We get to finish this month of remote team interviews with our fearless leader, the little engine that could (and does), the “CM” behind team CMVA: Charissa. From Charissa you get honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, dedication, lots of organization, caffeine, and even more laughs – a winning combination.
Question: What do you contribute to team CMVA?
Charissa: I’m the one responsible for our clients, our waitlist, and making sure our team is running smoothly. All of our clients know me on a personal basis, and I’m in charge of managing their relationship to the team and I, their workload, their tasks, and our service to them. I’m also the one that gets to be in charge of sending out fun gifts to our team, celebrating our team wins, and sending boxes of confetti out after we have big wins!
Question: How did you get started with a remote team?
Charissa: I first started working with a remote team when I owned a copywriting firm a few years ago. I had an assistant, a few writers I hired on, and a graphic designer as well. It was an awesome experience, and I’ve LOVED getting to recreate a virtual team with this business. Remote teams allow us to move about the world as we please, create connection with each other through technology, and also serve clients all around the globe. I was first inspired to create a remote team years ago after reading about Buffer’s team structure. The way they run their team is inspiring.
Question: Did you have any concerns at first?
Charissa: The main concern for me is always making sure that the relationships feel authentic. It’s easy with technology to connect, but it’s also easy to disconnect. You have to have faith in your team, create community, and share the end-goal with your co-workers, so that you are all on the same page. Through working together regularly, making sure that we have regular staff meetings on video each month, and staying up to date with each other is important. I also like sending our team gifts from their Amazon wishlists, handwritten note cards, fun surprises, and flowers at random moments. Starbucks cards are also a great way to show appreciation for them, and I use those often as well! (A caffeinated team is a happy team!)
Question: How did you address those concerns?
Charissa: Relationship is the most important thing -- whether with our clients or with each other on the team. There are five of us, and we have a full client load, so there are a lot of angles to manage. That’s why I hire team members who are relationship-focused, community-driven, and happy to be working in conjunction with other people, even if we’re not in the same physical location. If you’re building relationship, it’s easy to maintain a virtual team.
Another thing I want to mention is that it’s important to know your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Just this past month, at our staff meeting, I asked everyone to take the 16 Personalities test. (Based on the Myers-Briggs tests if you’re familiar with those.) Being able to see where people shine, what they’re like in their daily life, and the things that come naturally to them… That’s all wonderful information to have. I’m an ENFJ if you’re curious!
Question: What are the advantages to working on a remote team?
Charissa: Being able to move and travel as I please. One of my quirks is that I need to be on a plane (or out of my usual environment) once a month. Because I’m in the stage of life where I don’t have a partner or children to take care of, I’m able to travel quickly and without a lot of planning or strings attached to me. Working remote allows me to do that. It’s very often that I’ll be on an airplane writing email, taking care of documents, and working hard to get things done, from 30,000 feet. I love that.
Question: What are the challenges?
Charissa: Finding the right people for the right positions can be challenging. Make sure if you’re thinking about going remote and joining or starting a team that you’re CLEAR on what you’re looking for. I write really, really long job posting descriptions and I sift through applicants with a fine-toothed comb. I also make sure that we hire clients that are a good fit -- I screen them just as much as I screen team members.
When you’re a Virtual Assistant, you get built into your client’s lives. I know what their kids’ names and birthdates are. I know their license plate numbers, their Doctor’s number, what they like to do on Valentine’s Day, their favorite color, and their allergies. I know their dietary restrictions, whether they prefer window or aisle seats, what kind of coffee they like, and where they buy their furniture. I can tell you what they eat for dinner, where they grocery shop, and what average monthly amount is spent on groceries. You get built in! Because of this, trust is of the highest importance. I have to trust that they’re going to treat my staff and me with respect, that we understand each other, and that we’re a great fit. I also have to trust my staff that they’re going to keep to our four core values -- be of service, empower initiative, build cohesive team spirit, and provide great value.
Question: What tips do you have for someone just getting started on a remote team or considering one?
Charissa: Start with yourself first. Can you work without anyone around you in the same physical space? Go to Starbucks and make sure you can work with others around, but stay focused. What’s your response time like for email? A big part of staying connected is answering emails and messages (if you use Slack, Spark, or HipChat) in a timely manner. Get committed to relationship. Dream about what remote work would look like. A common misconception is that working remote is easy -- I disagree. Remote work, for me personally, is harder than working in an office -- because I have to focus differently. Make sure you’re capable of still being productive while being remote. Once you have mastered that, and found your team/clients, you’ll be off to a great start!
Working on or building a remote team has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. Relationships rule, even on a remote team, and CLEAR communication is of the utmost importance. But first, look in the mirror and start there.