virtual collaborationBy definition there are at least two players in every collaborative effort – and this includes business relationships in the virtual world. When it comes to virtual collaboration of a business and a remote support team, there will often be many individuals involved. So, who has the right to expect perfection, the client or the virtual team? Or both? Or neither?

For business owners and entrepreneurs who feel “tech challenged”, virtual support has been a revelation; from IT support to website design and development, those who “have no clue about tech stuff” often find a great deal of comfort from the farming out of such work. Even the relatively simple act of writing a blog post can be an impossible challenge to overcome for some, which makes working with a freelance copywriter a thing of beauty.

And yet, problems can arise: expectations can be set too high, communication can be a problem, and feelings can be hurt due to misunderstandings. After all, many relationships between a client and a virtual support specialist are somewhat anonymous, with email being the most frequent form of communication. Needless to say, much can be lost in translation in an email thread – and has been – to the detriment of both sides.

So, what should each side expect from a virtual support relationship?

When Virtual Collaboration Goes Wrong

A fairly typical example of unrealistic expectations – from both sides of a collaboration that did not work out may prove illuminating.

The Client: An emerging health coach is searching for website development support, including building the site itself, SEO support, and website copywriting support. Unfamiliar with the process of creating a website, the client is asking for extensive guidance and expert support.

Questionnaires are supplied to the client, asking for things like mission and vision, as well as details of the services offered, color scheme preferences, and examples of websites that reflect the look desired. Follow-up calls are made by the team leader, to gather details and clarify the information shared.

Eventually, the client becomes frustrated that the team are “asking too much” and becomes less responsive to email communication efforts. Finally, a call is scheduled between the client and team leader to discuss the problems and the “below par” and “unprofessional performance” of the team.

The VA Team: The project is fairly standard for a diverse VA team, with experienced specialists in graphic and web design, as well as SEO and copywriting support. The team has more than 30 years’ collective experience with projects like this and are eager to get started.

Unfortunately, the client is unclear about many of the details the team needs, often saying “You’re the experts, you tell me what’s best.” Despite fearing problems down the road form this approach (based on experience), the team leader decides to proceed because the client is adamant that the website must be completed ASAP.

As the client begins to “shut down”, the team continues to work while also trying to “force” the client to respond to their email queries, sending drafts, samples, and screen shots of the work they’ve done.

During the call with the client, the VA defends her team and expresses their frustration with the client’s “lack of clarity and communication”, even though they feel as if they’ve been “micro-managed” in certain areas.

The Result: Needless to say, the relationship has become strained and there is very little actual collaboration taking place – from either side. However, money has been spent by the client and hours have been spent by the team, with another payment due. The question must be asked, can the relationship be saved or must both sides write it off as a bad experience and go their separate ways?

Expectations and Standards to Meet

It is a simple fact of human nature that we all have expectations of any relationship – business or personal – and even of ourselves. In fact, without some level of expectation it would be largely impossible to plan for the future, not to mention the need for setting standards of behavior (even minimal standards) that must be met to continue a relationship.

However, unrealistic expectations will nearly always lead to negative outcomes, ensuring both parties will be unhappy in the end. In the case above, the client seemed to expect the virtual team to “know” what was wanted even when it was not clear, while the team expected the client to “know” what was possible, and not possible, without being clearly told up front.

This clash of expectations and unclear standards was obviously the cause of the frustration and decline of what began as an exciting, positive relationship for both sides.

The problem with unrealistic expectation is the result of expecting something to happen without good reasons for that expectation. In the world of psychology, this is known as “magical thinking”; the belief that expecting other people to behave the way we want will actually make them behave that way.

In a virtual collaboration, the expectation that either collaborator will simply “know” what the other needs and/or wants is absolutely unrealistic and will, inevitably, lead to conflict and dissatisfaction – usually for both parties.

What Clients Want from Virtual Support

As the client of a virtual support team, you should always know what your needs are before you seek such support. As the leader of a VA team, you should gather as much knowledge as possible up front, while also explaining the limits of what your team may be able to accomplish for the client.

In  the world of online support, the list of client needs can seem almost endless yet, thanks to a poll of potential VA clients by the folks at VirtualAssistantAssistant.com, we do have some information to fall back on:

Virtual Assistant Industry Statistics – Clients

  • 60% of respondents wanted help with Mini-Projects.
  • 28% of respondents wanted help with Ongoing Support.
  • 7% of respondents were not sure what they wanted help with.

Communication is the key to a successful virtual collaboration between small business owners or entrepreneurs and a virtual support team. This will lead to clarity and realistic expectations from both parties, with standards of performance set at the beginning of the relationship – not after it has fallen apart.

After all, you wouldn’t expect your building contractor to accurately guess the colors of paint you want in each room in the house you’re having built, would you? Just as clarity and communication are critical to owning the house of your dreams, so are they vital to the success of you’re the virtual collaboration you’ve chosen to support your business.

Communication is key.

Click here to read more on How to Manage a Virtual Business Relationship.