One of the most common “excuses” I hear not to be a freelancer is the lack of colleagues at the work place. Truth is though, when working online, you can work alone – or as part of a virtual team. Sometimes, you have to speak for hours with other team members. So virtual or not, a team is a team and as a team player, you need to play according to its rules. Here are a few pointers how to fit in a virtual freelance team.
Get acquainted with the work process and existing procedures
If you are a new member of an existing virtual team and you are not hired to be a project manager or some other type of manager, chances are that team already has its structure, work model and communication flow. You will need to find your place in it and fit in.
Find out who is responsible for what, how and in what format you should present your status reports, what the quality requirements are. These and other details are probably well established so you need to get acquainted with the team work procedures and go with the work flow.
Remember to read through all available user manuals for various platforms which are used in the every day work (e.g. project management tools, software programs for screen sharing, document sharing and storage, etc.)
Keep your deadlines for the sake of your freelance team success
When you are working in a virtual team, your work doesn’t stand alone – it is part of a bigger picture. For example:
- programmers await the approved design so they can integrate backend and front-end
- marketing awaits the website to be ready so that they start attracting people to it
- sales awaits marketing to start generating leads so they turn them into sales
- management awaits the sales so they can analyze results and do some prognosis and budgeting for the next period, and so on.
Internal relations between departments and people exist on daily work level, although not everyone knows the entire structure of the company and the communication flow. For that reason, it is super important for every freelancer who is part of a virtual team to keep their deadlines.
Communicate effectively and well
We have already discussed some tips to effective communication with freelance clients. Here we will focus on the communication skills needed to get along with fellow freelancers who are part of your virtual team.
Help your fellow freelance team members when they don’t understand what you want from them. Ask them questions if you are the one who doesn’t understand something.
Be honest – always!
If you have a problem or some kind of issue, speak up and discuss it. Most probably the situation will get worse if you just wait and hope for the best.
If you have made a mistake, share it with your team members so you can fix it together in the best possible way (best being fastest, safest, cheapest, least damaging for the company, or anything else)
Never withhold information. For instance, if you cannot keep your deadline for some reason, tell your team members or supervisor immediately so they can re-organize their work schedule and compensate for your delay. Check out another post in this regards – with some tips to better collaboration when taking up new clients.
Be flexible – for the sake of the virtual team overall success
If a member of the management team or a fellow freelancer in the virtual team asks for a meeting with you to finalize some details – do everything in your powers to accommodate the meeting request as soon as possible. If someone needs a last-minute change – again, act as quickly as possible; time is of the essence when it comes to deadlines and last minute edits.
If a colleague asks you to cover for them or help them – do it; there will be a day when you will be the one asking for a favor.
Be honest and forth-coming, always.
When you are asked a question to which you don’t know the answer – don’t speak fluff. Say you will check and will get back to them with the answer.
Do not take up more work than you can do on time. If you do, word will get out you don’t keep deadlines and in the end, both your reputation and the project will suffer due to overall delay.
Ask for help when you need it. Ask questions if something is not clear.
Be patient but firm
If you work too much without making sure others appreciate you for your efforts, you risk being taken advantage of. There are many people who are good at doing nothing and then – taking the credit for all your hard work. Don’t let that happen to you.
For instance, it’s ok to help a fellow freelancer format a blog post the first time they are doing that in their life. However, it is not ok for you to format the blog post for them only because they are too lazy to learn.
Help others. Be patient. Be firm. Simple rules of virtual team work.
When you refuse something – be firm. When you request something – be firm as well. Never raise your voice or lose your temper when somebody prevents you from doing your job.
Address the problem professionally – with understanding and patience. Try to find a solution together and not despite the colleague who has not done their part of the job.
If needed, ask for assistance your supervisor but never take matters personally. Don’t turn work related obstacles in personal vendetta. This would only worsen the team work and feelings and in no way will help you resolve the situation.
Always the trick of teamwork – how to get your needs met but at the same time value the other members of your team. Some speak up too much; I have to learn not to say yes, yes, yes, when I really mean yes on the condition of X, Y and Z.
Right, saying yes, yes, yes when you have conditions certainly can bring you some inconveniences, Leora 😉 Besides, it all becomes a bit more complex when the team is virtual – because you cannot simply get up and walk to the office of that other person and talk to them about whatever you want to discuss. Team work, teamwork, teamwork 😀
A.K.Andrew @artyyah says
Great information for working in a team – it is so different than working alone. It can get lonely working at home and I do enjoy working with others. Communication is always key, and as Leora says, don’t say yes when you have conditions. I think the other key issue you raised is to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to admit you are unclear on any particular issue. It will only come back at you later if you don’t.
Couldn’t agree more, A.K.Andrew – not sure why so many people think they look stupid or incompetent when asking questions. We should start teaching our children it is ok and encouraged to ask questions when something isn’t clear – maybe then as adults they will ask more questions as well. 🙂
Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) says
I try to be forthright, but that isn’t always easy depending on who I’m working it. When hubby works from home, I’ve often listened in on his conference calls and have learned a lot about being a good communicator by doing so. He’s really good about asking for clarification when needed and also making sure others are on the same page with him. There’s no way I could do what he does, and he rarely gets stressed out.
Practice, practice, practice! I so disagree, Jeri, that you couldn’t do what your hubby does. It is all about practice.
You are an organized person – and that is super important for building habits. It is stressing out when you do something for the first time – you have a lot of questions, you don’t know anything about what you’re doing. The second time gets easier, the third time – even easier. So when you do something for years – it’s pretty much impossible to stress out about something you’ve been doing for years.
Oh, it sounds like i am rumbling. But from what i see and know about you from your blog and comments, Jeri – if anyone can do this – it’s you! Keep at it 🙂
Always communicate to the best of your ability and learn to listen.
Communication and the good kind will keep everything in check and keep progress moving forward.
Thanks for the article!
You’re welcome, Samuel – and thank YOU for your comment. Hope you’ll find more and interesting posts here to help you be better at what you do 😀
Jeannette Paladino (@jepaladino) says
Diana — I have been part of virtual teams, but usually only one or two other people are involved. I am the leader of a virtual team with six members that pitched a major client last month. We’re waiting to see how we do against other teams. But my usual teammates and I had never met the two newcomers. There was a period of adjustment. People have different work styles. You need to adjust to them to maintain harmony otherwise it doesn’t work.
Thanks for sharing a bit about yourself and your process, Jeannette – it is always nice to hear about other virtual team experiences. And you are right – harmony is crucial for the well being of any and every team!
Good luck with that new client – keep my fingers crossed it’s you the client chooses 😀
Debra Yearwood says
Great tips Diana. Working in a virtual team can be more challenging than traditional face to face teams because you miss out on all that critical body language and bonding time. I would add that introducing opportunities to discuss yourselves and not just work helps to cross the divide between stranger and friend. You would be willing to help out a friend or support a close colleague when they run into trouble but would be less likely to step in if a stranger asked for help. The objective of developing a team is to increase productivity or achieve a goal that cannot be achieved alone. In order for a team to be greater than the sum of it’s individual parts team members have to have a vested interest in seeing each other succeed.
You’re right, Debra – helping out a friend or a close colleague is more likely than helping out a “stranger”. I have noticed that in my virtual work world it is pretty similar to what i had in my past offline work world – when i find a good team member, we just click without an effort. And other times – no matter how hard we try to work well with somebody, it just isn’t happening.
But yes, virtual teams tend to be harder at times as it’s hard to hear what they wrote – like tone (are they upset or not), a joke (were they sarcastic or not?) and so on.
Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.com says
I love this post Diana. As hard as it can be at times to be “be patient” is so important. It is one of best things one can do with a virtual group of colleagues. Couple that with being flexible can lead to a wonderful result and group collaboration.
Thanks for your feedback and support, Susan – i am glad you liked the post 😀
Sherryl Perry says
You’ve done an excellent job of outlining the essentials of working on any team virtual or in person.
Samuel mentioned communication and that is especially important when working virtually. Without visual cues, (like smiles, winks and nods), words can sometimes be misconstrued. So, it’s extremely important to keep that in mind.
Write . . . Read . . . Edit . . . and then click to submit. 🙂
so so so true, Sherryl – we sometimes forget to do the read and edit part, that’s for sure. and in the long run – it does save a lot of time and energy in back and forth emails with questions what did you mean, did you really want to say that, and of the sort. Thanks for the addition!
This is very informative thank you so much am learning so much
You’re welcome, Angela – thanks for reading my blog. I hope it will help you more and more in the future 😀