The Ultimate Guide to Creating Great Culture in a Remote Work Environment

Remote work culture with virtual team

At The Admin Center, we’ve touted the benefits of a virtual work environment from the very beginning. It’s a workplace structure that’s ideal for our business and all of our team members. From the cost savings benefits for both the company and the employee to the greatly increased candidate pool and diverse set of creative minds, we think remote work is pretty great.

But remote work – though wonderful at most times – does have its disadvantages. Maintaining an awesome company culture and keeping morale and engagement high while reducing feelings of isolation can be a bear. Luckily there are a few extra steps you can take to ensure that your employees are productive, happy, and excited to be a part of the team.
Here’s our Ultimate Guide to Creating Great Culture in a Remote Work Environment.

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Take Advantage of Your Company’s Chat/Messaging Platform

Whether it’s Slack, Google Hangouts, or one of the various other messaging platforms available for office environments, utilizing a company chat feature of some kind is one of the best ways to bring employees together and make sure they feel included and heard.

Having dedicated chats for various teams, projects, or departments can be really helpful for organization and collaboration, but having casual chats keeps things fun and makes people feel more like they’re in-office. In a standard environment people often break up the monotony of a day with water cooler talk or a quick chat with a work pal, so why not recreate that experience over chat? At The Admin Center, our casual chat group is named “small-talk” and we describe it as “Non-work banter and water cooler” talk, a place that we all share pictures, talk about our weekends, and just generally get to know each other.

In a virtual environment, you aren’t sharing a cubicle or office with someone; you don’t pass people in the halls or get those little opportunities to ask a person about their day. In a remote work environment you have to create those moments yourself, which requires people to be willing to put in a little bit of extra work, but in the end, it allows for happy teams and close friendships – no matter how far apart your employees actually are.    

Use Video for Updates and Meetings

Here at The Admin Center, we have a policy that all meeting attendees turn on their cameras during a meeting (and if an employee doesn’t have a webcam we send them one – so no excuses!) for the simple importance of seeing each other’s faces. Without the opportunity to meet face-to-face it can be hard to communicate and empathize at full potential, but using video helps with this a lot. You don’t feel like you’re talking at a void, and you can see expressions, hear varied tones and inflections, and can actually look someone in the eyes when you’re speaking with them – it can be very personal!

Trust and communication are the foundation on which a successful remote work environment are built, and these things are so much easier when you can actually see the person you’re engaged in conversation with. There are plenty of video meeting software options available – Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeeting, UberConference – and with many of them offering free subscriptions, video meetings are now easier than ever to set up.

Plan/Facilitate Group Projects

In my experience, remote workers can be very “heads-down” when it comes to projects. We all tend to do it; you start in on something, plug into your music, and you’re lost to the world. It’s how a lot of us focus, but it can also contribute to a feeling of isolation. Though not every project will lend itself to this structure, setting up group projects instead of individual ones can help alleviate this problem.

This works especially well in the planning phase of client projects, but if it’s something that isn’t coming naturally you can always create group projects, too. Maybe you’re planning to migrate to a new CRM, or maybe your marketing efforts have fallen flat. Mix-and-match a bit with who you bring together on things like this, and you might be surprised at what people come up with. When people come together to work on something – especially people who wouldn’t normally be working together – it can really foster a sense of togetherness, and quickly tears down the walls that virtual environments often build unintentionally.

Have Casual Team Meetings

Of course, it’s important to touch base in team meetings to discuss goals, projects, or anything business related, but putting aside time for fun meetings such as “Happy Hour” and “Coffee Break” over video is a great way to build a sense of community. You can really make the structure of these casual meetings anything you want, but here are a few ideas I think are kind of fun:

  • Happy Hour: Hold these the same time every month, such as on the last Friday. Create an open video chat and have a theme associated with it (such as dressing up for Halloween, sharing favorite recipes, or the best jokes everyone can think of). Employees are welcome to pop in and out over the course of the hour to share some laughs and continue to build their relationships with their colleagues.
  • Coffee Break: These can be more frequent, maybe one each week. A similar structure where it’s an open meeting that people can pop in and out of when they’re free. People all bring their coffee and have a casual chat, maybe about the coffee or maybe about something that happened to them that day. It’s less structured than Happy Hour but equally as fun.
  • Book Club: Hold these on the same day each month, too. Get together with a group of people and discuss a non-work-related book that you’ve collectively read. It could be fiction or nonfiction, depending on people’s tastes, but keep it more personal and less work-themed so that you’re connecting with people and not their positions.

These are just a few ideas of what could be many. If you’ve got a fun one that you do, let us know about it in the comments!

In-Person Meetups

There is nothing that can bring a team of people close together quite like meeting up outside of work. At my old jobs it’s been things like trivia nights, happy hours, lunches out together, and even going to gymnastics gyms to hop around on some giant trampolines (I highly recommend this activity). Unfortunately, this type of getting together isn’t usually possible if your team is made up of virtual employees, as people don’t generally live in the same area.

If you’re really serious about creating a strong culture in your remote environment, you could set up company retreats once or twice each year, and get everyone together to do things that aren’t directly work-related, but bring people together. Group activities such as hiking, cooking, or learning a new skill can all foster a sense of closeness, and naturally provide an opportunity to discover more about each other.

Full-out retreats might not fit into the scope of every company, though, and that’s okay. If you have people clustered in an area, organize something that gets them together. Or, if your team is all over the place, put together a virtual get together where you all turn on your videos and just get to know each other. Maybe you agree to all do the same activity, or maybe you just talk; either way, the face-to-face time is going to do wonders for your sense of company culture.

Getting Involved in Your Local Community

Though you may not all be working out of the same places, putting a focus on local community improvement no matter where you are is a great way to define your culture. By encouraging community involvement from employees and management, you’re communicating that you care about their lives outside of work, and care about the lives and environment of the world around you. You express a vested interest in your people as a whole, and not just for what they bring to the table nine-to-five. It communicates good ethics, and lets employees know that your company is about more than just the business stuff.

And, if you think it might be hard to get people out and about in their local areas, offer some kind of soft “perk” to those interested in spending time outside of working hours to serve in their community. The experience is guaranteed to leave them feeling positive and confident when they’re done, and offering an incentive in exchange further demonstrates that you’re interested in their world and how you can make it the best it can be for them.

Send the Office Perks to Them

There is no way around it, people love perks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a company branded t-shirt, mug, or if you’ve got a fully stocked kitchen at your office’s disposal, people feel special when they get things. Though you may not be able to send a refrigerator full of goodies to each of your employees across borders, that doesn’t mean you’ve got to opt out of the perks.

Sending small fun-filled packages throughout the year – like candy during Halloween or vouchers for their local community events during winter holidays – can speak volumes to the fact that you’re thinking about your employees, you care about making them smile and ensuring that they’re enjoying their at-home environment. Gifts to commemorate milestones in the company, a job well done, and birthdays are great options, too. Welcome packages to new hires with branded “loot” can really make people feel important and involved, and are one of my favorite ways to get people excited about being a part of the team.

If you aren’t keen on mailing out packages all the time, there are other ways to “give back” to your hard-working crew. At Zapier, for instance, they give premium music streaming accounts to their employees, so that they can listen to music throughout the day. It opens up avenues of conversations between people, and helps everyone gain a better understanding of each other through tastes in music.

Reward Badges/Employee of the Month Programs

Employee of the Month programs work really well for some in-house companies, why shouldn’t that success carry over into the virtual space? Being recognized for excellence makes people want to strive to be recognized again, and can spark a sense of friendly competition among coworkers. And though you may not be able to post the winner’s picture on an actual wall, you can give them a special Slack icon, send them a gift card to a fun store in their area, or simply send out an email that really lets them shine.

If Employee of the Month isn’t a good fit for your company, try having something like a Badge system instead. Badges should be something that anyone can earn at any time – as opposed to a single employee once a month. They can be earned for any number of things, from training to helping others to compliments from a client. Get creative with it, and have some kind of prize for when a person earns a certain number of badges, so that employees have extra incentive to excel.   

This isn’t to say that people need a reason to go above and beyond, many people do this naturally and that very fact is probably why you wanted them on your team. But why not reward them a little for their excellence?

Ask for Feedback

You can have dedicated chat channels for this, but the most valuable feedback may come from anonymous surveys that will allow people to share genuine thoughts without the pressure of reprimand. No matter how “open door” your policies are, there are bound to be shy or wary people who don’t feel comfortable sharing candid thoughts or feedback – and that’s okay, as long as they have another outlet where they can safely express issues, give praise, or whatever may be on their mind about the company.

You can read as many articles as you want about good culture, how to improve your workplace, or how to keep employees happy, but the best advice is bound to come from within, directly from the people it’s intended to help. They can likely provide some sound knowledge on client needs or new ideas for a project, but they’re also a great source for finding out about what’s working, what’s not, and how to make everything come together cohesively. You hired them because you trusted their ideas and opinions, now’s the time to let them really put their talents to work.

Culture is one of the most important aspects of a business, and it’s something more companies should invest in. There are some pretty solid reasons why good company culture is so important, but the bottom line is that it’s about your people, and people should be your number one priority. If you can get together a group of people who genuinely care about your goals and mission; that are willing and excited to work toward accomplishing the same thing you are, wonderful things are bound to happen. You can’t have a great business without great people, and you won’t have (or at least won’t retain) great people if your culture isn’t there to match that greatness.  

Take some time to review your company’s current culture and see if there are areas you can improve. Looking to improve, but stuck on how to change it? Ask your employees, they’re sure to have a few ideas for how you can improve and bring everyone closer together. A little bit of time up-front will gather you so much return in the long run. And hey, you’re likely to have a good time along the way so it’s a win-win – you can’t beat it!

10 Tips for Working with Virtual Assistants

Working with virtual assistants

Many entrepreneurs and small business owners have decided to forego the hiring of standard employees and instead enlist the help of virtual assistants for their needs. The benefits of using virtual assistant services have been proven time and again, but working with on-demand help can take some getting used to. Although with the right systems in place and a healthy amount of communication, your relationship with a virtual team can help take your business to the next level.

We’ve got 10 tips that will guarantee your success with your virtual assistant team.

Communication is Key

As with any relationship, quality communication is one of the most important factors for success. It ensures that everyone involved accurately understands each other and allows for an avenue to express thoughts and concerns in a safe environment.

Good communication takes time and active effort, so it can be easy to let it fall by the wayside. But regardless of how clear your instructions for a task may be, virtual assistants are likely to have questions at times. Being available to answer questions and address concerns alleviates stress and helps to reduce mistakes in the long run. This is especially true if there is a strict deadline on a task – every minute that goes by can feel like a lifetime when you are waiting on someone to answer your questions!

Of course it would be ideal if you and your team were on the same page from the beginning, but working together to develop quality communication skills can save you a lot of time and headache in the long run. Over time you’ll get better at it – and they’ll get better at it too! You’ll send fewer back and forth emails, and the relationship will strengthen. Eventually, it’s likely that you’ll fall into a cadence where you both just sort of understand each other; but until then, make sure to answer your emails or instant messages when help is needed.

Be Clear in Your Instructions

This seems like an obvious note to add, but you’d be surprised at how often people sort of assume that virtual assistants are mind readers – no joke! And while most of the time they’ll be able to figure out instructions for a task, it’s a lot easier if the instructions are clear from the beginning. Putting it simply, the more information you provide upfront, the less they’ll have to ask you for later. Here are some tips for sending in clear instructions:

  • Be honest and upfront about your expectations for a task.
  • Empower them by letting them know the tools they’ll need and for what purpose they’ll be completing it.
  • Give a general idea of when you want the task to be completed; otherwise they’ll be tackled in the order they’re received.

Being clear initially will of course take more time than simply sending a request like “Please draft out a new blog post for my site”, but it will save all the added time for clarification (“Do you have a specific topic in mind? How long would you prefer it to be? Will the post be from your perspective or third person?”).

If it’s a recurring task or something ultra-specific, sending a quick training video can really help too. There are a number of free-to-use screencasting services that allow you to take quick snippets of video instructions that you can send as links or downloadable files. This makes it easy for your virtual team to understand the task and train others to do so as well.

As with good communication, good instructions can help save time and alleviate stress for the virtual assistants tackling your business needs.

Specify Urgency

If you have a task that needs to be done by a certain time, you’re going to have to specify this when sending in the task. More often than not, virtual assistants work with multiple clients at a time, and address tasks in the order that they enter the queue. If there are no other urgent tasks before your task, it is likely that it can be bumped to first in the order of importance if we have a heads up.

Your team will be more than happy to treat certain tasks with more importance than others if it’s necessary and they’ve got the time to spare, but if they don’t know it’s high-priority they can’t give it the extra attention it needs.

Something as simple as an added “ASAP”, “Urgent”, or “Important” can help them understand your expectations and needs regarding a task, and helps to avoid anger and frustration down the road when something doesn’t get completed on time. Just remember that not every task can be urgent; be cognizant when you’re marking tasks with high importance and try to do it when it’s truly needed.

A big component to the structure of teamsourcing is that your virtual assistants can have any number of clients at any given time, which means that they can be working on any number of tasks and projects at one time. Try to keep this in mind when you send something to your team so that you can have realistic expectations. In general tasks are completed by the end of the day, so try to plan accordingly.

Create a ‘System’ for Working with Your Virtual Assistant

Want your new team to access your website to add content? They’re going to need the login. Want them to manage your email account and create meeting invites for you? Gonna need that password information, too. The more tasks you want your team to take over for you, the more information they are going to require – so empower them with it!

One of the easiest ways to do this is with a password management system (such as LastPass, Dashlane, and 1Password) so that your virtual specialist can readily access the information. You can also use a CRM where projects (and credentials, if you don’t have a management system setup) are stored (we don’t recommend using a shared document for security purposes). This way they aren’t pinging you for a password or the name of your first pet each time you give them a new task; they can simply check the resource and are done.

Be Kind

This may seem like a given, but be patient with your new team. If they’ve agreed to work with you as a client, it’s because they genuinely care about what you do and want to help you do it better – treat them like a member of your own team because, well, they are!

It might be frustrating if a situation arises where your virtual assistant accidentally sends an email to the wrong customer, or forgets to adjust for differences in time zones when scheduling an important client meeting, but if it isn’t a repeat offense it’s likely that it was a simple mistake. Instead of losing your cool and yelling, use the mistake as a learning opportunity. This will not only reduce the likelihood of the error happening again in the future, but it will also strengthen the relationship you have with your team, since they’ll be able to trust you as a source for information and not one for insults or anger.

The simplest way to think about it is like this: if you were in their situation, how would you want to be treated? It’s likely that you’ve made a mistake at some point in your life, do you remember how people treated you? Were you empowered to learn from your mistake, or was your confidence shaken down by destructive language and pointed blaming? If you exercise the Golden Rule with your team (and in life!), you’re likely to have a lasting and meaningful relationship based on mutual respect and care – it’s a win-win! Your virtual team applies a culture of excellence, not perfection, since the latter is unrealistic.

Let Them Know If You Have Trouble With Technology

Everything a virtual assistant company does is on a computer, so technology is at the center of it all. If you have difficulty with certain technology – especially if it’s the ones they use regularly to collaborate, communicate, or otherwise carry out tasks – let them know ahead of time. They can set up a time to train when it’s necessary, or find alternatives where they’re available.

Proper use and understanding of technology is synonymous with efficiency and productivity in a virtual environment, so this aspect of working together is extremely important. Chances are your new team will already have a good collection of programs, applications, and various other technologies that they use, but they’re also likely to be great at learning new ones. If you have a CRM or tool that you prefer, let them know. Likewise if they make a recommendation about a certain tool, be open to exploring it with them. You may just find something new and useful you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Let Them Know Your Personal Schedule/Availability

This tip is especially relevant if you utilize your virtual assistants to schedule your appointments and meetings, but can be equally as important when it comes to the best times to get ahold of you, when you don’t want to be disturbed, if you’re going to be out of town, and much more.

Just like you know that your team of specialists will be available between the established working hours of their day, it is best if they know when you’re available for appointments or communication.

Sharing calendars is often the best way to achieve this, especially if you’re already having the assistants manage it for you. Keep in mind that anything that may have you out of the office (such as doctor appointments, school pickups, or lunch) is useful for your team to know, so that they can understand when there are good and bad times for scheduling. A simple “Blocked” or “Do Not Disturb” marker on the calendar is perfect for letting them know.

Be Responsive

You ping them on instant message or shoot a quick email and expect a response right away, but can they do the same with you? Business is busy, and we understand this, yet it can be stressful when your team asks a question about a task that was sent in with urgency and aren’t getting an answer. A quick acknowledgment in the moment – a simple “In a meeting”, or “Away from my computer, be back soon” – can let them know they’re on the right track and simply need to wait a few minutes.

With meetings, client calls, errands to run, and everyday life interruptions this one isn’t always easy, but do your best to respond to questions or comments from your team so that they can complete your task and move onto the next. They do their best not to reach out unless it’s absolutely necessary, so if there’s a note from them it’s probably something important. And, if there are times when you absolutely cannot or will not respond, let your team know so they can expect this ahead of time and won’t be bothering you when you’re not available.

Trust Their Judgement

Another important component of teamsourcing is being a diverse group of specialists. Virtual assistant companies hire a unique team of people with a wide range of specialties. They hold themselves to a high standard and strive for absolute satisfaction each time they work on something for a client, so you can expect a certain level of quality in their work – it’s something they’re proud of.

Part of being a specialist is having a certain level of prior experience and understanding when approaching a project. Each member of a virtual team is an expert in their field, so they have a good idea of what they’re doing. It can be easy to want to babysit a task from start to finish, but trust that they will get it done right, and they’ll prove it to you with the results.

Clear, step-by-step instructions are great for projects, especially if you’ve got something very specific in mind. However, if there are areas in your guidelines that are hazy or require a bit of creative interpretation, have faith that your team will do so with a high level of care and attention to detail. If they’re met with constant nitpicking and micromanaging it doesn’t ever allow them to build up a relationship of trust with one another.

Be Organized In Your Own Business/Life

Much in the way that you expect your virtual assistants to be well organized when conducting their business, doing so with your own work environment will ensure that they can carry out tasks better, understand instructions easier, and help you in the best way possible:

  • Keep calendars with meetings and personal activities that might conflict with your ability to do work together.
  • Use a CRM or general place that you keep documents, resources, or anything else they might need.
  • Have a good idea of what you need from your team ahead of time so they can reduce the back and forth and complete tasks efficiently and on-time.

 

Being organized helps reduce stress, increases productivity, and it will help you and your virtual assistant company work well together. If it’s something you need help or advice on, let them know and they can set you up with the right systems to get you into a flow that’s easy to follow.

5 Ways Large Companies Can Utilize Virtual Assistant Services

Benefits of virtual assistants

Small businesses and entrepreneurs have understood the advantages of hiring virtual assistants for some time now. They reap the benefits of a complete workforce that they access on-demand for much less than the average overheads and hiring costs that a standard team would run. In fact, many businesses prefer the flexibility so much, their entire workforce is set up this way.

At The Admin Center we call the concept of virtual assistant services, “teamsourcing”; what that means is that our specialists become an extension of your team, expertly understanding your goals, processes, and culture. You send us the tasks that don’t need to be done in-house so that you can put your efforts back into the important things.

For businesses that don’t need full-time employees working around the clock, virtual help can be a no-brainer. But with large companies and corporations that already have an established structure in place, it can be hard for upper-level leadership to imagine how virtual assistant services can fit into the mix.

Innovation and modern technology make it easier than ever for businesses of any size to utilize virtual assistants for their outsourced tasks. Here is our guide to how large companies can also take advantage of the benefits.

One-Off Projects

Eager to try a new kind of marketing campaign but just don’t have the available bandwidth within your current department? Or maybe an employee has brought a particular issue to light, and no one on the team is sure how to handle it?

Regardless of the unique instances that call for it, there are bound to be projects that arise that the company simply doesn’t have the capacity or expertise to manage alongside current workloads. By hiring a virtual assistant for the job, you’re not only getting a unique perspective of creativity, you’re getting an entire company’s worth of skill and know-how - for less than the cost of hiring a single full-time employee.

Virtual assistant companies include a collection of people who are experts in all kinds of fields ranging from accounting to sales to marketing. They collaborate behind the scenes to make sure that projects of any kind are completed, with as much or as little input as you prefer to give. You can engage them for one project and then never use them again, but chances are you’ll see the benefits of virtual help after one task and be hooked. It won’t be long before you’ll see how that can help in a wide range of capacities!

Improved Efficiency

Never worry about staff turnover when it comes to simple, recurring tasks again; let your virtual assistants take on these types of tasks and never worry about them again. You no longer have to train and retrain when staff changes because your company of on-demand specialists never will. Once the task is automated and set in place you don’t have to think about it again - your new team will do the rest - unless you want to make changes or improvements to the process (and they may even be able to help you with that part!).

Not only do you avoid retraining new staff over and over, but you also ensure that your existing staff is able to focus on their own strengths. They aren’t constantly pulled away from the tasks they’re good at in order to pick up the slack created by the repeatable tasks elsewhere. You open up a new space that allows and encourages creativity, boosts productivity, and ensures accuracy.

Rapid Scalability

It can happen before you know it; an influx of new customers can rapidly increase company-wide workload, or a new project-type might simply be demanding more of the current staff than they’re capable of delivering on. You need to hire an entire team of people but don’t have the time to train or the money to handle the growth. What can you do?

When you hire virtual assistants it’s like you’re hiring a full team of people, but you don’t have any of the lengthy training times or high costs. You can use your on-demand team when you need them, so when things get busy you can easily scale up to accommodate it, and then scale back a bit when they quiet back down. It offers a level of flexibility that helps you avoid hiring and firing - and chances are you’ll quickly learn that they can help you with much more than you initially needed from them, too!

Fresh Creativity

Having a dependable team of people can be paramount to the success of a company; you trust your team infallibly, and know what kind of projects are right for which people. You consistently complete tasks and close deals across the board, and you fall into a pattern that has lead to great success - but it may be lacking innovation.

Predictability in business is great because it allows you to trust the process and plan easily around things that are already in place, but it doesn’t always encourage risk or growth. You know what they say about old habits, and once we get working in an expected flow it can be hard to imagine projects or ideas outside of that scope. We see the path of least resistance because we’re used to it; it’s what we look for and have been trained to see.

But the best ideas often come from outside of the box, and a virtual assistant company can help you better see this. Every member of a virtual team comes from a unique background and thrives in an environment that undergoes constant change, so they’re used to thinking on their toes. And, working with a variety of businesses at one time means that they’re less likely to fall into habits and more apt to find creative new ways of building projects and getting them done.

Cost-Saving Opportunity

You can’t talk about business without talking about budgets and bottom lines. They are a necessary evil to any successful business, but they don’t come without their built-in red tape, eventually reaching the popularity status of a four-letter word. But businesses don’t get very far by not thinking about money, and a virtual assistant can help with that.

When you hire virtual assistants you pay for the time you use and that’s it - there is no downtime, no water cooler talk, or slow days in productivity; you simply pay for the task to be completed and that’s it. No frills or hidden fees.

When business is slow you scale back the amount of work you send to your on-demand team. When things pick back up they easily ramp up with you; all without downtime for hiring and firing, no training or negotiations, just tangible results on the projects you send them.

As I stated before, you’re getting a full team of well-trained professionals on a need-by-need basis, so you have the freedom to mix-and-match the kinds of tasks you send. You can experiment with how projects are done and take risks with certain things because the stakes are so much lower. If an idea doesn’t work out it’s no hard feelings and onto the next one. Your team of professionals is ready for anything.

(Click the infographic to enlarge)5 ways companies can utilize virtual assistant services infographic

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The value of virtual assistant services is no secret to small businesses and entrepreneurs, but big companies can learn to reap the benefits too. There may be countless ways in which a large company can benefit from a virtual assistant for some of their tasks, but whatever your reason may be, just know that there isn’t any harm in trying. There’s no risk for testing out what it’s like to work with on-demand specialists because you’re in control; you’ve got the power and freedom to decide if and when you’re ready, or if flexible help is right for you.

With so little at risk and so much potential to be gained, my only question is what are you waiting for?