How to Be Massively Efficient Using Virtual Teams

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Director of Operations Kelly Santina shares her advice for communicating, collaborating, hiring, and building trust with a virtual team.

Full Episode Details

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In today’s episode of Talk Digital to Me, we’re joined by Kelly Santina, Director of Operations—or, as Kelly likes to say, the “quarterback” of the Convince & Convert virtual team.

Convince & Convert’s team members work remotely, which means Kelly’s role presents a few unique challenges she might not otherwise encounter in a traditional office. From business development to client onboarding, Kelly makes sure every arm of the company runs smoothly, no matter the time zone.

Kelly’s here today to share her expert advice on building trust and camaraderie in a virtual office, how to hire a virtual team, maintaining top-notch communication, and collaborating with co-workers on the other side of the country.

If you’re a member of a virtual team, of if you’re thinking of hiring one, you’ve got to hear Kelly’s words of wisdom. Watch the video to hear more!

 

Kate: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Talk Digital to Me, conversations about marketing and customer service with the pros at Convince & Convert. I am Kate Volman, and in each episode, I have the pleasure of interviewing one of the team members at Convince & Convert. Today I am joined by Kelly Santina. She is the head of operations and media. Our topic is how to be massively efficient using virtual teams. So this is a fun topic, Kelly. I’m so excited.

Kelly: It’s a massive topic. It’s massive.

Kate: It is a massive topic, you are correct. And so I feel like all of these topics that everyone on the team, it’s just, I always say, they’re fun to talk about, we could talk about them for days and days and days, but we’re going to break it down into some bite-sized pieces so people can try to build their virtual teams more effectively.

So before we dive into that, share with me what it is that you do at Convince & Convert.

Kelly: I have the best job at Convince & Convert and in the world. So sorry to disappoint everyone else, but I am in love with my position and this team. So as you said, I’m the head of operations and media, which basically means I’m kind of the quarterback. So I help our team get from Point A to Point B, C, D, and beyond of all of our projects across our business line. So I do everything from help on the business development side to onboard clients, onboard team members, and make sure that we are delivering the best possible product along the way.

Kate: Awesome. And it’s so fun getting to know your team because you all love what you do and you all support each other, you all think each . . . every one of you are like, oh, she’s the best, he’s the best. Everyone’s the best. Everyone loves the work they do. So it’s awesome. It’s a great, great team over there that you have.

So speaking of teams, this is a fun topic because more and more companies are hiring, they’re outsourcing work, they’re hiring people that don’t come into an office. A lot of people just have teams that work completely remotely. So let’s talk first about just what do you see as the biggest challenge that a lot of these companies face when hiring people that are not working in their location?

Kelly: Yeah, that’s a great question. For us on the Convince & Convert side, I think the biggest thing that we have among our team is trust. And so building the relationship from the beginning, the expectations, the trust factor is by far the biggest quality, the biggest hurdle, the bigger thing to look for when you’re looking at virtual team members.

Kate: So when you say that, I mean, that builds over time, correct? I mean, as far as you, because your team, I mean, you have a big company over there, a big team of people, and you all do love and support each other, but how is that in the beginning? Like, how do you get there? It’s obviously company culture and getting it from the top down, but how do you structure something so that people can, do have that trust?

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. So I think it starts with kind of trust in our product and in our service. So we’re always inventing new things. We’re always kind of getting better at what we do. But we kind of trust in the core and then bring on team members who also believe in that philosophy, in that professionalism, and kind of in that end plan or company value there. So the best team forward from the beginning is kind of how we structure in and out.

The other side to that is also trust in the process. So when I was thinking about our conversation, I see it as one side and the other of the spectrum. So on one side, you look for areas of the business that are really process-based and are trainable for somebody who maybe doesn’t have to know the ins and outs of the rest of the business. So it’s a repeatable process, it’s a repeatable task that has a consistent outcome. That’s one way to outsource work on the behalf of a team.

On the completely other side of the spectrum is more where the C&C team fits, and those are kind of the senior projects, the senior client management, and we look for team members who we’ve actually had interaction with in the past, either as a past client, past freelancer for a project, or in each of our past professional experiences, bringing forward people who we’ve built a trust with on that senior side of the business. So I think that inherently with the C&C team, we kind of already have a history with most of our team members, either one or multiple of us have, and that just accelerates that trust factor in the style of business that we do.

Kate: That’s awesome. Yeah, I was going to ask you to give some tips for those that are thinking of hiring someone. What should they look for in that person? How do you know you’re getting the right person on your team before you hire them to do some massive project and know that they have the talent in which to execute work in the right way?

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, there are kind of two spectrums. I think that there’s definitely a place for those recurring tasks, those trainable tasks, at kind of the lower end of team involvement, even client involvement. So I think of those as more, like, intern tasks or tasks that a virtual assistant who doesn’t have to be integrated into the regular team can handle. And that from an admin standpoint, can be hugely advantageous to any group.

On the other side of the spectrum, the more client-heavy, teamwork-mandatory type deliverables, we look for that trust factor, that history factor when we’re looking at team members, but also a few other things. So believe it or not, personal organization is one of the bigger conversations we have with potential team members. How do they kind of structure their day? How do they structure their own freelance projects or other client work in the past? A lot of people live and die by their calendar, on the computer or on their tablet or phone. That works. I actually use an electronic calendar and a good old paper calendar because sometimes you’ve just got to write it down and feel the accomplishment of crossing it off, right?

So we actually talk about that quite a bit, and the amount of technology comfort that a potential team member has is also really important. So have they been in the digital space, obviously, but again, on that personal side, are they comfortable on video chat, on typing chat, on video conference with clients, that kind of thing?

We also set expectations pretty early in our courting relationship. So what’s their personal trust factor, their history, what’s their personal organization and professional organization, and then what is their ongoing expectation of work from us and work into the relationship.

And believe it or not, one of the most basic things we’ve found is being upfront with team members that even though we’re coast to coast and sometimes across different countries, many different time zones, we always have usually a three- to four-hour period most days of the week where we cross over. And that’s an important piece, to kind of build that culture, build that camaraderie among team members, and have conversations more than just trade emails and trade digital files all the time.

So that’s been a core piece that we’ve built into Convince & Convert, finding many hours a day, multiple days a week, where nearly the whole team is available to actually talk to each other and interact with each other face-to-face, as we’re doing.

Kate: So let’s talk a little bit about the process because I think for some businesses, they don’t necessarily have that process in place when they’re about to hire someone. I feel like a lot of companies just think, oh, I’m going to hire this intern because they’re really good at social media. They know what they’re doing.

Kelly: Right.

Kate: And they really expect someone to come in and figure everything out. And so I like the idea of just talking through a little bit more, like, how do you create that process? Because you guys have a process down for sure.

Kelly: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So we are kind of tool junkies here at Convince & Convert, but we found a handful, after a little bit of trial and error, that are tried and true and work for us each time. So we have a very robust project management system. It serves as our file server, our task manager, our timeline, that kind of thing. So we don’t micromanage, as most of our senior team members appreciate, but it’s just an organization structure that everybody kind of gets the flow, and it’s the heartbeat of getting from Point A to Point Z on client deliverables or even internal work. So that’s piece one.

Piece two is we found an awesome app called Sococo which allows us each to have a virtual office where you can actually see who’s live and available at any point during the day. And with one click, we can face-to-face chat, type chat to each other, and have multiple people in a meeting without going outside of the system. So that has been an integral part in building that culture, cutting down on email, and also onboarding team members to what the expectation is and how to be available.

So for new businesses looking to jump into some virtual pieces, the more you have figured out without a virtual employee, the better you’ll be when you have a virtual employee. And at any point in time, you’re still the business owner. You’re still the business manager. So changing platforms can be sticky, but if it’s going to grow the business overall, building that trust, building that organization then helps making those changes even easier. So get it figured out before a virtual employee and loop them in just like they did have an office in the next room to you.

Kate: That makes a lot of sense. Yes, be prepared before you just start hiring all these people.

Kelly: Yeah, yeah.

Kate: Well, I’ve had a lot . . .

Kelly: It helps with accountability, you know? It gives a virtual employee somewhere to go, somewhere to check in, and also give them confidence that you as a manager or a business owner knows that they’re supported and working along the timeline of the deliverable, so both sides win.

Kate: Awesome. So yes, that’s what we’re looking for, win-win situations. For some companies that are looking to hire, and they might not necessarily have the network of people. I know with your team, it was great. I feel like Jay had interaction with each one of you at some point. But for somebody that their workload is just getting too much and they have to hire someone, where are some good places for them to go, and then what are some things that they should kind of be aware of before actually putting out any kind of job description or anything?

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. So there are two. I think start on the process side of it. So find a task or a deliverable that’s repeatable, that’s trainable, and that you as a manager or business owner can give to somebody as a nice box. Okay, I need X completed each week by Thursday afternoon, and here’s the five steps that I will teach you, I will train you on how I like them done. But after that, it kind of becomes second nature.

And once you’re comfortable in that space, you can add on tasks and finding the right person. And finding the right person, that’s equally a piece of the puzzle, right? So a couple different ways to look at that.

One is even though you might not have what you think is a digital network, in business day and age now, everybody has a certain level of digital network, be it even if you have a simple LinkedIn profile or your personal Facebook page. Think about 100-200 word description of what you need. What are you trying to accomplish for your business? And put it out on your personal or your business profile as-is, and see what comes back. Give it three-five days, and just see what your network might deliver to you.

Again, so that trust factor to that history factor, if somebody’s going to send you a recent grad who’s looking to fill some extra hours, if they’re looking for that great job, that might be a great fit for now. Or someone might be plugged into a virtual network of assistants or senior team members who can turn you around to something you’ve never heard of before. So always start with your personal network, whether you believe it’s digital or not.

From there, there are lots of platforms. There are lots of platforms. There’s Odesk, there’s Don’t Panic Management, there are cloud peeps. There are lots of services where, massive network where you can put up a job description and sort through different filters and narrow down who you like to interview, essentially. And payment can also go through those different services.

So give it a few days, I’d say, on your personal network. Up the ante if you’re looking for something a little bit more quick, swift, and verified through those services. But ultimately having a face-to-face conversation with who you might hire virtually is huge. You can learn a lot from someone from their background, their initial look and feel, their initial kind of vibe on the phone and face-to-face with you.

It will also tell you a lot about their technical know-how. Are they able to get on the Skype call pretty easily without a lot of challenges and that kind of thing? And I think gut check yourself that way, also. So it might be more than one conversation, but there’s a lot to say for seeing someone across, can you work out a time zone issue right away. All those little back of your mind things come into play, just like you would interview someone face-to-face, again, for that office next to you.

Kate: So speaking of time zone challenges, what are some other things that, as you guys were growing and building, that you just didn’t really think of as far as, like, a challenge that you might go through with having a virtual team?

Kelly: Yeah, time zone is probably the major one, but we make it look minor to most of our clients. We have 14 team members from Portland all the way down to Orlando, and a few out of the country visitors once in a while. So again, having kind of those crossover hours multiple days a week is just a standard expectation of working with our team because it really helps. It cuts down on challenges later on, and it’s just a really upfront commitment of everybody on the team. That’s one.

Secondly, we always work on client deliverables usually at least in teams of two. Usually it’s teams of three or four. But we have two dedicated, especially on the consulting team, who always know exactly where a project is and have equal contribution to that deliverable. So that also helps negate some of those challenges where there’s usually someone available of the two team members early in the morning to late at night to get over that time zone.

And also, life happens. Life happens to everybody. So having that dual responsibility has gotten us through a couple hard times that just happens with anybody’s life and that kind of thing.

Let’s see, what else? We have built in three really important kind of culture mechanisms, but also just communication mechanisms for our team. So we have usually about every four to six weeks a virtual happy hour. And for those of us on the West Coast, it’s usually lunchtime. For those on the East Coast and beyond, they’re in happy hour traditional hours. So that just allows us to kind of get out of work mode, tell some stories, joke a little bit, and get to know each other on a more personal level. So that’s one. Every . . .

Kate: Oh, and by the way, I did tell Daniel and Kristen that I am . . .

Kelly: Want to be invited?

Kate: . . . I’m going to crash one. I don’t even, I’m just going to crash. I’m just going to, like, find the link and figure out where to go.

Kelly: Well, we’ll get you in there, Kate. We’ll get you in there.

The other thing we do is, Jay, he travels more than any of us, so every other week, give or take, he just does a video message. He’ll have 8 or 10 things kind of on his mind, the business, his travel schedule, internal things that everybody should know about, changes on the website, that kind of thing. But he’ll do a five-minute video, send it out via email to us, and it’s just a way to kind of level set everybody and get big announcements, again, kind of outside of the normal, mundane newsletter email type that a lot of corporations have.

The third thing we do is every other month we have an all hands call, and it’s kind of the capstone of Jay’s every other week videos for that period of time, where we can get a little bit deeper into strategy, into changes that’s going to happen on the business side, or everybody has a couple of minutes platform to also bring ideas forward and the business forward, that kind of thing. So it’s one hour every other month that, again, just kind of levels us on a macro scale for everybody to hear each other’s voice, see their face, but within kind of a business sense, more than our happy hours do.

Kate: Got it. That makes sense. Now, do you ever come together and meet at a physical location? Like, have any kind of workshop or anything? Or is it all virtual?

Kelly: We do. We have a wonderful culture, and Jay and Allison are just gracious people that each year, we have a getaway. It’s the first month of the year, January, mid-January. We go to a couple different locations throughout the year. And everybody is together for a long weekend, usually, a Saturday through Tuesday or Wednesday. We spend two days strategizing, talking, reviewing the year past and the year present, and then we spend a day having fun and getting to know each other, and meeting spouses, and having drinks, and just really, again, building that personal relationships.

So equal parts professional and personal on that trip, but it does a lot to just set the tone, set the energy level, and the friendships that go forward, and it makes, again, those tough times that happen anywhere you work, to everybody’s life that much more bearable, when you can’t high-five in person and most things are virtual.

Throughout the year, too, there are so many marketing conferences for us. Usually a small group of us will see each other at the different conferences, too. But in terms of all 14 of us in one spot, it’s once a year.

Kate: That is awesome. And I want an invitation to that.

Kelly: Hey, there are always opportunities, so you never know when C&C is adding team members.

Kate: Aw. So let’s talk about the learning curve. I mean, when somebody comes onboard, how the CEO of the company should expect to, what, like, does it take a month? Does it take a couple months? Like, how do you really gauge if this is going to work?

Kelly: Yeah, great question, great question. I think it’s back to the spectrum a little bit. If you’ve got a task, and it fits in this box, and it’s fairly self-evident after a training or two, a time through or two, what needs to happen, and it’s still not catching on, I go back to, it probably isn’t the right fit. It’s not the right person is the first question. Maybe it’s not the right job description, second question.

So just like you would in a person sitting next door consider those two things. Is it not the right process, or is it not the right person? And that’s really an individual decision there. I think that with any new employee, new team member, within a couple of weeks, you should start to feel right or wrong pretty quickly, again, just like you more or less would on someone sitting in the next office.

What I will say is I think it takes a little bit more effort on the part of CEO, business manager, project manager with a virtual new employee to have those check-ins, again, face-to-face, read body language, read tone of voice, that kind of thing, more than just kind of set it and forget it. So like any new team member, the first couple weeks, first month or two is going to be more time-intensive for both of you, but you should be getting early indications about right fit of person and right fit of process or project that they’re on.

Kate: Okay. And then what about, let’s touch on communication because I think this one is fascinating because of the way, obviously everyone has very different personalities, the way that we communicate with each other. So emails and calls and texts, or, especially email, just being taken in the wrong way.

Kelly: Yeah.

Kate: So how do you work through that so you know that if one of you says a one-answer, like, “yes” or “fine,” it’s really fine, instead of the person that’s like, wait, is it fine or is it not? Is he mad at me?

Kelly: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And that’s where kind of our instant chat has come in handy and the one-click talk and see each other has cut down on a lot of that. A new company coming in, you’ve got to learn each other, right? I don’t know if there’s an easy way around that. You’ve got to learn each other, but you also set the company culture. So if you’re sending back one-word emails and, “find,” “good,” “got it,” maybe that’s your corporate culture, and it works, and getting a new person to fall in line to that is great.

That’s not really the C&C culture. We kind of live by the, unless I hear different, little acronym, where if somebody puts up an idea or somebody puts forward an action item, unless they hear “no” or “I disagree” or “I think about it this way,” it’s full steam ahead. And that’s also something we set upfront with our team members, that you have full responsibility and availability to make things happen and move the needle forward, so unless you hear, “Wait, stop, let’s talk,” keep on trucking.

So it’s not that much different than face-to-face or office culture or personalities than it is virtual. But set it upfront and then you have way less problems later on.

Kate: That is good advice.

Kelly: It’s not always possible. It’s always live and learn a little bit. But think of it as if they were sitting next door and how would you treat them in person just across the computer.

Kate: Right. Makes sense. Okay, so we are almost running out of time, and I’m going to ask you your bonus round questions. But before I do, do you have anything that you just feel like it’s really important for people to know about virtual teams, something that you guys have experienced, or just any other advice or feedback that you want to share?

Kelly: It has been such a wonderful fit for Convince & Convert, and the personality style it takes to be a virtual employee is also unique. Somebody who is self-driven, responsible, but also really likes their autonomy is huge. I think that as a virtual worker, you have responsibility to report in just as much as your employer reports out to you, and as a wave coming across especially US work style, let’s give it a good reputation.

So if you have the opportunity to work virtually, you have the professionalism and kind of the self-commitment to it, the self-regulation, too, of it, it can be wonderful for work-life balance and that kind of thing. But anybody who gets the opportunity, give it a shot and give it a good reputation so we can keep this trend moving through.

Kate: Right. Don’t mess up. Do it right.

Kelly: Do it right. Yeah.

Kate: All right.

Kelly: Some people are meant to sit in an office. Some people aren’t. But I think we’re finding more and more people have what it takes to work this way on both sides.

Kate: Awesome. Yeah, I agree. I think it’s been really interesting to watch so many different businesses try to make it work, and where they’re finding the right people and everything. So this is a really great conversation to be had. You shared some really great tips for everyone to do it a little bit more efficiently and effectively, which is, you’re really good at that.

Kelly: Massive, massively efficient, right?

Kate: Massive, massively efficient. All right, so let’s go to your bonus round questions. And the first one is, what is your marketing superpower?

Kelly: Wow.

Kate: And I know we had said marketing. What’s your superpower? Because you’ve got some . . .

Kelly: Okay, so my superpower, if I was to ask somebody else to answer that for me, I’ve been told I have a really great knack for translating geek speak to human speak. So whether it’s website builds or Google language or media buying, taking some of that really technical jargon and making it human understandable is my named digital superpower.

Kate: That is a good one these days. Very nice. Okay, what digital marketing trend are you most excited about?

Kelly: Well, of course it’s virtual officing and that kind of thing, like we talked about that.

Kate: Duh.

Kelly: I think another area that I’m really excited about is . . . let’s see. Probably influencer marketing, if there’s a big topic out there. I’ve seen so many clients in the last year that the Convince & Convert team have kind of brought to a new level, and it speaks to my media buying background. It’s just a different take on it. So influencers, anybody can be an influencer, and how to leverage those relationships, I think is changing the way major corporations and small businesses alike are approaching marketing dollars and how to get the most out of it.

Kate: That’s a great answer. You know what’s so funny is each one of you has something different.

Kelly: Cool.

Kate: Each one of you has a very different trend that you’re excited about, which is good. You guys have a good team over there.

Kelly: Yeah, yeah.

Kate: Okay, last one, and this one’s a hard one. If you could only have one mobile app, what would it be?

Kelly: As digital and as virtual and all those things as I think I am, I am a traditionalist, so the Facebook app would be my pick because you could virtual office through that. You could keep up with personal contacts, you can more or less calendar through it. So it kind of ticks a lot of those boxes, even though it’s kind of old-school in this digital world.

Kate: I like it. All right, awesome. Well, Kelly, thank you so much. You shared some really great information. You’ve got some great energy. You have an awesome team over there, and it was such a pleasure chatting with you about virtual teams today.

Kelly: Thanks so much, Kate. We’ve enjoyed this series. More to come from C&C. Bye, everybody.

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