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5 More Ways to Transform Pitfalls to Profits in a Virtual Company

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By Kim Shepherd, CEO
With Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

Part 5 In Our Series: Overcoming Virtualophobia Or How We All Went Home and Became a Better Company

At Decision Toolbox (DT) we’ve made the virtual workplace 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 and focus.

Here in this final part I’ll continue responding (I started in Part Four) to some of the biggest concerns people have — some are unfounded, but some are true pitfalls for a virtual company. We’ve had to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off more than once along the way! Hopefully you can take advantage of our experience to design your own virtual workplace.

6. Informal connections will weaken.

In my mind this is the biggest potential pitfall for a virtual company. See part two for more about creating a virtual culture that will replace the water cooler chats. But here are a couple of things that have worked for us. Each of our Recruitment Partners is a member of a “pod,” a team of four or five who meet weekly via conference call to share ideas, insights and issues. They help one another solve problems, effectively providing peer-to-peer supervision.

7. Formal communication channels will break down.

Your customers are virtual. They don’t sit in an office down the hall. Yet you have effective formal communications channels with them, right? In the transition to virtual, the old communication channels may, in fact, break down, but you’re already good at building better and stronger ones. Some of the channels we’ve designed include a weekly News Flash (every issue available via archive) that includes a variety of information.

Our team members also can submit a virtual “order” for assistance and resources arrive real time. Our fabulous IT team created a “loops” space, a little like a chat room, in which people can share ideas and comments on specific topics. Recruiting Machine, our ATS/CRM/ERP, lets people know when they need to be in the loop on something.

8. Team productivity will fall.

As I wrote in Part Two, start by hiring passionate and self-motivated people. But we’ve come up with some great tools for monitoring productivity at a distance. Each Recruitment Partner, for example, has a Calibration Dashboard that shows her or his KPIs. They know where they need to focus their efforts. In addition, they log their hours, and their calls and email activity are recorded in Recruiting Machine. We can see who’s working at 6 AM and who’s working at 11 PM. It may look like micromanagement, but it’s not: our people manage themselves better than a boss ever could.

9. How can I monitor financial performance?

Is your Controller in your office all the time now? Of course not. You’re already getting information via virtual channels (email, phone, IM). So now look at streamlining those channels (accountants LOVE to streamline!). We all need MORE, not less reporting. If you have an ERP system, you should have fingertip access to information; I have a financial dashboard that gives me real-time access to as much information as I want — when I want it. Imagine not having to wait for a monthly report from your CFO!

10. How will I maintain the company identity?

Another important area. You need tools, processes and “cultural artifacts” to reinforce your company’s identity and vision — especially for new employees. If you’re already thinking “internal branding,” you’re a step ahead of me. This should be part of your culture, and for more on culture, see my whitepaper, “Ignore Culture at Your Peril.” But one way we help new employees get up to speed quickly is by sharing my book with them: The Bite Me School of Management: Taking a Bite Out of Conventional Thinking. It’s not about DT, per se, but it underscores the importance of taking an unconventional approach by design — a key element of DT’s identity.

Enough from me! What are your thoughts? What’s worked for you? We’d love for you to share with us, below.

 

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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