Making Virtual Business Solutions Work

Virtual marketing departments and outsourced business solutions are becoming more mainstream with improved technology. Companies can outsource everything from human resources to data entry, and marketing to off-site consulting. Why not? Work previously requiring overhead can now be completed with shortened man-hours and reduced office space. It isn’t as simple as turning over the keys, however, and some of the issues that used to be uncovered during the employee hiring process may not be as apparent when hiring an entire department. Additionally, getting those issues resolved might be handled differently.

Communication is the key

It is every bit as important to communicate effectively with a virtual department as it is with an in-house department. Regular meetings should still be kept, and guidelines should still be adhered to. One of the most effective ways to work together is to schedule video or phone conferences weekly to discuss the parameters of outstanding and pending work. Staying ‘in the loop’ will allow open conversation – an opportunity to praise work well done or identify areas for improvement. At the same time, it is equally important that the outsourcing company is reachable and willing to discuss questions or concerns stemming from the virtual department.

Keep these things in mind:

Spell out exactly what is expected of your virtual department. Documentation can be helpful.
Discuss dates for product or project completion. Virtual departments work for several companies and will have requirements due to their time lines as well as the outsourcing company’s expectations. Working together will assure that goals are met.
Require accountability. What is the hierarchy within both companies for problem resolution?
Have a good attitude.
Working Smarter Should Work
If your company isn’t using collaborative tools and team effort to accomplish goals, working virtual won’t be more efficient. The end results should be easier to accomplish, not more difficult. Using something as easy as Google tools, like G-mail, Google Docs, and Google Reader can help multiple people work on, approve, and share vital information so individual tasks can be managed off-site.

Other helpful collaborative tools that help with various aspects of communication include:

Mikogo.com – Screen sharing and voice conferencing. Allows the presenter to change between screens for different screen sharing perspectives. Also provides a pointer for the other participants to comment directly on the presenter’s screen. Large file transfer ability is also a plus.

Deskaway.com – File and document sharing with up to date communication and task management in a secure environment. Allows projects to be broken into tasks and individually assigned all under one project listing. Also shares large files and comments with all or certain team members. Great for project approval due to the comment structure and editing ability. Additionally manages time for entire projects as well as individual team members.

Dropbox.com – Largest free file share I’ve seen. Easy desktop application allows a drag and drop for files, documents and images, and task bar alert when new information is included. All team members can access at the same time quickly and seamlessly. One member can drop a file in the box, and other members instantly have access to it.

Virtual Problem Resolution
Somewhere, somehow, or sometime a problem will arise. When it does, how will it be resolved? Part of that question has already been answered above. First, know the hierarchy involved within each business. Know who to go to when issues are not resolved. Second, have a good attitude – even in adversity. Nothing gets the defenses up like feeling an attack coming on, and you won’t get the resolution you’ve hoped for without practicing patient people skills.

Patient people skills? Yes. No matter what side of the circumstance you’re on. Remember that people are only people, and even if everyone is truly trying to do their best, something still may go wrong. Having a good attitude isn’t taking abuse, neglect, or irresponsibility with a smile. Rather, it’s recognizing that the whole picture may not be evident to the naked eye, and deciding you’re not going to let an issue destroy relationships.

If the situation has a poor outcome and your company has handled it well, you’ll be better prepared for the next scenario. Understand that sometimes the resolution of a problem is a parting of the ways.

On the other hand, apologies, flowers, and concert tickets can go a long way.

Susan Hamilton is a freelance business writer from the Dallas, TX area, and business member of the virtual marketing collaborative Zero To Sixty Marketing LLC, serving small to mid-size businesses nationwide.