When we hired a remote worker for the White Water Writer’s project we committed to never having a spoken conversation. It was a sensible move and it made the whole system better.
Because we had made that commitment we were forced to really think about plans before we made them, and to give instruction and training in a clear systematic way. Processes were written, example emails were written, and I also made screencasts of the most difficult parts of the process.
Occasionally a clarification would be needed, but rarely. Our first worker followed the process for the core activities and pursued her own initiative on lots of others.
Here’s the interesting bit. Eventually that person left for a full time job and we recruited a different person, who is also excellent.
Bringing that second person up to speed took a grand total of 20 minutes of my time. Most of that was the finding out about her and the ways she liked to work. The rest ‘Here is the process we use, it has links to the screencasts, the logins are in this file.’
And because we had been quite so careful about documenting, and clarifying and putting instructions on blogs and wikis rather than emails and messages, the new VA was producing (excellent) work with a startlingly low level of support. (It obviously took longer than 20 minutes for her to go through the processes and documents, but not that long).
We should be clear – our remote workers have the authority to change the instructions, or do things differently, and that’s normally for a good reason. The wiki instructions that have been rewritten by three people are definitely better than the ones I wrote originally.
Making that first decision has given us a great many benefits – and I’m hoping that there are more to come – we’ll be adding staff in the near future and I suspect they will welcome the clear processes that they are going to find.