It’s been an emerging trend. More and more companies are giving up office buildings and working from home or client locations. Our firm has been 100% virtual for 11 years now. And we’ve learned a few things. Now with the Covid-19 crisis, companies are being thrown into this model. Here are our top 3 areas to address to provide the best chances for your people, business and culture to continue to grow in a virtual company environment:
People need people. Not having an office that centralizes your people doesn’t diminish the fact. So, at every opportunity – 1:1’s with employees, group meetings, customer interactions – use video conferencing. We’ve used SKYPE and GoToMeeting but have settled on ZOOM. Reasons are simple: It works (have never had glitches in audio or video due to the platform), and it doesn’t require an account to participate (the ZOOM account owner just sends a link to anyone, and they are part of the meeting without elaborate downloads or account set-up). Also, with a modern OS on your Mac or PC, ZOOM allows you to have a virtual (professional!) background, without using a green screen. And finally, an added benefit that you DON’T get in your office conference room is that meetings can easily be recorded and reviewed by missing attendees. We use the collaboration platform Bloomfire to post and share rich media such as ZOOM meeting recordings.
It’s super important to share and celebrate successes in a virtual company environment. Your people need to hear encouraging words and wins and be provided the opportunity to chime in with congratulations. New customer? Send a note to everyone (hint: may put whole company in the bcc: field so Reply Alls don’t bury everyone in emails). Special recognition? Send an email. Company in the news? Send an email. It’s not too much to send several a day.
For regularly scheduled meetings – company-wide or with a consistently meeting group – start the meeting with some form of good news (see EOS/Traction process). In our company, we start with photos including personal updates (new grandchild, graduation, anniversary, travel pics), as well as photos from client meetings or company meetups. We also ask our team (we call it a Tribe) for individuals they’d like to recognize. And we spend 5-10 minutes after photos in each staff meeting sharing stories of how one person or group helped another. It’s terrific.
Relying on digital communications – especially email – can be risky. After all, don’t we get enough email? Why should we entertain the notion of OVER communicating? While it’s true we are buried with gobs of content in emails, texts and more from all sorts of sources in our business environment, the thing we often don’t get is a consistently executed message. One that’s reinforced time and again. It starts at the top. And can be imitated and replicated throughout an organization. Communicating internally is one thing. Spending less face time with our clients or customers requires us to communicate consistently, with relevant and timely messages, externally. This is an opportunity to be helpful. No one needs more fodder in their inboxes. But everyone needs help, advice, and useful information. This is a time to be MORE valuable to your employees and customers, not an annoyance.
We are all having to make changes in our business operations models right now. Some of the learnings from this challenging period have the potential of changing how we do business – with each other, and with our clients – in very positive ways that will continue to drive the growth of our companies and our cultures. It’s up to us as business leaders to try, and learn, and adapt, and carry forward the very best.