If everyone on your team worked in the same location, you’d probably install a coffee maker or kitchenette where your workers could catch up on the latest. You’d wave and stop for a chat when you saw each other (which is often), and be sure you asked about each other’s children, pets, hobbies, etc.
But as a business owner managing a virtual team, none of the above is available to help facilitate team bonding. Your challenge is to look past physical distance and still create a cohesive and conscious virtual culture – a company culture tailored to the needs of your virtual business and remote employees. So how do you do it?
Focus on Values
Company culture doesn’t evolve on its own – it is something that needs to be built. Virtual culture begins with awareness – a conscious decision to infuse the way you work with your company’s core values – and making the conscious decision to define your values from the start, to hire based on them, and to work every day to uphold them. They are the bedrock of your business culture, and ultimately your business success.
Here’s an example. At Worldwide101, one of our core values is kindness and respect. While it may seem a bit touchy feely, we attribute a big piece of our business success to the way this value influences our company culture and all our decisions. It’s a major influence in the way we hire, which has a roll on effect to the way our team work with and support our clients. Likewise, it has a major impact on who we attract and accept as clients, and therefore the experience and job satisfaction of our team. See the circle? Through this value, our aim is that everyone that engages with Worldwide101, either as a client or as a team member, has a win-win experience. And yes, more satisfaction = more business.
Above All Else Virtual Culture Starts at Hiring
Virtual hiring for culture fit has a leg up in that you aren’t restricted by location. You can truly seek out people from anywhere who you believe are a true blue fit for your company. The hiring process for a virtual employee is different than a traditional employee, but company culture must still come into play. Remember, your team will make or break your business, both operationally and in how your customers perceive your company. Your virtual employees must share your company’s values and let them shine through in their actions.
Tips to Building a Virtual Culture
As you define your values, your company culture will develop to support those values. To give you a jump start on creating a successful virtual culture, here are four tips (and a few examples from successful companies and entrepreneurs):
1. Set up regular video meetings. Face-to-face conversation, even via video chat, is far superior to a phone call. Schedule regular video chats to touch base with remote employees and check in on operations, like author and entrepreneur Mike Michalowicz (The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and The Pumpkin Plan), who uses Skype to virtually tour his manufacturing shop and touch base with the shop’s manager. Try investing in some meeting skills workshops that can help you learn how to make them most productive – even virtually.
2. Focus on Measuring Results and Setting Clear Goals. One of the most important aspects to a thriving and successful virtual company culture is setting very clear goals milestones timelines, and focusing your management strategy on direct results.It can be difficult for someone who’s never run a virtual office to suddenly have no visual insight on employees from day to day, but rest assured remote workers have been proven in numerous studies to be more productive and more focused than traditional in-office employees. If you are worried about output, try looking into team productivity training at different intervals to be sure everyone is on the same page about expectations.
3. Get people Talking. Consider giving your employees a forum to chat casually, as they would across an office or lunchroom table, Slack is great for this. Private social networks like Yammer are also an excellent medium, used by small teams like Heyworks to organize group conversations, but also to share links, videos, and friendly conversation.
4. And above all, choose the right talent. The right people—that are committed to your values and to working virtually, and it will all feel effortless.
As the leader of your company, implementing your virtual culture starts with you, and it’s too important to ignore. Use the tips above to help you build out your plan, and watch the fruits of your labor help grow and define your business.
By Sandra Lewis
Sandra Lewis is the founder of Worldwide101, a premium virtual assistant company connecting demanding founders and executives with highly skilled, meticulously matched help. You can connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.