this was a little bit more of a boring episode. It’s not a sexy topic, but hopefully it helps you if you’re looking at digging into having a virtual team. Again, all notes are RachelBrenke.com/epi94, and I surely hope to see you guys in the Facebook Group, Business Bites, as well so we can talk all about this kind of stuff to help get your business to success.

About the author

Hi, I’m Rachel Brenke

Rachel Brenke

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