Administrative and professional staffs play a vital role in the success of any business, especially in churches. Technology is changing business practices around the world and the emergence of a virtual workforce is creating new opportunities. This technology enables this new way of working and brings to life the possibility of a virtual church office. Many churches have or are beginning to explore this option.
Virtual Office Space
Church offices are frequently a place of both business and sanctuary, where office staff members do their work and pastors receive guests and hold meetings. Some churches may not have offices of their own or staff for various reasons. Regardless, the business of the church must continue and there are now ways to do it with the help of virtual employees. Some pastors opt to work from home, from Starbucks, or from flexible co-working offices. As the church staff needs grow over time, virtual staff, sometimes called distributed staff, can work together in new and flexible ways.
For us, the need for an assistant in my leadership was evident,” shares Pastor Jeff Maness of Element Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “We were already looking into adding an assistant to our staff when this opportunity arose. Our church had grown at the time to a place where I needed someone to help manage my calendar, email, blog, etc.”
Virtual work is booming around the world and many organizations employ remote workers for IT, graphic design, social media, administrative, and accounting positions. And this is just the beginning. Statistics show this distributed workforce is growing globally and there are no signs of slowing.
Churches may need or choose to hire employees who work remotely for various reasons too, including lack of office space or wanting to hire a professional for a specific task or project rather than for a full or part-time position. Churches may also want to offer existing employees (like working parents) a flexible schedule so they can work from home.
Church planting is another unique situation where working virtually may be a necessity. Without a church building or office space, employees and church planting teams will likely be working remotely and meeting in alternate locations anyway. This type of experience can quickly show how working remotely and having a virtual office can be successful. Home offices, coffee shops, and libraries are free spaces where employees and teams can conveniently meet and work. This flexibility allows projects to move forward and employees to be productive from anywhere there is Wifi and cell phone service. This is the work environment of today.
Traits of a Virtual Employee
Modern professionals are likely trained and comfortable with the digital tools that make working outside of a traditional office space possible and smooth. Email, cloud-based software, video conferencing, and project management tools keep today’s employees connected to their work whether at the office or at home. Virtual employees may be full or part-time employees or hired for specific projects. Whatever the case, these employees are well trained to move and flow with this new, more flexible way of working while also remaining productive.
Our virtual employees seem to get more done in less time,” says Pastor Jeff. “The benefit they have brought to our ministry has been amazing. I mean it when I say that we couldn’t do what we do without them.”
Pastor Jeff admits that there are distractions that come with working in the virtual workplace, but his experience with virtual employees is that “they are pretty locked into the tasks at hand.” Element Church has been employing virtual assistants and bookkeepers since 2011.
In addition to being tasked oriented, he also sights the cost-effectiveness of working with virtual assistants as a key benefit. These employees typically work as independent contractors and are exempt from payroll taxes and employee benefits. This can be a very important cost-saving feature for churches on a budget.
Church management in a virtual environment is enhanced by software that helps teams and employees track time, create and manage projects, and communicate efficiently. Cloud-based church management software and project management platforms are flexible and essential tools to keep teams working efficiently, on schedule, and from any location. Staying connected and engaged in projects is especially important for virtual employees and their employers.
Weekly in-person, phone, and video check-in meetings are simple ways to build healthy and successful working relationships while staying on top of tasks and deliverables.
There are many tech tools like Slack, Asana, Basecamp, and Trello that help virtual teams with communications, task management, and projects. Other ways to keep remote teams connected are private Facebook groups, weekly videos, webinars, virtual parties or hangouts. These activities use technology to bring people together and build community. They can also help combat some of the loneliness or disconnect that remote workers may feel from time to time.
There are many benefits to hiring virtual workers, but the main one may continue to be flexibility. Every employer is hoping to find the best person for the job, whether it is a full, part-time, or contract position. Hiring virtual employees opens churches up to a world filled with qualified candidates who are eager and ready to work. This can be especially helpful in the hiring process.
Recent data shows that over 50 percent of employers are having trouble finding qualified candidates and are losing precious time during long job postings. This is leading employers to embrace more flexible hiring methods. All trends point to a significant increase (over 150 percent) in the amount of work done by “flexible talent” in the coming years too.
Social media management, graphic design, web development, and audio/video editing are thriving industries and are much-needed services that churches can utilize a virtual workforce to complete. These are also project-based tasks that employees can be hired to do on a contract basis. Contractors save businesses time and money due to their expertise and because they manage their own taxes and benefits. Churches can hire skilled virtual employees to manage their entire operation or on a projects basis for those tasks that their current office staff may not have the time or the skill-set to accomplish.
At Element Church, Pastor Jeff also found that hiring onsite employees and virtual employees were “similar in the budgeting phase, but much different in the selection phase.” Since his introduction to the world of virtual employees, Pastor Jeff has worked with BELAY, a virtual staff agency, to hire his virtual staff.
In the hiring process with BELAY, we didn’t interview multiple candidates for the job,” he explains. “They basically presented us with our assistant and we hit the ground running.”
BELAY is a US-based, virtual solutions company, with over 600 team members that all work remotely.
Pastors lead busy professional lives, and their responsibilities are as pressing and varied as those of a company CEO,” shares Bryan Miles is CEO & Co-founder of BELAY. “Now is the time for busy pastors to join their executive peers and put virtual assistants to work so they can focus on their primary mission: tending to the spiritual needs of their church and the community.
Churches can also benefit from employing a combination of onsite and virtual employees. Offloading tasks onto a virtual assistant or contractor can free up onsite staff to be more responsive and attentive to the needs of the church office, visitors, and members. So what are the drawbacks to hiring virtual employees?
Effective employee management is essential to the success of any business. Managing virtual employees requires skill, organization, patience, and expert communication. The upside is that virtual employees are typically very independent and already skilled in their specific trade, so they are likely to be more able to complete tasks or projects faster than an onsite employee who is trying to learn a new skill or who is adding another task to their workload.
Freedom is at the top of the list of benefits that virtual employees love. Employers will also have to consider what this type of freedom means to their own workflow. It may be great from the start or require some adjustments to business as usual. Pastors or church staff will have to actively manage and oversee the relationship with the virtual employee, which can bring benefits and is often time well spent. Time management and clear communication are important to this process.
Billy Graham Rule
When planning and navigating employer-employee workflow many pastors also use the ‘Billy Graham Rule’ to help inform their working style. This rule is part of the Modesto Manifesto that was adopted in 1948 during a series of meetings where Graham and three other evangelical leaders set forth a code of ethics around “financial integrity, sexual morality, publicity and partnership with the local church.”
Many pastors continue to follow this philosophy and virtual employment offers an interesting opportunity to address the concerns around sexual morality in particular. The core of this principle is to “avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion” and includes the vow not to work, eat, meet with or travel alone with any female other than one’s own wife.
We have a standard on our staff of not being alone with a member of the opposite sex,” explains Pastor Jeff. “This wasn’t the initial reason we went virtual, but it soon became apparent that it was a great benefit.”
Pastor Jeff also sees other positives aspects of working with virtual assistants.
An added benefit for us was the integrity and accountability it brought to the relationship,” explains Pastor Jeff. “We place a very high priority on integrity and accountability on our staff. While you can live with integrity and accountability with an onsite assistant, we knew that having an assistant who lived across the country would only heighten that positive aspect of the position.”
The Future is Now
Virtual work, creating virtual offices, and hiring remote employees may seem very strange to some and very normal to others. What it is and what it does can be a revolutionary and also comforting tool for small and large churches alike.
My Executive Assistant has been with us for almost eight years and our Bookkeeper has been with us for four years,” says Pastor Jeff. “I can’t imagine doing ministry without our virtuals.”
Whatever position your church is in with managing office tasks, administrative projects, accounting, marketing, web design or anything else, just know that there are a huge number of trained professionals equipped to help you. They are just a click away.