3 Secrets to Building a Thriving Virtual Work Culture (Culture Series, Part 2)


This is the second post in a new series on how to build a strong culture in your promotional products business.Did you know that some studies indicate that as early as 2020, 50% of the U.S. workforce could work (at least in part) remotely?An Upworks survey of over a thousand hiring managers revealed that, because of a talent shortage, dynamic and agile team structures are becoming the norm, and the office of the future will be an office that serves as a temporary location point rather than a daily travel destination. We kicked off a new series on culture that started with a look at how our physical environment -the offices we live and work in- shapes our business culture. Today, we’re continuing that series by looking at how to impact our culture by inspiring innovation and engagement through our virtual teams. Virtual offices and remote employees have created a seismic shift in the way we work and have dramatically affected the type of culture we build within our companies. And since the war for talent has increasingly made workplace flexibility a non-negotiable, most small businesses -if not already employing a partial remote workforce- will face the prospect in the future.How important is workplace flexibility for your culture? A recent article in Forbes cited that workplace flexibility often outranks pay as the number one benefit, and that “companies that offer employees flexibility in the form of telecommuting, flexible schedules, and unlimited PTO, helps employees maintain a positive work-life balance …. reducing workplace stress, boosting mental well being and encouraging productivity.”But how do we instill our values and our beliefs -our culture- into a workforce that is physically absent most of the time? (And let’s face it, even workers who are desk-bound, in the home office, rarely lift their heads from their computer screens so, these principles might apply even if you have a traditional office structure!)  

(I) Create, Codify & Empower

 Building an effective work culture has to do with recruiting and hiring the right people for the right job and then unleashing their talent to make damn good things happen on behalf of your brand. But for employees to be most effective, they must adopt and instill the values that constitute the character and culture of the company. With employees who are “in-house,” translating values is much easier due to the frequent (daily) interactions with you (as the leader), or, constant interaction with colleagues through the on-boarding process. Your in-house team has the home-field advantage of immediate and deep immersion in your culture.One idea to ensure your remote team adopts the DNA of your culture is to actually create, codify, and communicate your values as a foundation.Mark Graham, commonsku’s co-founder and Chief Platform Officer calls this “building a principle-thinker workforce rather than a process-thinker workforce,” empowering people in your company to make decisions based on the principles and the personality of the business, rather than relying on the micromanagement of daily actions.Sometimes, this takes just a little bit of imagination. Dallas-based distributor Meyer Dunlap created and codified their values in a simple acrostic: GIMME MAGIC.
  • G – Greater relationships
  • I – Innovative ideas
  • M – Mindset of improvement
  • M – Move fast and … break things
  • E – Exceptional customer service
  • M – Make it rain the right way
  • A – Attitude of happy flexibility
  • G – Gracious
  • I – Improve lives with a servant attitude
  • C – Cheerful
The first half of their values (GIMME) relates to the client relationship, the latter (MAGIC) relates to their internal relationships with each another. (To hear Meyer Dunlap talk about this experience, listen to this brief, 3-min audio clip): Remote workers will more easily become ardent ambassadors for your culture when they know and can easily grasp the principles that make your culture unique. 

(II) Open Hand, Open Heart

 But to properly permeate the conviction of your cultural values into your remote workforce will require more face time with your team which can be resolved with two critical ingredients: an open hand and an open heart.
  • Open hand: Be willing to spend the money to get your teams together frequently. All too often, remote workers feel like they are on an island unto themselves which causes disillusionment and leads to high turnover. An investment in gathering your team together frequently not only ensures you instill your colleagues with the right values but makes them feel less isolated and a part of the team. How frequently? Our commonsku team tries to gather together every six weeks at headquarters and, though it’s non-stop planning and strategizing, we make time for socializing together as a team too.
  • Open heart: Listen and overcommunicate. Invest in and use video conferencing tools for team gatherings and make frequent use of one-on-one communication through tools like Google Hangouts. A good portion of our team works remotely and yet, the entire team meets once-a-week over video to provide weekly updates, and we make frequent use of one-to-one video interaction. Remember that, as a leader, your in-house team has access to frequent but informal communication with you. Frequent visual communication helps colleagues feel included. Moreover, you’ve probably heard that the majority of what we convey to others through our communication is mostly non-verbal. One study revealed that only 7% of our communication is the actual words we use, 30% is tone, and 55% is body language. Video conferencing is critical for communication. (If you’re looking for an option beyond Google, GoToMeeting, and Skype, there is also Zoom, and Amazon Chime).
The Upworks survey even revealed that companies with work-from-home policies feel their policies have become more lenient in the past five years and this might be due to the proliferation of communication tools which leads to the successful integration of employees into the cultural environment. 

(III) Invest in Engagement, Transparency, and Trust

 With virtual workers, the secret to fostering a thriving, collaborative work culture is largely in the digital tools we use and the modern office is equipping itself with the cloud for every business process.For the promotional products business, it’s not just the communication tools we use that are real-time and accessible everywhere, but our project management tools should be real-time and accessible everywhere as well. For example, the commonsku newsfeed has often been cited by customers with multiple locations (and even with customers in open or closed office environments!) as a “game-changer” that allows all employees to see all projects at any given time. Through the newsfeed, employees are less dependent on meetings (and the proverbial grapevine) to know what’s happening within the walls of their own business. The newsfeed on current projects provides an immediate touchpoint to the now, just as Slack can give you a glimpse into the active pulse of real-time communication, tools like commonsku allow you to see, and engage, in real-time projects for customers. Without social, collaborative project management tools, distributors rely on past history as currency for current activity which focuses on yesterday’s activity instead of tomorrow’s opportunities. Instead of feeling “in the dark” team members can be “in the know,” and at a mouse click, and moreover, can reply and engage immediately. The demand for a flexible work environment requires cloud-based tools that provide, not just flexibility but transparency into every part of the business. Transparency and trust are at the heart of most successful business cultures today; this, combined with the speed of business, demands a modern approach to problem-solving, and digital tools can provide a critical cohesive element to sustain a healthy culture.Brian Halligan with Hubspot wrote that “modern humans have radically changed the way that they work and the way that they live. Companies need to change the way they manage and lead to match the way that modern humans actually work and live.” Instilling and empowering employees with the values that define your culture, maintaining an open attitude toward communication and frequent in-person team meetings, plus, investing in tools that allow engagement and transparency are three ways you can ensure you meet the demands of a progressive workforce and build a thriving virtual work culture.
This is part two in our series on culture, for part one, visit 4 Ways to Design a Culture of Innovation and Inspiration.commonsku is cloud-based promotional products software to modernize your business. We give you the best tools to run your business from presentation through to invoicing and everything in between. To learn more or try it for free, visit commonsku.com.