October 25, 2012
Can Culture Exist in a Virtual Work Environment? Yes!
Filed under: Life Hacks
What creates a strong culture? Is it actual face to face time? Or is it the ability to create a philosophy, a belief system that permeates every aspect of your organization? Companies capable of building culture understand that it is strongly influenced by identity. By placing team members squarely in the center of culture development, you will find it easier to create a strong culture without pushing the message.
Case in point…Southwest Airlines has created a culture that puts the employees first. Their belief is that happy employees create happy customers, and happy customers create happy shareholders. Unlike other airlines, Southwest has enjoyed 39 consecutive years of growth and profit – out of the 41 years they have been in business. The philosophy that the employees are most important has also allowed this airline to successfully create a customer focus unparalleled in the industry. Furthermore, over 83% of their employees are unionized and yet they have never had a major dispute. Southwest includes everyone in creating and communicating the culture – not just those that are convenient.
There are many organizations we could use as examples, but not all of them use virtual teams. The question is can you build an amazing culture in a virtual work environment. Of course! You must be prepared to do what every organization must do to develop a good culture – live by your company value set. Then you must include every team member, extensively communicating and providing opportunities for interaction. So how does that work with a virtual team?
Create Opportunities to Network
Living by example is the best way to ensure that your culture permeates all levels of your organization. In a virtual environment, this means that you must create ways for the team to interact. Our team members have access to various chat rooms and other forms of technology to keep them involved, not only with important updates about their job, but also to have a place to interact with other team members on a social level. This interaction builds camaraderie and supports developing a positive culture.
Establish Ground Rules for Virtual Meetings
It can be so frustrating to feel excluded in a meeting simply because you cannot be in the room. Setting ground rules so that everyone is included, all opinions are heard and every team member has a say will promote good will, and make your meetings much more effective. Remote should not mean out of mind. Virtual team members are a crucial component to your organization, so treat them as such and make sure they can be heard in meetings.
Use Social Media to Create Community
While we use social media to promote our business, we also use it to promote interaction, conversation and communication between our agents. Our Facebook Page is specifically geared toward agent interaction. This creates another space where we can participate in conversations regarding values and culture while addressing the questions and comments of our agent community.
Solid Virtual Training Provides Opportunities
Developing a true virtual training program that includes interaction with new team members, quality assurance specialists and project managers gives another opportunity to communicate values and culture. A large part of ensuring excellent customer service is to go beyond the knowledge transfer of the product or service being supported. It is to empower virtual agents to go that extra step in helping a customer. The interaction the agents have during training is some of the first interactions they have with other remote workers and team members. This is the perfect opportunity to set the stage for culture development.
These are some of the basics required to develop culture in a virtual environment. However, the most important component starts at the beginning – hire the best people. We always say our agents are “the best of the best.” This is not something we say offhandedly. It is part of the foundation of our culture. Find the best people, treat them well, and the rest comes much more easily.
“It’s all about how agents treat customers and quality service.”