How to Build the Right Culture for Your Virtual Workforce

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What to do when how you work is as important as what you work on. By Patricia Fletcher (High-Tech Marketer)

Limiting your talent pool to one geographic location doesn't make sense for most businesses. Many of us opt for hiring the best talent, regardless of where they live. Here's the issue: not everyone thrives in a virtual environment. And, if you run a business that is heavy on team work, designing a collaboration-friendly virtual working culture can be extremely difficult. What's a leader to do?

That's just the conundrum that Fay Johnson, founder and CEO of deliberateLife, set out to solve. deliberateLife is a digital lifestyle publication with a mission to make it easy for its readers to live well while making a positive impact. Johnson intentionally runs business the same way: growing revenue while doing good.

For Johnson, how her staff works is just as important as what work they do. With many of Johnson's core team and content contributors across the globe, creating a cohesive culture of committed staff aligned on one mission and brought together by common values is no easy feat. Here's how she did it.

Be Okay With Work/Life Integration

If your business would benefit from a diverse workforce, one with staff around the globe or even around the country, you have to be able to give up traditional control over staff's time. "If I worked for a company that required me to be in the office, I wouldn't be able to prioritize other things that matter to me, like people and travel," says Johnson. Work is one priority for staff, but not the only priority. "I'm committed to creating a work environment that's family-friendly, "says Johnson.

You also have to be willing to trust people to manage their own time and their own processes. "I know that my CTO is away from his desk from 3:00 pm-8:00 pm his time, while he gets his kids from school, manages their homework time and makes them dinner. I also know he will likely be online plugging away while they're asleep," says Johnson. The work gets done, but not at the expense of the CTO's children or on the business. The children do not lose out on having a father that is present for them and Johnson does not lose out on having a top notch CTO creating a valuable digital experience for their customers. "That's a more deliberate way to work," says Johnson.

Invest in the Right Platform

While it would be tempting to invest in a technology platform with a ton of bells and whistles for your virtual environment, let's face it, you do have to be fiscally responsible. Choose a platform that you can afford. "We're not large enough to need our own intranet and with the expansion and increased integration of cloud-based systems, it made the most sense to utilize existing platforms," says Johnson.

Looking for the best tools for your budget, tools that will also support the collaboration and asset management needs of your business? deliberateLife staff uses DropBox to manage their creative assets and completed files, and Google Docs to share research and live projects. They attach files from DropBox and Google Docs into tasks in Asana. Staff members are able to easily access the information they need to do their jobs while the deliberateLife entity is able to secure and retain its IP.

Don't Set People up to Fail

Working virtually is not for everyone. Your hiring managers and HR department should make it a priority to discern who can thrive in a virtual environment and who cannot. "We discuss how we work before bringing someone onboard. I have found that mid-career professional do better in a less structured environment. They usually have experience with, and a distaste for the seemingly illogical requirement that a person has to be at her desk from 9:00--5:00 pm. They are also usually a bit better at personal time management," says Johnson.

You invest a lot in attracting, hiring and assimilating staff to your environment. You may as well invest in getting your hires right from the get-go. Find the right people, invest in your work environment and respect their time and yours.

Check out more from Inc.com:

How Virtual Reality Might Change the Way You Work (Infographic) 6 Tips for Productive Time Management 4 Work-Life Balance Stories Every Woman Should Read Photo credit: Syda Productions via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger: Scholar-practitioner, experienced high-tech marketer and advocate for meaningful innovation, Patricia Fletcher is passionate about leveling the imbalanced technology playing field to include all the best innovators. In addition to serving on the Astia Board of Trustees, Dr. Fletcher happily lends her research, time, and voice to enable women to change the world through high growth entrepreneurship and board service. She blogs at www.psdnetwork.com and tweets at @pkfletcher.