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Overcoming Virtualophobia Or How We All Went Home and Became a Better Company

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By Kim Shepherd, CEO
With Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

Part One: Laying the Virtual Workforce Foundations

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer dealt a huge blow to the progress toward the virtual workforce about a year ago, when she banned her employees from telecommuting. It makes no sense to me. If you want to build airplanes, you have to be in the hangar, but if you want to build Internet services, you shouldn’t need more than a computer and an Internet connection. Personally I think she did it as a headcount strategy — she slashed headcount and morale in one blow.

Whatever the reason, Mayer’s decision fed into the biggest obstacle for anyone considering a virtual workforce: fear. It made a lot of CEOs say, “If Yahoo! can’t do it, there’s no way WE can do it.” Best Buy, for example, cancelled their work-from-home option shortly after Yahoo! did. CEOs fear it because they think they can’t measure what they can’t see. Turns out we measure better now that we’re virtual — more on that below.

You Already Have the Technology

Mayer said people can’t collaborate if they’re not face-to-face. Wrong! CEOs are already collaborating virtually with the CFO, COO, CIA, CPA, CCCP, and every other C. Sure, they’re right in an office right next door, but they’re not face-to-face. They email and IM each other all the time! They’re already using the technology that makes virtual collaboration possible.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake to create a virtual workforce that works. At Decision Toolbox (DT) we’ve been 100% virtual for years. The bottom dropped out of the market following the tragedy of 9/11, and dozens of companies in our space simply quit and went home. We went home, but we didn’t quit!

There aren’t any guidelines or manuals out there about how to do this, so I thought I would share some of DT’s learnings. It has made our company stronger, our people happier, and our bottom line more robust.

Prairie Dogging Isn’t Supervision

First and foremost you need to create two things: metrics and culture. Here’s the part about measuring better. There in your sticks-and-bricks office, you see your Recruiting team at their desks, on the phone and clicking away at their computers. They look sharp in designer suits and the latest hairstyles. A simple glance into their cubicles and you’ve effectively measured their performance, right? Maybe. Or maybe they’re chatting with a spouse about dinner or playing Words with Friends. Sticks and bricks can blind you.

But numbers don’t lie. Numbers don’t play Words with Friends (but it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t tried it!). You need to establish your overall metrics first, and then tie individual key performance indicators to it. For me, the overall metrics are the 3 Ps: individual Performance, group Productivity and company Profit.

Virtual Mother of Invention

At DT we monitor our Recruitment Partners (RPs) online, along six KPIs that include customer satisfaction surveys, days to find the candidate who is hired, repeat business and others. The RPs are paid by the project, and assignments are made based on KPI scores (and other considerations). Not only does this arrangement incentivize the RPs, but it also gives our leadership team real-time insight into performance. I’ll wager that few CEOs have this kind of insight. And we never would have created this sophisticated tool if we weren’t virtual.

Now that you have your metrics tools, you can wrap the love around the whole thing to support, develop and retain your talent . . . from a distance. Creating and maintaining the culture has to be a deliberate and proactive effort. As CEO my biggest concern is NOT pulling more money through the door. It’s how to improve our culture.

In Part 2 of this blog series I’ll dive deeper into nurturing that culture. It’s a living, growing thing, like a garden. And, like a garden, you can’t just plant it and ignore it. But we’ve watered and tended our culture with TLC, and it has paid off: we don’t have 100% retention, but we have darn close to 100% retention of the people we want to keep.

For more tips on taking your company virtual, download a free copy of Kim’s eBook “The Bite Me School of Management”

Connect with Kim on Twitter and LinkedIn.

To learn more about Decision Toolbox, please contact us – we’d love to hear from you!

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Inside the Box will share the secrets of life long happiness….not really, but we will provide you with some great talent acquisition articles and tips that will hopefully make your working life better. You’ll also get the inside scoop on DT.

7 Responses to “Overcoming Virtualophobia Or How We All Went Home and Became a Better Company”

  1. May 27, 2014 at 10:40 am, Jay Barnett said:

    I love this post, Kim. When I chat with people about our structure, they sometimes wonder if “tracking everything” makes people feel less appreciated as humans. The irony is that metrics are the best friend of a team member who is engaged in what s/he is doing and where the company is going. And that is the foundation of our culture.


  2. May 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm, Dr. Tom Janz said:

    Great article. I like both the content and the style. There is just so much PC talk these days it about makes me want to vomit. I met Kim at an ERE when I was with Kevin Wheeler, my long term collaborator. I got to know Jeff Bloch pretty well back then, but we have fallen out of touch more recently. I would like to share an upcoming blog/column coming out in the launch of The HRIS World in the next week. It is titled: “The cost of ignorance when selecting selection systems: A New Age Case Study.” Please have Kim or Jeff reach out via my email or cell number (on the Contact Us page of our website–


    • May 27, 2014 at 2:19 pm, Kelly Graham said:

      Thank you, Dr. Janz. We appreciate the feedback very much and I have passed along your request to Kim and Jeff. All the best, Kelly


  3. June 02, 2014 at 8:03 am, Going Virtual: Wrap the Love Around the Metrics - DecisionToolbox said:

    […] been virtual for years and I’ve been sharing what’s worked and what hasn’t. In Part One I wrote that the first step is to establish and track metrics. The next step needs to come right on […]


  4. June 10, 2014 at 8:30 am, Real Culture in a Virtual World - DecisionToolbox said:

    […] virtual workplace work. If you’re thinking about taking your company virtual, have a look at Part One to get some ideas about the first step: establishing and tracking metrics (including how going […]


  5. July 01, 2014 at 7:34 am, Transforming Pitfalls to Profits in a Virtual Company - DecisionToolbox said:

    […] workplaces can and do work, but not just by sending everyone home. In this series I’ve been writing about what’s worked for us at Decision Toolbox (DT), since […]


  6. July 09, 2014 at 6:45 am, 5 More Ways to Transform Pitfalls to Profits in a Virtual Company - DecisionToolbox said:

    […] work, and we’ve become a better and stronger company for it. In the first four parts of this series I shared a lot of what we learned in the process — it’s not hard, but it takes effort […]


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