How to build your virtual team
This article includes tips for people looking to hire a virtual team, build processes for their remote teams and pick the right tool for their virtual call center.
Once upon a time, going to work meant packing a briefcase, filling a brown bag, wearing a suit, undertaking a long commute by train and running down crowded streets to get a caffeine fix before heading to your desk job where you took calls all day to solve issues for people.
Now, thanks to the Internet, ‘work’ can be anything you want it to be: it can be all of the Mad Menesque things I just described but it also can be putting on a fresh pair of comfy pajamas, fixing yourself coffee at home in your favorite mug and slipping on your earphones to tackle calls from your customers. The latter idea powered, especially over the second half of the last decade, by the idea of virtual teams and virtual call centers has become exceedingly popular and why not?
Virtual call centers mean many good things for businesses and employees:
- No office space means no commute time for your employees and you can save on rent. Different industries have different standards so depending on the type of business – retail or a firm – your rent could be 1 to 15% of your revenue. That’s a lot of money that could be better spent hiring more excellent people to join your team or investing in resources that can help you scale your business.
- You can hire people from anywhere in the world as opposed to the geographical regions around your chosen physical space; you don’t have to settle for the best around you, you can hire the best fit for you, from anywhere.
- You don’t have to go through the trouble of purchasing, setting up and maintaining an on-premise PBX system; you can simply purchase a modern cloud phone system (roll credits) and let the software provider handle the pesky details like maintenance and feature upgrades. You can just focus on the stuff that matters: doing a good job.
- Employees with complex schedules (due to any number of reasons not limited to being a caregiver) have the flexibility to do their work, at their discretion. You can also set up your call center to direct calls from certain types of geographic locations and time zones to certain employees to make sure that everyone’s shift timings are being accounted for.
No wonder that small businesses consider a virtual call center to be an ideal fit for them – the cost benefits and minimal IT infrastructure requirements means that the decision makes itself!
But before you just run out and buy all the things necessary for a virtual call center, step one is figuring out the 3Ps – people, process and technology (okay, you caught us).
People: What to look for when hiring a virtual team?
Much has been said and written about the hiring process when it comes to traditional teams but the dynamics of hiring and virtual team management are completely different. Hence, the hiring process has to be different too. First, let’s start with what kind of qualities you need in a virtual team.
Some of this will differ from company to company, team to team, but here’s a list of requirements that commonly come up in people’s checklists:
- Strong communication skills. Communication is an important part of a physical team but in a virtual team, it’s a DEFCON 0 skill. Technology connects us instantly – you have video conferencing, real-time chat and collaboration software – but virtual miscommunication is really easy because you’re missing all the cues that being present in the same physical space can provide you. You need to make sure that the people you bring onboard have strong communication skills – they know when to use their voice (clear communication over brief communication) and how to make sure there’s nothing ambiguous or confusing about what they’re saying (the stories I could tell you about the use of periods vs exclamation marks in a chat conversation).
- Ownership. Managing a virtual team is knowing that you have a team whose shoulders you can’t look over which means you should hire a team whose members have a strong sense of ownership. You should be able to trust them to own an initiative/project and trust that they’ll be able to prioritize and execute, with little to no oversight.
- Propensity to action. Your virtual team might be in the same location together but might not as well. You need to make sure that you hire a team whose members can make decisions and have a bias towards action, even in the absence of a defined task list or guidelines.
The key is to frame your entire interview process in a way that helps you figure out whether your candidates have these capabilities. Some companies prefer to stick to the traditional interview format with multiple calls, using the candidate’s prior work experience to determine whether they’ll be able to thrive in a remote setting, while others switch it up by turning it into a 30/45 day bootcamp where the candidate works on a project and interacts with the team through it so that the team can make their decision over time and not necessarily based on an impression, during an interview.
But before we get into the details about the interview process, let’s talk about where you can find candidates and how many you need.
What’s the right number?
Having the right number of agents is directly proportional to your call center achieving its service levels. Calculating the number of agents you need to run the call center should not be based on guesswork – a scientific approach like the ERLANG calculator can help you calculate the right number of agents you will need to manage the call flow.
Zapier, a fully remote team, has written extensively about hiring and running a remote team; lucky for us, they’ve also jotted down points from their experience as a team about where they’ve found candidates. To summarize, here are some areas that work for them:
- Reaching out to people in their network. People they’ve worked with in the past and a track record that they’re aware of.
- Asking their user base. Your customers, already experts on your products, could be interested in jumping onboard or they might know someone who is.
- Remote job boards. The more specific the job board (Remote jobs in Kansas City), the more likely you are to find your candidate.
- Communities. Post jobs in online communities, like Support Driven, so you can find like minded professionals
- Ask teammates to help with sourcing. You don’t have to be Google where the People Ops team would sit employees down and comb through their social networks but you can ask your teammates to share the posting and send in referrals.
Sourcing candidates for a virtual team is a hard task. But what is harder, once you have these employees, is making sure that they’re set up for success. What works great when everyone is just a few cubicles or a short walk away, might not really work when they’re two time zones away. You need to make sure that you pick the right software and set up solid processes in place to help them succeed in their position and not have their location count against them.
- The indispensable qualities you’re looking for
- A job description that explains the position clearly
- Your marketing ideas for the job posting aka how will you find them?
- Your interview process structure
Process: How do you set your virtual team up for success?
You know the old saying, “Give a man a fish, you feed him one day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”?
Set up processes and guidelines to make your team independent and you’ll make sure that they’re able to own the situation and make their own decisions, without having to patch through a call to HQ.
As Michael D. Watkins wrote in an HBR article, “With virtual teams, however, coordination is inherently more of a challenge because people are not co-located. So it’s important to focus more attention on the details of task design and the processes that will be used to complete them. Simplify the work to the greatest extent possible, ideally so tasks are assigned to sub-groups of two or three team members. And make sure that there is clarity about work process, with specifics about who does what and when. Then periodically do “after-action reviews” to evaluate how things are going and identify process adjustments and training needs.”
These processes can even be as straightforward as setting up call flows or wait queues and an IVR menu or a feedback loop for your virtual phone system so that your team doesn’t have to expend energy on figuring out how to do something and just focus on the what.
- Document everything so that there is clarity about the work process
- Try to automate as many things as possible so teams don’t have to reinvent the wheel
Technology: What tools should your virtual team use?
Virtual call centers can be set up to handle inbound calls (as in, customer service) or make outbound calls (e.g. for sales). Depending on its purpose, the right software can make or break your virtual team’s performance.
You need to make sure you pick the right set of software – the right phone system, the right communication tool to enhance and enable collaboration, the right knowledge management tool, the right project management tool – so that all vital capabilities are covered. For instance, the must-haves of a call center software are:
- The ability to purchase virtual phone numbers. Virtual teams means that the old fashioned approach to a call center – hardware phones, on-premise PBX system, switches – just doesn’t work. You need to be able to purchase a phone number anywhere, no matter where you are, so that your customers can receive the best service possible.
- The ability to take calls from anywhere, anytime. Whether they’re in the office or at home, with their laptop or their phone, they should be able to log into the software and do their job.
- Ability to access data about calls and customers anytime. A key capability of any virtual phone system is to allow access to previous call notes and call recordings at will. Your agents can listen to their previous conversations and keep themselves updated, in a jiffy.
- Ability to monitor your virtual call center real-time. A call center cannot truly function as a virtual call center unless your supervisors are able to monitor all your virtual agents in real-time. This means that your supervisors can listen to every single conversation and step in if needed.
We even came up with a checklist to help you figure out what kind of features you need to prioritize to knock it out of the park. Here’s a list of questions you should ask yourself before trying a call center software and a list of questions to ask when you’re trying out different systems.
- You can find our pre-trial, during-trial and post-trial checklists for purchasing a call center software here
- Start your research on platforms like G2Crowd that showcase real users reviews
The future of work is a much debated, hot-button topic. But despite all the raging debates (open office vs cubicles, holacracy over hierarchy), one thing is clear: the future of work is flexible. It accounts for pockets of the population that have long been overlooked by the traditional 9to5 jobs – the caregivers, the dependants, the elderly to name a few. The future of work is focused on giving everyone the opportunity to do meaningful work and by setting up a virtual team, you’re enabling it.
Freshcaller is a modern-day reimagining of our everyday phone system for customer support, sales, IT, and HR teams. With Freshcaller’s cloud-based architecture, it brings together the best of legacy features like IVR and advanced capabilities like Smart Escalations, Custom Call Center Analytics to help you set up a state-of-the-art business call center. Freshcaller offers phone numbers in 90+ countries, requires zero phone hardware, and is extremely easy to use.
If you want to find out more about what we do, check out www.freshcaller.com.
Design by Mahalakshmi Anantharaman.
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