You know you desperately need help. But you’re not ready to make the leap to hire. Or maybe you have some part-time help or a junior designer, but you need more. If building a team is one of your business goals for this year, a virtual team can be the answer. This can be a team of contractors such as designers or drafters, your bookkeeper, an admin, a marketing team and even sales staff. If you service one local area, you will have more access to local sales staff, but if you have more than one area you service, sales staff in each area can be key to keeping projects coming in the door. In this instance, you might also have project managers in each area. This is good stuff, but you have to know how to manage them for maximum effectiveness.

Schedule Regular Meetings

When you manage a virtual team, you should have at least monthly meetings with each team member. Schedule video meetings to create some face-to-face time and greater connection. It’s also a good idea to have a screen sharing program so you can review documents together. My favorite is Join.Me. It’s easy to use and has great functionality — all for free. There is a paid version with greater functionality, of course, but the free version will work for a small team.

Define a Communication Strategy

Beyond the monthly meetings, you need to have clear lines of communication between you and your team and between team members if necessary. Establish an emergency contact protocol in the event a team member needs to reach you right away. If you manage a virtual team on a project basis, it would behoove you use project management software for communications. This saves on back-and-forth emails and keeps communication organized by project. So, for instance, if you have a virtual assistant or designer helping you select and source materials, he or she would save all the relevant information into the specific project in the system. No need for emails, you can create notes and further direction all in one place. We use Trello, but there are many on the market — both free and paid — that will suit your needs.

Have Systems and Software in Place

If you have five people on your team, you will likely have five different ways that they organize themselves and manage their workflow. You need to have a clear system in place for the way you want the work managed, tracked and submitted. For instance, if you use a CRM system for tracking your prospects and sales, it’s likely your marketing team will need access to this information to inform marketing suggestions and decisions. And if you use Quickbooks — or whatever other system — for your accounting, your bookkeeper needs access. If you don’t have these systems in place, and you really don’t know what to use, turn to each team member as an expert to help guide you on the best options for his or her area of the business. If documents need to be supplied to you outside of a software system, use a file-sharing system such as Dropbox or Google Docs so you and team members can share information.

Set Clear Upfront Expectations

Use your business goals to guide your expectations for each department. Set mini goals for each team member. And clearly define what deliverables you expect from them each week or month. These outcomes should be part of what you review at each virtual meeting. You must hold each team member accountable to certain expectations just as you would a full-time employee.

While there can be challenges when you manage a virtual team, there are many benefits, too. It can be far less expensive than having on-site staff, you don’t have to have an office and you have the freedom and flexibility to work where and when you want, while your team can enjoy the same freedom.