As digital technology
continues to advance, more and more companies are going virtual. Viral content
leader UpWorthy, for instance, has over 100 employees distributed around the
globe. WordPress continues to thrive with a 100% remote workforce. Mozilla has
people working in more than 30 countries.
Going virtual means exposing the company to new
challenges and risks. The nature of the non-workplace makes it difficult for
employees to form genuine connections with one another. Communication pipelines
break down and productivity suffers.
To combat these issues, virtual companies need to create
and maintain a strong company culture.
Company culture is loosely defined as a shared set of
passions and values. It also reflects the relationships of its team members and
their interactions with each other. Workplaces with strong company cultures see
higher employee engagement, productivity, and happiness. Their employees share
a common purpose, and strive toward the same goals.
Organizations with a high focus on company culture have a
13% 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 Being
Companies choose to be virtual for a variety of reasons.
The CEO might embrace the flexibility that the non-workplace offers. Geographic
movement is not restricted and alternative workweek arrangements are more
viable. 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 that
companies are not limited in their hiring.
Lucy Suros, EVP of Brand and Content for the e-learning
company Articulate, recalls how the company
came to be.
“When the CEO started this company, at the very
beginning, he was looking for the premier expert in a certain thing, and that
person happened to be in India.”
Another highly skilled candidate also happened to be a
plane ride away. Rather than settle for a less desirable candidate closer to
home, the CEO decided that skill was more valuable than location. Articulate
has been virtual ever since.
“It’s really about being able to find the talent
regardless of geography,” Suros says.
Jake Goldman, CEO of the Web development and strategy
agency 10up, agrees. “One of the reasons
we’re remote is because we wanted to be able to bring in very talented, very
high skilled employees.”
Goldman argues that if 10up wasn’t virtual, he would
never have been able to build it to it’s current caliber.
Importance of Company
Culture in a Virtual Workplace
A 2012 Gallup poll showed that 22% of employees
who spent more than 50% of their time working remotely felt actively
disengaged. Disengaged employees are more likely to experience lower
productivity and turnover.
In a virtual workplace, the barriers to exit and the
opportunity for turnover are much higher. It’s easier for employees to leave a
virtual company because they don’t have to break physical bonds with their
co-workers. It can also be more difficult to form relationships and stay
emotionally invested in the company
Strong company cultures address these issues by
increasing employee engagement, as well as other vital attributes like
happiness and emotional well-being.
According to a study conducted by StackHands:
? Companies with engaged
employees outperform those without by up to 202%.
? Peers and camaraderie are the
main reasons employees go the extra mile – not money.
? Highly engaged employees are
87% less likely to leave the company they work for.
Strategies to Create a
Strong Company Culture
Without the ability to simply pop by a coworkers desk,
communication becomes exponentially more difficult. The way you make up for
that, Goldman explains, is to make communication much more deliberate. “When
you take the time to make the effort it seems more meaningful, deeper, and
“We have to be intentional about communication,” Suros
To be deliberate and intentional about your
communication, Goldman and Suros recommend scheduling regular meetings, either
by video, phone, or chat. There should be a designated time and day for reporting
progress, checking in with teams, and discussing issues and challenges.
It’s also important to set expectations before these
meetings ensue. Ensure that both parties understand the meeting’s agenda, how
long the meeting will run, and what should be accomplished by the meeting’s
Suros and Goldman emphasize the importance of video
communication. Being able to see someone’s face and connect with them on a
visual level facilitates a more authentic relationship, and improves the
accuracy 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’s
successes and share information about their wins.”
10up also uses their internal blog to give shoutouts and
kudos to individuals and teams. Employees can even reward each other with
The folks at Articulate frequently post about each
other’s wins on Slack, a team communication tool.
There is no required format or criteria for such posts, and Suros says it can
be as simple as someone writing “Great job on this!” or “This person helped me
so much on that!”
Another great opportunity to enhance employee engagement
is by providing consistent and constructive feedback. According to StackHands,
companies that implement regular employee feedback have turnover rates that are
14.9% lower than for employees who receive no feedback.
Suros prefers a constant feedback loop rather than a
yearly review, and argues that a more informal approach works better than
something from the top down. 10up’s strategy is slightly more structured. Each
team, or “pod,” has a manager, and that manager is in charge of providing
feedback, conducting performance reviews, and helping his or her team members
improve their skills.
“There’s lots of coaching and peer mentorship,” Goldman
says. “It’s a culture of learning through doing.”
Personal relationships are another key tenet of strong
company cultures, and while high engagement and deliberate communication helps
foster those relationships, there is no substitute for physical interaction.
That’s why 10up and Articulate host annual retreats where everyone comes
together to participate in team building exercises, learning seminars, and
“We do an annual retreat because there’s something
special about in-person dynamics,” Suros says. “You want to reach out and touch
that person, to have a real human connection.”
Goldman agrees. “To counterbalance how easy it is to not
feel attached to your company, you need to make sure there are mechanisms for
people to have a personal relationship and connection.”
Tools for Creating a
Strong Company Culture
Many of the aforementioned strategies would be much more
difficult, if not impossible, to properly execute without the following tools.
? Group Collaboration: Slack, Trello, Twoodo
? Video Conferencing: Zoom, Google Hangout, Vidyo
? Cloud Storage and File
Sharing: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive
? Real-Time Chatting: HipChat, Pie, ChatGrape
? Feedback: 15Five, Better Feedback
? Screen Sharing: Screen Hero, Screen Leap, Mikogo
Running a virtual company is not without its challenges,
but by building and maintaining a strong company culture, these challenges can
be overcome, and the company can enjoy the many advantages offered by their
distributed nature. Remember to prioritize human connections and personal
relationships, encourage deliberate, result-oriented communication, and
establish a system of positive recognition. With the right tools, strategies,
and attitudes, a virtual workplace can be every bit as successful, if not more
successful, than a traditional one