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Virtual Assistants: the new model for business

remote working in numbers

Remote working is no longer only an option for multinational companies and more and more small businesses are reaping the rewards. The recent, A guide to remote working and virtual teams report from Sage accounting and software discusses how to build and manage a remote team as a small business.

Why should a business build a virtual team?

Availability of talent. Access to the best candidates worldwide is the predominant reason why any business should consider recruiting for a remote role. Decisions can be based on a candidate’s skills and enthusiasm for a role, rather than the fact that they live a commutable distance from the office.

A significant cost saving. The cost of providing a laptop to a virtual team member is significantly less than providing a desk in a large office with heating, maintenance and electricity bills. A company could also massively reduce its overheads by operating from a smaller office ‘hub’ and by employing a virtual team.

An ‘always-on’ service. The ability to provide 24-hour coverage is an affordable possibility if a company has a team based in different time zones. Unicef’s Global Innovation Centre’s team of 17 people in 11 different locations allows them to pass a project between colleagues, ensuring that when faced with humanitarian disasters they are able to deliver within a 24-hour timescale.

Easy to scale. For a small business with aspirations to expand, remote workers can bridge the gap to scale without having to take on huge overhead increases. A company can simply add more members to their existing virtual teams or create new groups for specific projects. For example, bringing in a remote sales team to help drive business in new markets.

Increased productivity. As mentioned above, remote workers are more productive than office-based employees and are less likely to have sick days or to leave a company.

Loyalty. In a small business, high staff turnover can cause problems. A remote team who are proven to be hard working and loyal to their employer are a more secure and stable option.

Tools and resources that a small business can use for its remote team

For a remote team, communication is the key to ensuring success. A good internet connection, webcam and headset are all essential tools that a company must ensure each employee has access to.

Communication tools

Slack is now used by many organisations as a replacement to internal email and to keep the team up to speed on the latest developments. Conversations between teams are archived and searchable, ensuring that over time a group can build up a knowledge base.

Google Hangouts and Skype are vital for daily one-to-one video calls but can struggle with conference calls. GotoMeeting offers a more reliable video conferencing service for multiple call meetings.

Project management tools

Trello, which has a format similar in style to writing Post-it notes on a wall, helps teams collaborate by clearly showing what work needs to be done.

Basecamp combines instant chat features with project management. The system lets teams create to-do lists, organise a schedule, participate in group chats and save files all in one place, decreasing the chance that something important might slip through the communication net.

Asana is a project management system that places greater focus on the progress of a team. Its emphasis on when tasks are completed means that more detail can be added to each step of the process.

Sharing files

Google Docs has been a revolution in real-time file sharing and is widely adopted across businesses, with the ability for collaboration on a document at the same time for both editing and commenting.

Dropbox has been the most widely used file transfer system, with Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive gaining ground.

What are the challenges of managing remote teams? 

When working with a remote team, communication and processes need to be maintained to a high standard at all times.

Instant messaging leads to the expectation of instant responses and an employee will quickly reach burnout if they feel they have to be constantly online to answer any question or query.

When dealing with different time zones, companies must be aware when an employee is ‘on’ and ‘off’ the clock. It’s not unreasonable to expect a remote employee to attend an essential meeting or ‘emergency’ out of hours (as an exception) but regularly scheduling events so a worker has to attend a video conference at 2am is not acceptable.

As highlighted above, make crossover points during the day when there are windows of opportunity for handovers and group meetings.

Also note that some countries do give employees a ‘right to switch off’, which means colleagues need to be aware of not sending requests out of agreed working hours. A British firm was recently fined after a French court ruled it was ‘unreasonable’ for a regional manager to be expected to leave his phone on to answer questions when not working.

The truth is that some people work best in the same office as their colleagues and others prefer the freedom of being able to work anywhere they want. Bringing the two together is a challenge but the use of regular video meetings and meet-up retreats can overcome this issue.

Adii Pienaar, the co-founder of WooThemes, was forced to revoke a ‘Fridays work-from-home’ policy for his Cape Town office after suspecting that several staff members were abusing the privilege. This is despite the fact that 60% of his company worked successfully remotely. Using test projects as a trial basis to assess both productivity and company culture fit before hiring should avoid any issues of this nature.

Even experienced employers face challenges at times when dealing with remote workers but with both good practices and processes, managing a remote team should not be any more challenging than dealing with internal teams. Certainly the productivity and benefits to both employee and employer vastly outweigh any challenges.

Remote working, the new model for businesses?

Over the past few decades, the internet has made the world a much smaller place, opening up new opportunities and markets for smaller businesses. As technology affords us the ability to easily make new connections, we are free to focus on who is ‘right’ for our company, rather than who is in the ‘right’ location.

Offering employees a greater work-life balance allows them to be more productive and content in their work. Happy remote staff are incredibly loyal and proactive, improving a company’s culture by their self-discipline and drive. An increasing volume of research shows that putting the right people in their best working environment, is the easiest way a company can make the most of their staff.

Unless you are a business that is dependent on a customer-facing location such as a restaurant or bar, there are few reasons why you shouldn’t consider embracing the opportunities presented by remote working.

Embracing new models of working made available by technology is the future of business and can make for a better society all-round.

“If you want the best talent, limiting yourself to the talent that’s available in a single city (let alone a single country) is shooting yourself in the foot. Half of “Hubbers” work remotely in 18 countries across the globe.” – Coby Chapple, senior product designer, Intercom

To read the full article from Sage Accounting software click here (12 minute read).

With your company fully equipped for managing remote workers, the next step is figuring out who to employ.

The nature of business support and administrative function means that there are often busier and quieter periods, where more or less support is needed. By utilising a scalable remote workforce such as SmartPA, you can manage costs alongside demand and have access to our global support team.