More and more e-merchants are either hiring virtual workers or thinking about it. We've written about hiring and working with virtual workers before.
But we didn't get into the psychology that can go into making these relationships work out. For instance, did you know that there's one word that increases compliance by 33 percent?
To learn that word and more great tips for getting the most from relationships with virtual workers—whether it's one or a whole team—we spoke to Hassan Osman. He's a senior manager at Cisco who has been managing virtual teams for more than 10 years. He's just written a Kindle book called Influencing Virtual Teams: 17 Tactics That Get Things Done with Your Remote Employees.
The key to hiring the right person is to make sure you're 100% clear on what you need to get done
Schepp: Tell us a bit about your background.
Osman: I'm currently a senior manager at Cisco Systems, where I lead virtual teams on delivering complex projects for Cisco's customers. I work mainly from my home office in Boston, and the employees I manage live all around the world.
I have been managing and researching virtual teams for the past 10 years, in both a corporate and entrepreneurial capacity. Prior to Cisco, I was a manager at Ernst & Young LLP, where I analyzed failing projects at Fortune 500 companies and recommended solutions to fix them.
I was also a research assistant at Harvard University, where I studied issues related to virtual teams. I'm also a certified PMP, CSM and ITIL, and regularly blog about managing remote teams on www.thecouchmanager.com.
The 2 types of virtual workers
Schepp: What's the best route for hiring virtual workers?
Osman: That depends on the type of virtual workers you need. If you're looking for a short-term virtual worker to complete a specific task or project, then the best place to find them is on freelance marketplaces such as Elance or oDesk.
You will find hundreds of freelancers on there who can help you out with anything that can be outsourced, including financial accounting, marketing, copywriting and Web design services.
When you delegate a task to a virtual worker, following it up with the word 'because' and a justification … increases adoption rates by 33%
The key to hiring the right person is to make sure you're 100% clear on what you need to get done. This means being very detailed with your job description and listing out every assumption you can think of. You should also make sure you read the customer reviews of any potential hires before you award them the job to get a general idea of their work history.
If you're looking for a longer term virtual worker, such as a general virtual assistant who will help out with your recurring business tasks, then the best place to find one is on VA outsourcing sites such as AskSunday, Virtual Staff Finder or Bolton Remote.
Unlike a short-term worker, the longer-term virtual assistant is more like a dedicated employee, so you should be a bit more thorough with your hiring process. Similar to how you would hire a short-term VA, you should be detailed with what you need to get done, but you should also state any particular skills you require, and the typical frequency of reporting and communication you'd expect. You should also interview the prospective candidates (preferably using video conferencing) to make sure you're comfortable working closely with them.
That all-important word
Schepp: The Amazon write-up for your book says you note that "a single word can increase compliance by 33%." We'll bite, which word and why?
Osman: That word is "because." When you delegate a task to a virtual worker, following it up with the word "because" and a justification of why you need the task done increases adoption rates by 33%.
This is based on a scientific study called the "Xerox Study," which was conducted back in the 1970s. An interesting finding that the researchers deduced was that it didn't even matter what came after the word "because" for it to have that powerful effect.
In other words, the justification didn't need to be very convincing to increase the compliance rate. So to be more influential, all you need to do is start using the word "because" more frequently in your emails, voice messages and in your meetings with your virtual teams.
Schepp: What are some tips for better managing virtual workers?
Osman: The secret for managing virtual workers can be summed in one word: over-communication. This means interacting with your remote employees more frequently than you would in a co-located setting.
You can accomplish this by… following up on tasks, being explicit with requests, frequently checking in on status, and constantly being in touch using instant messaging or quick calls.
When communicating using email, you always have to think like a marketer: keep it short, keep it simple and get to the point as fast as you can
Another tip is to agree on the rules of communication upfront and share them with your team before you start your virtual project. One example of this is EmailCharter.org, which outlines a list of 10 helpful rules that save everyone time and frustration when dealing with email.
Schepp: What are some other strategies for creating successful email and phone messages?
Osman: People are overwhelmed with email. According to one McKinsey study, the average American worker spends more than 28% of their time on email. That's over 11 hours per week!
With virtual teams, I'm sure that number is even higher. So when communicating using email, you always have to think like a marketer: keep it short, keep it simple and get to the point as fast as you can.
Moreover, because people don't read emails anymore—they only scan them—you should highlight your task assignments within your emails using bullet points or bold fonts so that they're easily recognizable. Similarly, with voice messages, the key is to give the listener everything they need to know in one nice package.
The idea is to create a "one shot, one kill" self-sustaining voice message that tells the reader why you're calling, what you need them to do and how they can get in touch with you.
Laying on the virtual couch
Schepp: Where does psychology come into play here?
Osman: I think psychology is a core foundation of managing virtual teams. If you understand the underlying psychological triggers of what makes people tick and what gets them motivated, then you'll be a much more effective manager.
Encourage informal discussions among your team. This could be as simple as talking about personal updates or vacation plans right before a formal meeting starts
In a virtual environment, the need for understanding the psychological aspect of managing a team is even more important because of the different cultures, backgrounds and experiences associated with such teams. So having a solid read on the psychological aspects of team motivation and influence is critical for a high performing team.
Schepp: Remote workers can easily feel isolated and not part of the group at large. How can you help them feel connected?
Osman: Replicating the co-located environment makes an office more intimate. One factor that makes employees feel more connected to each other in a physical office is something called the "water cooler effect," where employees typically bump into each other around the company water cooler or break room, and discuss updates unrelated to work.
To create a virtual water cooler effect, you should encourage informal discussions among your team. This could be as simple as talking about personal updates or vacation plans right before a formal meeting starts. You could also schedule portions of meetings that focus on team-building exercises to increase team intimacy and cohesion among the team.
Schepp: What else should we know about your book?
Osman: The book is a short read, and is packed with actionable tactics that help readers immediately get results. I wrote it from the perspective that managers and business owners are really busy, and don't have time to read a 500 page manifesto on virtual team management.
The tactics are also backed by scientific research studies and my 10+ years of experience as a virtual team manager. As a free bonus, I also include a couple of downloadable templates with the book—a meeting agenda template, and a meeting minutes template—that readers can use with their virtual teams.
Schepp: Thank you, Hassan!