Managing a Remote Team
On today’s date, episode, Alissa Berzak shares her many tips on how to manage a remote team. In the second interview on Checking Off Your List with Rachel Luther, I talk with our customer service manager at Check Off Your List. She covers topics like communication, team building and the importance of learning from other team members.
As a manager, I struggled knowing how to effectively manage a team without micromanaging. But Alissa shares how she inserts herself into our team members’ lives in ways that shows their value on the Check Off Your List. Alissa’s insight applies whether you have a team of one or a team of 10. So, enjoy listening in as Alissa and I discuss how to manage a remote.
Today’s a great opportunity for another interview on Checking Off Your List with Rachel Luther. As Check Off Your List has grown, I’ve learned that managing at the micromanagement level is not my strength. Outsourcing is all about compensating for your weaknesses, so I’m pulling in my right hand girl, when it comes to managing the virtual assistants at Check Off Your List.
Alissa Berzak is here to talk about managing a remote team. Alissa, thank you so much for agreeing to jump online with me.
Alissa: Thanks for having me.
Rachel: So my greatest struggle as a manager is knowing whether I’m over managing or under managing. I was never good at picking up on cues to determine what a team member needs as far as a management style and I know, you’ve talked about how alone you felt when I hired you and trained you years and years ago. So, obviously I didn’t know how to manage you effectively. I couldn’t figure it out. And I, I know a lot of other people felt that way. You were not the only one and you’re awesome. So, you compensated for my shortcomings, but now that you’re the manager, how do you balance all of those aspects of management? Do you alter your management approach or your leadership style? Please, just tell me your secrets.
Alissa: So… it’s so hard with the remote team, because especially when someone’s coming on, making sure that you’re connecting with them and speaking with them and getting to know their personalities and how they best work is the biggest key.
So there’s no one size fits all experience with how to work with a remote team, but for any team in reality, but what I do my best is to see how each person communicates best; whether that’s like with texts or emails or Vox or phone calls, um, and just to let them know I’m accessible. So the beginning, when people come on, I definitely call them a lot and check in and just make sure they know I’m accessible.
I’m not just telling them I’m accessible. I’m actually proving it.
Rachel: That is, I think was probably one of the, one of the things that I faltered in. I don’t know. You might be able to confirm this. I would say I’m here. Just let me know if you need anything, but I don’t think I was good at taking the initiative to reach out and actually like, let my actions enforce the fact that I am available. And like, looking back and seeing you talk about the way you manage the team and how frequently you talk. I know I didn’t do that and people never picked up the phone to call me, and I imagine our team doesn’t always pick up the phone to call you either. Like you reach out and you make that initiative, from what I understand.
Alissa: Yes. So I reach out and I make the initiative, especially at first, and then it’s always a win as a new team member comes on and I get that phone call at seven o’clock at night, even eight o’clock at night. Hey, I think just play something or ask you something. And I am like, no problem.
And they’re like, I’m so sorry to bother you. And I’m like, it’s not a bother. That’s why I’m here. But it’s those little things, especially in a remote environment and just working in the way that we do with so many different people and so many different aspects of business, you kind of just have to be flexible and test to be able to help them and also know who does what and how those personalities work is just the other little piece of the puzzle.
So, not only am I able to listen and help them. And if I can’t help them, I can point them to where we can get that help. So, pairing team members together, knowing what they could be working together on for someone strength versus someone’s weakness, knowing that if someone’s sick, who can pick up the slack, knowing who could better optimize something for our client, or if like, you know, someone wants to work on something that they haven’t worked on before, um, where they could maybe get some information on that or learn about it. So, it’s all those little nuances and just listening. That’s the other key piece is just the listening and the knowing their personalities through all of those little annoying calls that I made in the beginning.
Rachel: Annoying calls. Yeah. That’s funny. Um, You know, I feel like so much of that is building a relationship. Like a lot of that is getting to know them. You talk about learning their personality and those types of things. And really that comes with every relationship and actually knowing someone, not just seeing a resume on paper, not seeing work that they deliver, but knowing the ins and outs of their lives professionally and personally.
So, one of the challenges with a virtual staff is building those individual relationships with employees because you’re not at the water cooler, you’re not grabbing lunch because it’s convenient, that type of thing. So what do you think is the biggest obstacle in a remote environment that needs to be overcome when you’re working with a virtual staff?
Alissa: The relationship. That is definitely the hardest thing I remember when I first jumped into the role of customer relationship and dealing with the team and with the clients. And it’s kind of the same on both ends is working remotely with anybody. So it’s just being able to speak to somebody and get a feel for them and listen and understand what they’re feeling as well and pick up on the little clues. So some of it’s not teachable, but a lot of it is just intuitive and just learning and just kind of listening to people. I remember when I had stepped into the role, I had some team members who were definitely not, as used to my personality, what was happening prior and…
Rachel: You and I are a little different sometimes.
Alissa: And I think one of the calls I remember being on and she just was so quiet, we’d go through everything. And then like gradually she would start to speak to me, but it took a while because she was just not used to someone like inserting themselves into her life and into the day-to-day of what she was doing and I’m thinking weirded her out a little bit.
Rachel: Um, highly possible.
Alissa: As we’ve grown the team and we’ve had new team members come on, I make it abundantly clear that they’re going to hear from me a lot. Um, especially in the beginning and then I’m here. And I think it’s just helped us in like so many ways and just little touches, um, you know, remembering their birthdays and sending like a gift card and doing things like if someone has, someone who passes away or an event that happens in their life or whatever, just making sure I send a little card or I acknowledge it. And that we, as a team are there for them and they feel like that because I think especially in a remote environment, like we’re in and building a remote team, just, you feel like, you’re alone sometimes. And so to give those little touches where they know someone’s been listening to them and it kind of shows up and they feel appreciated. It’s those things that make a big difference.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. And I can definitely say that I was not always good at inserting myself in people’s lives that way, so I often didn’t know those little things, but I know acknowledging the little things that are going on in people’s lives that are big things to them, reacting to those things really goes a long way. As far as developing the relationships and building, you know, an environment where people are connecting and not feeling so isolated and feeling alone, you know, in a virtual world. Of course, managing is not just building relationships.
It’s also making employees better and professional development, things like that. So how do you get the individual team members to improve? You talked about a little bit ago, you mentioned like where they want to learn a new skill, that type of thing. Can you tell us a little bit, little bit about your process on encouraging professional development with the team?
Alissa: It’s funny because we have so many people who do quote unquote the same thing, but they really don’t because people fall into a area of what they seem to do, really thrive at so we can have five marketing people, but they’re all not specialized in the same thing. So I really strive to listen to the team and even encourage them through some of the tasks that they don’t want to do, but keep in the back of my head that they really don’t like to do that, and so maybe the next time someone wants that done, we find someone else that does like to do that.
Rachel: Yes, yes. But they have a lot to learn from each other. And so working together on projects is also a way that it seems like, they learn new skills or continue to grow and develop as professionals on the Check Off Your List team. We hire experts in what they do, but like you said, they all have their own unique niche and thing that they’re interested in and so they all bring something different and by collaborating and working together, they. They learn and expand what they can do and now they all look like rock stars in all different ways, because they’re gleaning from each other or from you just from having someone look over and provide input and be a second set of eyes, so to speak.
So, if you had to come up with a bullet point stylist, do you know how much I love my list? If you had to come up with a list of tips for managing a remote team, what would they be? Maybe give me five or so. I’m not married to that number. So feel free to take some liberties, but I’m just curious, what’s on your list of like the top tips for managing a remote team.
Alissa: Definitely having regular check-ins. Communicating a ton, uh, being. Overly accessible, almost, um, being flexible and then taking advantage of all of the technology and things that we have in this day and age. Um, making sure that everybody kind of has access to the things that they need on top of just being able to have access to the other members of the team.
Rachel: Yeah. That all that’s all great. That makes sense. And we’ve covered a lot of that in the conversation, but I love, love the list of it. It clears my mind.
Team building is a huge aspect of managing a remote team because you’re the one who has encouraged me to do those things. You’re the one who says, Rachel, we need to all get together. We need to do some of these things. And, um, I know that can be difficult in a virtual environment or remote environment. And, uh, we’re not all in the same location, so we can’t do trust falls and those types of things. But I know we do fun things to Check Off Your List. And so do you have anything more that you might say as far as team building in a remote environment?
Alissa: So definitely allowing the team to communicate. I think at one point the team didn’t feel as comfortable to even just reach out to each other, um, and to collaborate or to have a minute. So everything from even like we have the marketing team together for a meeting. Um, before we start the meeting, letting them have a few minutes while everyone’s getting on or getting ready to like, just chat, like have a minute, catch up, have a good laugh together.
Um, and I know you’re always like, oh my gosh, what’s going on? But allowing that to happen and allowing the natural, like, seconds that you would get at the water cooler, but just via Zoom or Teams, like we use or anything like that and making it feel like you’re in person, even when you’re not.
Rachel: Yeah. I have noticed those changes over the time, over time in our meetings and I think it’s, it’s great. And I, I, you learn the personalities of the people that you’re working with and get to know each other. And so I think that really does help as far as a team building thing. And so much of what you’ve said today, it comes back to communicating and listening and having conversations.
It seems like, and that’s kind of funny because when I interviewed Misti and when I was working through our hiring things, so much of the hiring process is the same way. Communicate, communicate, communicate, set expectations. You know, you let them know when they first joined our team that they’re going to be hearing from you frequently.
Uh, you know, and I think that’s great. So then it’s it, doesn’t weird them out. They, they are ready for it. They expect it and they know that you care because you’re investing that time into them as a team member and investing in their success at our company, which I think is also important by communicating and doing all of those things.
We’re saying your worth being invested in as one of our team members and we value you. And when you’re managing a team, I think that is important. And I know that in theory, but I know I struggled communicating that and it in enacting that on a day to day basis, which resulted in people feeling somewhat alienated and that, you know, there was no one to go to when they needed help and they had to figure it out and while that wasn’t my intention, that was their reality. And so I think communicating and making yourself available and listening and truly listening between the lines, not just what you’re hearing, as far as the words go are all things that you do well and that you talked about in this call.
So I think it has been so very helpful for me. I’ve had many takeaways and, um, I’m sure our listeners have too, and we’d love to hear what was most helpful as you build your team. So please send us a DM on our social media and Alissa, I’m going to volunteer you for something. So I hope you don’t mind. I, she didn’t actually answer me, which I think is funny.
Alissa: Can I say, since I’m usually volunteering you, I guess I have to say yes.
Rachel: So I was hoping you would say yes and what I am going to voluntold or volunteer Alissa to do is to answer any of your specific questions you may have about team building. So if you do reach out, with the DM on Instagram or Facebook, or send us an email.
I will pass this along to Alissa because you want to hear from her not me on these things. And so, uh, Alissa will personally answer those for you through my DMs. So feel free to ask away for sure. And, uh, thank you again for talking with me, Alissa. I learned so much whenever we talk and I’m thrilled to share some of that with everyone listening
Alissa: Anytime! Thank you for having me again.
Rachel: Conversations with Alissa are always encouraging to me. I was so excited about the conversation that I recapped my takeaways as we ended the call. I hope you were just as motivated and that you’re going to incorporate some of your takeaways from her expertise as you manage your remote team.
One of the misconceptions about virtual assistants is that they are your assistant, it’s in the title. Sure. But don’t let the word assistant mislead you. A virtual assistant is assisting you by doing the things you don’t want to do. Yeah, they’re doing some of the grunt work, but more than that, most of the time they are using their experience, expertise and knowledge to do the things you can’t. For this reason, a virtual assistant should be the expert at what they do for you.
If they’re not improving processes and telling you how to get the job done better, they’re not doing their job. Confucius said, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. And the words of the eighth century philosophers still apply today and certainly applied to business. One of the ways to stay at the top of your game in business is to surround yourself with people who are smarter and better skilled at things than you.
In the next episode, I tell you why I never want to be the smartest person in the room. And I also tell you why you should give your virtual assistant more freedom in their day to day responsibilities. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode on Checking Off Your List with Rachel Luther.