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How to successfully manage virtual teams

In 2004, Timothy A. Wilson took his management consulting and organizational development firm national in just two weeks and on a shoestring budget. Wilson, CEO of Massachusetts-based T.A. Wilson & Associates, hired a team of virtual workers to conduct market research, develop the company Website, and manage sales operations. Within six months, the company’s clientele doubled and revenues quadrupled.

“My virtual team has been the best investment in my business’ growth,” he says. “It allows me to tap the best professionals in the industry without being restricted to geographical boundaries and larger office space cost.”

Today, T.A. Wilson & Associates has three full-time employees, which includes Wilson and two others working remotely. He hires virtual workers as needed. The company had revenues of $225,000 in 2006 and Wilson expects to reach $300,000 by year-end 2007.

“Virtualization is a timely, convenient, cost-effective way to grow a small business,” says Beryl Powell, president of Completely Virtual Group (www.completelyvirtual

group.com), a San Antonio-based virtual staffing company that provides general office, marketing, and sales assistance to home-based entrepreneurs and small business owners. Powell recruits, tests, and trains professionals from around the world to staff client projects. She says that while contracting workers to perform tasks off-site offers huge benefits, managing team members from afar does create challenges.

Challenges can include miscommunication, breaches in security, and lack of worker productivity, says J. Bentley Radcliff, CEO of Atlanta-based Virt2go (www.virt2go.com), a consulting firm that assists companies in creating virtual workspaces. Radcliff provides employees with specific guidelines and operating procedures to help counter poor behavior. He adds, “Workers outside the office need as much managing as workers in the office, just in different ways.”

Trying to decide whether virtual is the way to go?
YES:

  • Saves on office space
  • Greater talent pool
  • Increased productivity
  • Job/business schedule flexibility

NO:

  • May require specialized technology
  • Group decisions can be delayed
  • Difficult to collaborate
  • Greater security risks

Here are some tips for managing a virtual workforce:

  • Define expectations. Provide a clear, detailed job description, outlining workers’ responsibilities, deadlines, and desired results.
  • Establish communication. Schedule regular contact with team members via phone, Web, or in person (if possible).
  • Provide adequate technology. Assess the team’s workflow and means for communicating with one another, purchase supporting technology and software.
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