How To Run A Virtual Company
Although Yahoo! called everyone back to the office, you might be moving forward with an open, flexible work environment. Perhaps you don’t need all your employees physically present and you want to open the door to talented individuals across the country — or the globe.
Before you act, make sure you know what it takes to succeed as a virtual business.
Your Number-One Challenge: Social Interaction
Many people think the hardest part of transitioning to a virtual work life is learning the art of self-motivation. In reality, people struggle most with the social change. They don’t realize how much they interact with others in the office — or how those conversations break up the workday.
If you’ve hired solid employees, they’ll get their work done in either environment. But they’re not machines. They need personal connection; it’s what makes us human. Social interactions can waste time, but they’re also necessary for motivation.
Closing the Cultural Gap
As you transition, the biggest difference for leadership is the loss of subconscious culture. Leaders have to be intentional about how they communicate and fill the social gap. My companies implemented some tactics to make the change feel less drastic:
- All meetings that can be held via video must be, and you should allot a few minutes at the beginning and end of each meeting for open conversation.
- Send a “feel good” email every Monday. Ours contains personal announcements, such as employee birthdays or vacation photos, along with articles about motivation and happiness.
- Maintain company practices of recognizing accomplishments. Share big successes and milestones in emails and meetings, and recognize those who got you there.
Managing in a virtual environment requires rethinking traditional approaches to management and how those tactics translate over calls, video chats and email.
Key management challenges include:
- Vision casting. Do the vision and company direction “stick” even when management isn’t around? Management needs to find ways to mentor, coach and share its vision in a virtual environment.
- Autonomy. Can employees understand assignments and self-motivate when working remotely? What feedback and review systems need to be in place to help team members self-correct? Is the team empowered to make specific decisions without waiting for supervisor approval?
- Meeting Schedules. Finding the balance between focused work time and meeting time can be challenging in any environment, let alone a virtual one. Set guidelines for the length and space between meetings. You should encourage five-minute meetings driven by agendas, rather than rely on longer, sprawling meetings.
The Art of Simple, Clear Communication
The best virtual teams will learn the importance of packaging the “who,” “what” and “why” of an assignment concisely (e.g., “John needs an article about the history of sword-fighting kittens written and approved by Bob by next Wednesday so we can make it to print in two weeks.”).
This clear communication can reduce friction and clarify details in advance, removing the need for excessive back-and-forth communication. Traditional work communications are plagued by repetitive clarification; virtual teams will relish the time savings of streamlined communication.
Working with Different Personality Types from Afar
A huge factor to keep in mind as you move toward a virtual setting is the difference between tech-oriented people and creative people. To succeed, you need individuals who are self-motivated, and this is even more important in virtual companies.
People with highly technical job responsibilities (developers, programmers, technicians) react differently to tracking their work than those with more creative roles (graphic designers, account representatives, even managers).
The Tech Crowd: Tracking time or task completion makes sense for many tech projects; it helps techies stay motivated throughout lengthy development processes. A large percentage of these workers are introverts who work well alone, and most don’t mind their work being tracked in detail.
The Creative Types: This is where you’ll meet resistance to tracking. When you implement tracking — even logging hours — it interrupts their thought process. The more you track them, the more they feel like drones and the poorer their work is.
The best way to approach tracking with creatives is to focus on results. Face-to-face interactions (including video) help keep them motivated and energized, as many creatives need to bounce ideas off others.
If you have a virtual customer service team, create systems to listen in on representatives’ calls and offer feedback. You can still use customer satisfaction to rate work, but the process should be more involved and intentional.
If you can be completely results-focused for reviews and feedback, that’s great. You can track all employees on your own terms. If you have to bill clients, don’t be afraid to make everyone log hours — just keep in mind that some won’t like it.
If you decide to take the plunge and become a more virtual business, be smart about it. Consider what needs to be done differently and what will remain the same. Make your decisions based on what’s best for your company and team, and you’ll find that going virtual will only make your business stronger.