Liaison is a funny word.  In my mind, it conjures up images of some secretive character from a James Bond flick.  But for many businesses, there’s nothing funny or secretive about a virtual liaison’s role.  As more companies rely on blended teams, a virtual liaison can be crucial to the success or failure of your outsourcing program.

What’s a Virtual Liaison?

How to Manage Online WorkersBefore I answer this question, allow me to tell you a story.  Early on in my virtual career, I had a client who wanted to formalize his company’s HR policies and procedures.  He informed me that he hired an offshore company (we’ll call them HR Widget, Inc.) to work on the project.  A few weeks went by with no updates.  The client began to get worried about the project and decided to take a look at HR Widget, Inc.’s oDesk screenshots.  To the client’s surprise, HR Widget, Inc. was in the process of developing a 100-page Word document that provided very little value.  The bad news was that HR Widget, Inc. had already billed my client countless (non-refundable) hours.  What a waste!

What can we learn from the previous example?  In short, projects can quickly get out of control without the proper oversight.  A virtual liaison is typically a member of your in-house staff whose job is to ensure oversight, quality, and accountability from your outsourced workers.

A virtual liaison can help ensure oversight, quality, and accountability from your outsourced workers.

Job Description of a Virtual Liaison

So…you’re ready to hire a virtual liaison who can bridge the divide between your in-house and outsourced staffs.  Now what?  Let’s start by defining this person’s role and necessary skill sets.  Below are a few good ones to consider:

Duties

  • Help Define New Projects – A major cause of the nightmare example cited above was that the project was never clearly defined.  Your virtual liaison needs to be instrumental in thinking through and documenting every detail of a new outsourced project.
  • Build & Track Budgets – Every project should have a predefined budget.  In many cases you can use oDesk task codes to help organize the specifics of each project’s outlay.
  • Coordinate Outsourced & In-House Needs – Perhaps one of the most overlooked job duties, the virtual liaison serves as the “eyes and ears” of the off-site team members.
  • Manage Projects – It is important to keep projects moving forward with respect to time, quality, and budgetary expectations.  Using tools like Freedcamp and Google Docs can help facilitate these goals.
  • Hold Staff Accountable – Although the oDesk time tracking tool provides great clarity into how contractors are spending their time, you need someone who is routinely checking the work logs.  Here are some red flags to look for:  no time billed, consistent maxing out of billable hours, working on other clients’ projects, lack of progress being made, and unethical billing practices (such as personal activities on Facebook).
  • Identify New Staffing Requirements – As projects and staffing evolve, you may need to fire certain contractors or hire new ones.  The virtual liaison should be the front line for identifying such needs.

Required Skills

  • Detail Oriented – It’s been said many times, but the devil is in the details.  Find a person who can manage multiple projects without losing site of the bigger picture.
  • Committed Learner – Your virtual liaison should be willing to try new things and learn from his or her experiences.  This will ensure your team is always evolving and moving toward a better end result.
  • Good Communicator – As the “eyes and ears” of your virtual team, it is imperative that the virtual liaison be an effective communicator.
  • Open Minded – Managing a team of outsourced / off-site workers is still a relatively new discipline.  Things continue to change rapidly in this field.

The Payoff

Think of it this way…why do you leverage the power of the online workforce for your business?  You do so to find efficiencies, reduce overhead, and tap into a talented pool of workers.  By investing in a virtual liaison, you can give your blended team the resources it needs to be successful.

Executive in Sweatpants is the book (published November 2012) from marketer and author Matt Keener.  The book is a how-to guide for launching and growing a successful work-from-home consulting business.  Sign up to receive future blog postings and news sent directly to your email inbox.  Learn more about buying the book.

Written by Matt Keener

Matt Keener is the original "Executive in Sweatpants," having built a successful online consulting business (from home). His best-selling book offers tips for capitalizing on outsourcing and freelancing. Matt holds an MBA and has been featured by many recognizable brands, including Upwork (formerly oDesk), Elance, Insightly, the Dave Ramsey Show, and Entrepreneur.com.

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