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Real Culture in a Virtual World

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By Kim Shepherd, CEO
With Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

Part 3 In Our Series: Overcoming Virtualophobia Or How We All Went Home and Became a Better Company

In this series I’ve been sharing our experiences, at Decision Toolbox (DT), in making a 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 virtual actually helped us to improve processes). Then check out Part Two for two important strategies for the next step, which is wrapping culture around your virtual team: 1) hire for entrepreneurial passion and 2) get everyone on board.

Here in Part Three I have two more strategies for you to nurture a virtual culture.

3. Ensure no one is an island

One of the biggest challenges for a virtual workforce is the fact that each person works alone 99% of the time. Lots of people — good people — think they can do it. But when push comes to shove, it’s easy for them to feel they’re doing the pushing and shoving all alone.

As CEO one of my main concerns is combatting isolation and loneliness. Fortunately, most of the solutions are fun! For example, at DT we have organized our Recruitment Partners into small groups, or “pods.” On a regular basis each group holds a pod call so that members can share issues, ideas and insights. The Recruiters love it — think coffee klatch.

Ugliest (digital) sweater contests

We also take full advantage of our internal instant messaging (IM) system to promote engagement. One member of our team, Staci Detwiler, has a flair for accounting AND cultural connectedness, and she coordinates events in the IM Break Room, such as Friday Gardening tips. During the holidays she organized an Ugliest Sweater contest . . . online. Recruitment Partner (RP) Cyndi Johnson has published her own cookbook (Cyndi Gets Fresh on Amazon) and shares recipes and tips in the Break Room.

Another RP, Justin Pickens, is also a fitness guru and presents a regular email feature, “DT Healthy Habits.” And in our weekly email newsletter we have a Give Back Bucks feature, allowing team members to vote on a charity organization each month. People have the option of donating to the selected charity directly from their paychecks.

Love-fest among strangers

If you’re thinking, “That’s just like ice cream Fridays in my office,” you’re right . . . except that it’s virtual. And how do I know it works? Every year we have a face-to-face All-Staff meeting, and every year there are people who have never before met except via email and phone. But each All-Staff is like a love-fest among strangers, with lots of hugging and people saying, “Finally I get to meet you!”

Virtual culture isn’t all challenges you have to overcome. There’s upside. For one thing, it helps ensures that people are judged by results, and not by their appearance or personality traits. At DT you can wear a pocket protector and a pair of glasses held together by a Band-Aid® and STILL be a superstar!

4. Measure your culture’s outcomes

Culture is measurable? You bet. Periodically we send out online surveys to test the waters, such as asking what team members liked and disliked about the All-Staff. We use SurveyMonkey (there are others), which helps us create questions with answers that are quantifiable. We also regularly apply for “best place to work” awards that are based on employee input. It’s nice to get the awards, but the detailed survey results are gold.

To quote Sister Sledge, “We are fam-i-ly,” but not by mere chance. Culture takes a deliberate effort and daily attention. But it’s fun! Next up: ten pitfalls to going virtual and how to avoid or overcome them.


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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One Response to “Real Culture in a Virtual World”

  1. June 10, 2014 at 8:37 am, Going Virtual: Wrap the Love Around the Metrics - DecisionToolbox said:

    […] Next up, I’ll cover two more aspects of culture: making sure no one is an island, and measuring it (yes, you can measure culture!). […]


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