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Navigating the Five Stages of Working Remotely with a Virtual Assistant

Effectively manage and motivate a remote Virtual Assistant

Working with a Virtual Assistant remotely has become more common, but unlike “traditional” teams that work in the same physical space, in this case, have the added responsibility of being more proactive and strategic about how they manage and work with their Virtual Assistant.

Understanding the five stages of team development enables you to get started on the right foot, resolve conflicts more smoothly, share information effectively, achieve top results, and then review outcomes to keep finding ways to improve.

It’s one thing to assemble a group of high-performing remote Virtual Assistants and another to get them to work together as a cohesive whole — especially when they’re all behind computer screens in different locations. When your team is remote, you have the benefit of being able to hire the most talented people regardless of where they’re located geographically.

But you have to find a way to make sure that you and your team are aligned and on the same page. All teams develop according to some natural patterns and using that knowledge, you can offer some guidance to build the kind of team that communicates well and finds better ways to collaborate and achieve the goals you’ve established.

Here’s what you need to know: As a way to improve teamwork and help companies become more efficient, researcher Bruce Wayne Tuckman published “Tuckman’s Stages” in 1965. It talked about the four stages of development all teams move through over time: forming, storming, norming, and performing. In 1977, Tuckman and doctoral student Mary Ann Jensen added a fifth stage called adjourning to make it the “five stages of team development.”

We've brought these principles into 2024, into remote work and applied them to working with a Virtual Assistant.

Forming: This is where you first meet your Virtual Assistant. It’s important at this stage that your VA is also given project details and the opportunity to organize their responsibilities.

Storming: At this stage, you and your VA openly share ideas and use this as an opportunity to build on. A good, experienced VA will have a plan in place to make communication easier, and make sure projects stay on track.

Norming: By now, you and your VA have figured out how to work together. Responsibilities and goals are clear. You and your VA work together efficiently because they've learned how to share their ideas and listen to feedback while working toward a common goal.

Performing: There’s a high level of cohesion and trust between the VA and client. The VA is functioning at peak efficiency with less oversight from the client. Issues may come up, but at this point, the client and VA have strategies for resolving problems without compromising timelines and progress.

Adjourning: The VA and client complete their specific project and debrief on what went well and what could be improved for future projects.

Now let’s look at how to use this model to amplify the strengths within your remote Virtual Assistant team so that projects are successful and completed on time.

Forming — Getting projects started Make sure your new VA(s) have quick access to everything they need to get up to speed. Also, carefully planning each phase of a project helps your VA understand their role within the team and what’s expected of them. For example, when you start a new project, your lists of tasks could include the following:

1) A team intro meeting: Have an all-hands meeting to introduce all of the players in your business, so everyone knows where to go for answers. (This is also a good time to clarify which times zones everyone works in so people don’t have to wait an entire day for an answer to important questions.)

2) A skill-set review. It’s one thing for each team member to have a role. It’s quite another for team members to understand what specific responsibilities each person has and how that fits into the larger picture. Full knowledge of the skills that everyone brings to the table, like development, web design, marketing, or product knowledge. This background will help the team solve problems faster and get the right information to the correct person on the first try.

3) A project and outcomes overview: People need to know what’s expected and how they fit into the big picture. Explain what’s expected at intermediate deadlines.

4) A project timeline: Finally, let your VA know how much time they have to work on the project. Break the project into smaller parts and assign timelines to each one. For example, the research stage might take a week or two, while updates to the interface take a month. Be clear on what needs to be accomplished at each checkpoint. 

2. Storming — It’s inevitable, there’s going to be conflict "Conflict is good in a negotiation process... it's the clash of two ideas, which then, all being well, produces a third idea." ~ Luke Roberts. Disagreements are often unavoidable in teams, especially when each person has a different perspective on how to approach the issues the team encounters. When you all work in the same location, it can be easier to hash out problems quickly. On a remote team, you need to be more thoughtful about the tools and the processes that you use to identify and deal with disagreements. When you do find a good solution or process to help resolve difficult situations, make sure you document those immediately. Your VA and/or team can consult this record when future problems arise and make adaptations as needed. Your VA will soon learn that conflict is not to be feared, and that they have the tools to find a productive compromise.

3. Norming — Finding the rhythm When teams work in the same space, it’s easy to see what everyone’s doing. You can physically see and hear progress being made. Hold mid-week progress reports to see if everyone is on track and has the materials they need. Make sure your VA steps back each week to take a look at the larger picture.

4. Performing — High-performance is the name of the game Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, explains high-performing teams this way: “The constants are that high-performing teams have incredible focus and a really shared sense of what their metrics are—meaning not only what they are trying to achieve, but also what success and quality look like. That clarity around vision, success, metrics, and quality allows them to do amazing work.” This is the sweet spot, but it doesn’t come easily. In the performing stage, teams are in sync and work more efficiently together than at any previous stage. A VA and client that have been working closely for some time have resolved enough issues to understand what success looks like for them. For example, success can be anything from higher customer acquisition to a positive shift in the metrics they’re tracking. To get to this point, consistency is key. As a client and leader, one thing you can do is - frankly - stay out of the way. Your VA will waste time and lose their focus if they have to answer frequent, unscheduled questions about what they’re working on. Also, think about what tools can be used. Before committing to a tool, give your VA some time to work with it and test it out to make sure it fits their needs. Lots of tools offer free trials, so use that time to experiment and check its compatibility with other products you use.

5. Adjourning — Success! You made it This is the time for your team to finally step back to see what they’ve accomplished in a particular project. You can work with your VA to take an honest look at what didn't go well and pinpoint where there’s room for improvement. Ask them to prepare examples beforehand outlining what worked and what didn’t. For example, ask your VA  these types of questions to uncover the good and the bad in each project: What would you change about the process? What additional documentation do we need? What kind of support can I offer? Which tools worked best? Which hindered progress? Be flexible and learn as you go. Now, your next project with your VA will go even smoother!

Your VA, acting as your remote team, will go through the 5 stages of team development whether or not they have your guidance, but you can accelerate their progress when you know how to support them along the way. When you can identify which development phase your teams are in, it’s much easier to provide exactly the direction they need so they feel more focused and connected.


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