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5 Lessons I've Learned In Creating a Great Virtual Team and Using a Virtual Assistant

We are so honored to have Carey Nieuwhof today on our blog. Carey is the founding pastor of Connexus Church and author of several books (to learn more, check out Today, he shares tips with us on how to work with a virtual team.


What's the best way to grow your team?

Until a few years ago, the #1 answer was to hire employees. Which usually also meant renting or building an office, buying all the equipment you need and building from there.

That's no longer the only option, and in many instances, it's no longer the default option either.

When I started a blog a few years ago, it was pretty much just me. But as the blog has grown and I've added podcasts, speaking, courses, books and other ways to serve leaders, I've built a team.

I use BELAY (formerly eaHELP) who provided me with a virtual assistant, Sara Horn. I live north of Toronto. She lives in Louisiana. We've only met once in person, but we've been able to forge an incredible working relationship.

Similarly, I have contractors and team members in Canada, Atlanta, Nashville, California and Idaho who all work together to bring you what happens here and on my channels.

BELAY is an entirely virtual company that provides everything from virtual assistants to virtual bookkeeping, to virtual copywriting and web support.

If you aren't already, chances are great that in the future you'll be working with a virtual team. Here are 5 things I've learned about making it run smoothly.

1. Over-Communicate and Over-Clarify

Communication is pretty much everything in any relationship. Just think about marriage, parenting, friendship or even your relationship with God. To be technical, without communication, there is no relationship.

But that's even truer when you're not working in the same room—or even the same city.

Because you don't have the ability to knock on an office door or stop by a cubicle or read body language (see below), you have to work harder on communication.

I always tell my team to never hesitate to ask a question and never hesitate to clarify. I'd rather answer a dozen questions than discover someone has sunk 10 hours into a project only to realize they misunderstood the instructions because I wasn't clear. And let's be honest bosses, we're not always clear.

Over-communicate. Over-clarify. It will only help.

2. Do a Daily and/or Weekly Check-In

I think I know what you're thinking. So in the effort to over-communicate and over-clarify, does this mean my inbox is going to blow up or my phone is going to buzz non-stop?

Well, not necessarily. One of the best practices I've learned in managing a team is to save non-urgent issues for regular check-ins.

For example, instead of sending 10 emails over the day asking many questions that don't require immediate answers, have your team save up the questions and do either a daily or weekly check in. Daily makes sense during a busy season of intense business but weekly can work too. Bottom line: create a running list and deal with it in a phone call or video chat.

Two things will happen. Some of the issues will actually disappear before the check-in. Time saved for everyone. And second, you'll be able to ask a few minutes worth of back and forth questions on an issue, which otherwise would have been 10 back and forth emails and the extra time to deal with.

So whether your check-in is 15 minutes a day or a few hours each week, make sure it happens. It will save you from death by a thousand emails.

3. Video Is Best. Email Is Worst.

If I had to rank ways to communicate with a virtual team, here's how I'd rank them from best to worst:

  1. Video calls. Video calls are the next best thing to being there. Because so much of communication is visual, you pick up facial expressions and nuances that just don't come across other channels. Again, a daily check-in or weekly check-in by video is amazing. We use Zoom and it works great, but there are many other ways to connect as well.
  1. Phone calls. Phone calls are great because communication happens quickly and you can go back and forth in a way you don't when you use text. There's almost always banter (Hey, how are you doing?). Often you joke around a bit and you 'connect' far better than you do through email. Working together is better if you actually build a relationship and enjoy the journey.
  2. Texting. When you're working with your inner circle, texting can be incredibly helpful because it's immediate. It has more back and forth than email. And you can ask questions more easily. Texting should not be abused...just used. But still, it's efficient.
  1. Online communication tools.  There are hundreds of amazing alternative platforms for communication like Slack, Asana or Basecamp that cut down on email. Explore them.
  1. Email. I put email dead last because, well, it's email. Nobody inherently likes email. Yes, you can convey more information in an email than you can in a text. And as much as I try to minimize email, I still send or receive dozens a day (I refuse to be one of those people who sends and receives hundreds... a complete waste of time and of your life).

4. Assume the Best

No matter how much you communicate or what formats you use, there are going to be gaps in communication and mistakes.

So what do you do when you hit a snag?

Resist your natural urge, and assume the best, not the worst.

It's so easy (even automatic) to plunge into worst case scenarios, thinking someone didn't care, wasn't paying attention or meant to mess it up.

Don't go there.

Catch yourself. Stop. Take a breath. And then assume the best.

Maybe you weren't clear. Or maybe your teammate had a tough day. Or maybe your teammate did the right thing and a third party messed it up.

Want a catch-all phrase for gaps in information? Just say to yourself: I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation.

Carry that line into the follow-up conversation with your teammate.

Beginning the conversation with "Hey, the flight didn't get booked. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation. Can you help me understand?" is about 10,000 times better than opening with "What part of book my flight did you not understand....?"

Come to think of it, that's pretty good marriage and life advice too.

5. Celebrate wins

If you want your virtual team to function like a team, share the highs with each other like any good team would.

Any leader can fall into the rut of taking their team for granted, especially if you don't see them in person every day.

So be intentional about celebrating wins. When my podcast hit its first million downloads, we celebrated. I even made sure everyone got a Starbucks gift card. I sent Christmas gifts to my team just to let them know they're valued. And when we had our first successful launch of an online course, we high fived each other through the video cameras.

I know those are little things, but they're big things when you're far apart.

We've had the good fortune of being able to bring the team together a couple of times for dinner...and it's been amazing. Even when team members meet in person for the first time, people connect like they have known each other for a long time because, well... they have.

What Are You Learning?

What are you learning about making a virtual team... a team?


Carey Nieuwhof is a BELAY client and the founding pastor of Connexus Church and author of several books, including his latest best-selling work, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Connect with him at where he blogs about leadership, change and personal growth, and hosts a widely popular weekly leadership podcast.