Training Virtual Workers – Specifically, Creative Types


Creative types have a bad name in business. They are the ones that get too emotional or can’t perform when the mood isn’t right. I’ve never heard of an accountant missing deadlines because they couldn’t get “in the groove.”

However, all is not lost. You can still train creative types and other virtual workers; you just have to know how to approach them.

The following are some approaches and things to keep in mind with each of them.

1)     Videos/Seminars/Workbooks – aka, the corporate method

I’ve had plenty of jobs and all of them had an extensive training regimen. Obviously created by the top tier of corporate to ensure I was fully trained and that they, well, covered their you know what’s.

Burger King, Petco, heck even Fantastic Caverns had a full training course of workbooks, videos, seminars and more. Some were better than others, but it was still a lot of info that I couldn’t relate to. And I’m one of those sit in the front, need to be the teacher’s pet types. I can’t imagine how much information was lost on my not near as promising peers.

You can take this route with creative types if you wish, but if you do, here are things you’ll want to consider.

–        Have some sort of tracking feature to ensure all videos have been watched till the end. If possible, embed pop quizzes throughout videos that the person cannot see by moving the slider alone.

–        Have a scheduled follow-up conversation with each individual and let them know ahead of time about the appointment. You can do this as a group, but make sure to ask questions to each individual.

–        If possible, give your creative types a way to repeat things back to you in their chosen medium. For writers, tell a story and ask how it would end. For graphic artists, have pictures for them to fill out.

2)     Trust but confirm – aka, the nice or lazy method

Nobody likes to be the bad guy, but a job needs to be done. Too often companies will just send a ton of info and then a follow-up email, if that.

There are a lot of moving parts when working virtually. And it is more than just separating yourself from Facebook during work hours. Especially for those people who are working virtually for the first time, it is important to have follow-up conversations on the phone or consistent daily check-ins. Unlike a typical office where you can see over a cubicle wall, a virtual worker could be pulling their hair out for hours without saying a peep. Communication is important enough in a typical office; it is life or death in the virtual world.

For creative types, here are the items to pay special attention to:

–        It’s best to give creative types more flexibility in their schedule, but don’t go overboard. I tell my writers to have X amount of words in each 24-hour period. That way they can work at 2am or 2pm but still get the job done. In general, the more mini-deadlines you give the better.

–        Recognize the emotional connection to their work. Creative types are much more emotionally attached to their work; keep this in mind when you are training and giving feedback. If an accountant does a spreadsheet wrong, they feel about it differently than a writer who didn’t do a blog correctly or a graphic artist who didn’t get a logo right.

–        Force over-communication. Mention the need for over-communication during the interview and throughout training. Check in with any creative types you haven’t heard from in the last 24 hours. This is a hard skill to learn so be assertive in expressing how important it is.

3)     Pinpoint Weaknesses and Make Them Strengths – aka the family method

I personally adore this method because it is catered to each individual. Of course, the obvious drawback to this method is scalability. You can’t train 200 people this way, and that’s why it is 100% different than the corporate method. The only corporation I know of that does the family method incredibly well is Marriott and so I will be using them throughout this section.

This method starts with the interview when you identify weaknesses. Then, build their experience with you on those weaknesses. The corollary to this method is to give people enough room to impress you.

For example, I might hire a writer that has extensive writing experience but has never done journalistic writing. That person is my new “breaking news” writer. Or, the person might be a great research writer but struggles with creativity. That person’s new job is to build a manual on headlines. They know how to research, so they can research all the components and they are learning what I need them to learn along the way.

Can you see how this is more effective then giving a handbook about how to write a headline?

The reason this is the family method is two-fold. One, it lends itself to a smaller unit of people that need to work together. Two, it provides a sense of community along with ownership.

Do I fondly look back at my time with Marriott because I had a cool job or I got to work in a fancy hotel? No, I look back on that time with a smile on my face because Marriott strives to give ownership to all of their associates. When you walk into a Marriott for work, you feel like a part of their community. You feel valued and as if you were a part of the Marriott family. And for the record, it was a really cool job!

How to achieve the sense of community and family ownership in a virtual environment:

–        Provide access to your community. You can do this by sharing your personal anecdotes, having group meetings, sharing common interests of other team members, etc.

–        Invest in your team member’s dream. I can’t tell you how flattered I was when Case Spencer (then Marriott Supervisor) asked me about how my work schedule was fitting in with my school schedule. He seemed genuinely interested that my education took priority over my job. If your writer or artist has a dream, give them those tools or resume fodder to get them to that place.

–        Invite your team member to your off hours stuff. Corporate America has tons of rules against hanging out after hours; you probably don’t. Enjoy that. In a virtual world, this might mean having your team members on your Facebook or inviting them to a MMORPG event.

–        Give credit as much as possible. This means sending out a mass email just to tell the group about a new guide or project or whatever and adding in how one awesome team members made it happen.

Working virtually is the new way to do things. It’s cheaper, it’s faster, and it is more flexible than anything else out there. BUT, it isn’t an automatic transition for the company or its employees. You have to make certain allowances and create some unique buffers in order to get work done.

Creative types are taking the world by storm as well, as they should. I love hiring people that can do things I can’t; who think differently than me and live fantastic, creative lives. Little do they know how much they make my life so much more enjoyable!

Do you have any tips for creative types that work virtually?

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Amie Marse is the founder of Content Equals Money. She lives in Lexington, KY with her two dogs: Billie and Lily. She has been writing content for her web based clients since 2005. She launched Content Equals Money in Oct of 2010, home of conversion focused content writing services. She loves to chat about small business development and how to make content equal money!

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