As digital technologycontinues to advance, more and more companies are going virtual. Viral contentleader UpWorthy, for instance, has over 100 employees distributed around theglobe. WordPress continues to thrive with a 100% remote workforce.

Mozilla haspeople working in more than 30 countries.Going virtual means exposing the company to newchallenges and risks. The nature of the non-workplace makes it difficult foremployees to form genuine connections with one another. Communication pipelinesbreak down and productivity suffers.

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To combat these issues, virtual companies need to createand maintain a strong company culture.Company culture is loosely defined as a shared set ofpassions and values. It also reflects the relationships of its team members andtheir interactions with each other. Workplaces with strong company cultures seehigher employee engagement, productivity, and happiness. Their employees sharea common purpose, and strive toward the same goals.Organizations with a high focus on company culture have a13% job turnover rate, while companies with low focus have a 48% turnover rate.

A strong company culture is important in any workplace,but it is imperative in a virtual one.Advantages of BeingVirtualCompanies choose to be virtual for a variety of reasons.The CEO might embrace the flexibility that the non-workplace offers. Geographicmovement is not restricted and alternative workweek arrangements are moreviable. Virtual companies also save significant costs by forgoing office space,and their employees save money on things like transportation and food.Perhaps the biggest advantage of going virtual is thatcompanies are not limited in their hiring.Lucy Suros, EVP of Brand and Content for the e-learningcompany Articulate, recalls how the companycame to be.”When the CEO started this company, at the verybeginning, he was looking for the premier expert in a certain thing, and thatperson happened to be in India.

“Another highly skilled candidate also happened to be aplane ride away. Rather than settle for a less desirable candidate closer tohome, the CEO decided that skill was more valuable than location. Articulatehas been virtual ever since.”It’s really about being able to find the talentregardless of geography,” Suros says.Jake Goldman, CEO of the Web development and strategyagency 10up, agrees.

“One of the reasonswe’re remote is because we wanted to be able to bring in very talented, veryhigh skilled employees.”Goldman argues that if 10up wasn’t virtual, he wouldnever have been able to build it to it’s current caliber.Importance of CompanyCulture in a Virtual WorkplaceA 2012 Gallup poll showed that 22% of employeeswho spent more than 50% of their time working remotely felt activelydisengaged. Disengaged employees are more likely to experience lowerproductivity and turnover.In a virtual workplace, the barriers to exit and theopportunity for turnover are much higher. It’s easier for employees to leave avirtual company because they don’t have to break physical bonds with theirco-workers. It can also be more difficult to form relationships and stayemotionally invested in the companyStrong company cultures address these issues byincreasing employee engagement, as well as other vital attributes likehappiness and emotional well-being.

According to a study conducted by StackHands:?       Companies with engagedemployees outperform those without by up to 202%.?       Peers and camaraderie are themain reasons employees go the extra mile – not money.?       Highly engaged employees are87% less likely to leave the company they work for.Strategies to Create aStrong Company CultureWithout the ability to simply pop by a coworkers desk,communication becomes exponentially more difficult. The way you make up forthat, Goldman explains, is to make communication much more deliberate. “Whenyou take the time to make the effort it seems more meaningful, deeper, andpurposeful.””We have to be intentional about communication,” Surossays.To be deliberate and intentional about yourcommunication, Goldman and Suros recommend scheduling regular meetings, eitherby video, phone, or chat.

There should be a designated time and day for reportingprogress, checking in with teams, and discussing issues and challenges.It’s also important to set expectations before thesemeetings ensue. Ensure that both parties understand the meeting’s agenda, howlong the meeting will run, and what should be accomplished by the meeting’send.Suros and Goldman emphasize the importance of videocommunication. Being able to see someone’s face and connect with them on avisual level facilitates a more authentic relationship, and improves theaccuracy of the communication taking place.To keep employees engaged and invested in the company,it’s  important to help them feel valued.The 10up team makes it a priority to acknowledge each other’s achievements.

“It’s helpful to create a system of positive recognition,”Goldman says. “Employees in good company cultures recognize each other’ssuccesses and share information about their wins.”10up also uses their internal blog to give shoutouts andkudos to individuals and teams. Employees can even reward each other withdigital badges.The folks at Articulate frequently post about eachother’s wins on Slack, a team communication tool.There is no required format or criteria for such posts, and Suros says it canbe as simple as someone writing “Great job on this!” or “This person helped meso much on that!”Another great opportunity to enhance employee engagementis by providing consistent and constructive feedback.

According to StackHands,companies that implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are14.9% lower than for employees who receive no feedback.Suros prefers a constant feedback loop rather than ayearly review, and argues that a more informal approach works better thansomething from the top down. 10up’s strategy is slightly more structured. Eachteam, or “pod,” has a manager, and that manager is in charge of providingfeedback, conducting performance reviews, and helping his or her team membersimprove their skills.

“There’s lots of coaching and peer mentorship,” Goldmansays. “It’s a culture of learning through doing.”Personal relationships are another key tenet of strongcompany cultures, and while high engagement and deliberate communication helpsfoster those relationships, there is no substitute for physical interaction.That’s why 10up and Articulate host annual retreats where everyone comestogether to participate in team building exercises, learning seminars, andsocial activities.”We do an annual retreat because there’s somethingspecial about in-person dynamics,” Suros says.

“You want to reach out and touchthat person, to have a real human connection.”Goldman agrees. “To counterbalance how easy it is to notfeel attached to your company, you need to make sure there are mechanisms forpeople to have a personal relationship and connection.”Tools for Creating aStrong Company CultureMany of the aforementioned strategies would be much moredifficult, if not impossible, to properly execute without the following tools.?       Group Collaboration: Slack, Trello, Twoodo?       Video Conferencing: Zoom, Google Hangout, Vidyo?       Cloud Storage and FileSharing: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive?       Real-Time Chatting: HipChat, Pie, ChatGrape?       Feedback: 15Five, Better Feedback?       Screen Sharing: Screen Hero, Screen Leap, Mikogo   ConclusionRunning a virtual company is not without its challenges,but by building and maintaining a strong company culture, these challenges canbe overcome, and the company can enjoy the many advantages offered by theirdistributed nature. Remember to prioritize human connections and personalrelationships, encourage deliberate, result-oriented communication, andestablish a system of positive recognition.

With the right tools, strategies,and attitudes, a virtual workplace can be every bit as successful, if not moresuccessful, than a traditional one1


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