By Kyle Moore | Harkcon's President
As indicated in my earlier blog entry, Harkcon found many advantages to starting as a virtual company. We also encountered several drawbacks, most of which centered around lost opportunities for face-to-face interaction, sharing ideas, team-building and inter-company communications. We quickly realized that, in order to be successful as a virtual company while remaining true to our Guiding Principles and maintaining a people-centric culture, we had to identify ways to overcome these obstacles.
With some trial and error, we’ve learned to virtually replicate key features of the physical office space – be it water coolers, conference tables or break rooms – in order to create socialization “touchpoints” to address these issues and establish/maintain an environment of open communication, active collaboration, and unselfish contribution; a place where people truly enjoy their work…and working with others in the company.
That said, overcoming these obstacles is not easy. We routinely struggle with these issues, and while we always try to do the right thing, it doesn’t always work out that way. We persevere, however, because maintaining this “inclusive” environment makes us a better company.
Identifying and implementing solutions aimed at filling the virtual gap not only play a major role in helping us create an overall sense of community, they also significantly improve our ability to manage programs and projects, which rely heavily on the outcomes associated with perfecting these socialization skills.
Here are the five solution sets we’ve implemented to strengthen our virtual company:
1. Solutions to help overcome communication issues within the virtual company:
Releasing “All Company” emails (we use Gmail and all associated apps -https://apps.google.com/intx/en_us/products/)
Publishing monthly newsletters (we use MailChimp- http://www.mailchimp.com)
Developing/maintaining a Company intranet site (we use Bloomfire - https://bloomfire.com
Establishing teleconferencing accounts to accommodate group telephone calls (we use GoToMeeting - http://www.gotomeeting.com/)
Distributing short informational video clips
Encouraging associates to meet “face-to-face” in person or via video chat
Conducting internal social media campaigns
Underwriting an associate-developed smartphone app to connect to all company-related web resources (intranet, email, timekeeping and HR accounts, 401(k) portal, training videos, contact lists, etc.)
2. Solutions to create opportunities for associates to create personal and professional relationships within the virtual company:
Showcasing associates’ “alter egos” in the monthly newsletter and on the company intranet to allow people to share their hobbies and pastimes with each other
Creating intranet user group sites and chat rooms
Running virtual contests (Fantasy Football, Puzzle Challenges, Healthy Lifestyle & Weight Loss, etc.)
Promoting after hours get-togethers
Hosting monthly happy hours
Sponsoring holiday parties and luncheons
3. Solutions to improve associates’ interpersonal skills within the virtual company (Note: it is very important to create opportunities for junior associates to “see” and learn how to professionally interact with customers, clients and other associates during meetings, presentations and other public venues):
Holding meetings in person whenever possible
Using FaceTime, Skype, and video calls when possible/available
Bringing associates to customer meetings and presentations
Providing project-related interviewing/facilitation opportunities for junior associates
Developing Individual Development Plans (IDPs) & offering company-sponsored professional development opportunities
4. Solutions to share ideas and expertise within the virtual company:
Conducting virtual training sessions
Creating intranet user groups and chat rooms
Using file sharing applications (we use Google Sites and Google Drive - https://apps.google.com/intx/en_us/products/)
Highlighting different projects and lessons learned in the company newsletter
5. Solutions to form cohesive teams within the virtual company:
Emphasizing the importance of teamwork in all communications
Scheduling weekly teleconferences for project teams
Sponsoring an annual company-wide competition to encourage technological or concept/process advancements and reward hidden internal talents
Promoting team-building opportunities and exercises
Sponsoring morale and charitable events and competitions
Final thoughts: Being a virtual company in this day and age is not only feasible, it creates some huge advantages, especially when a business is just starting out. While we foresee the day coming when the size of our company dictates the need to rent or buy office space, large segments of our workforce will always remain virtual, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you would like to contact the author of this blog, send an email to email@example.com and reference the title, "Getting Smart with Technology: The Secrets to our Success."
Up Next: Virtual Company Employee Success Factors – Going Beyond Technical Expertise