Gini Dietrich

How We Work: Determining If It’s for You and Building a Culture

By: Gini Dietrich | November 9, 2017 | 
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How We WorkOne of the first things other business owners or entrepreneurs ask me when they find out we’re virtual is:

How?

Most just cannot fathom a completely virtual organization and they want to know how we work.

The funny thing is that almost everyone is already working with a virtual team, in some manner.

Your legal team most likely is not on staff in your office.

Same thing for accounting—or some part of accounting.

You may even have outsourced human resources or marketing or communications.

The difference is, you don’t consider them part of your team. You consider them consultants.

But they are part of your team—and they are virtual because they’re not sitting in your office.

They contribute to a part of your culture—and they make decisions that can make or break you.

How We Work: The Mixed Team Doesn’t Always Work

We didn’t make a strategic decision to go virtual.

I had a long-time colleague who moved to New York City for her then boyfriend’s (husband now) job.

We didn’t want to lose her—and she didn’t want to leave.

So we set her up to work from home.

I’d be lying if I told you it was a cakewalk and it is what made the decision for us.

But it wasn’t.

The people still in the office cut her out of meetings.

They wouldn’t loop her into decisions.

They’d even sometimes “forget” to tell her things from clients.

When digging into it, I discovered it was because they didn’t think it was fair.

They also wanted to work from home.

It was kind of an eye roll moment. They had worked with this person for years. Some of them even considered her a friend.

And yet.

So, in November 2011, when we could no longer make our office lease payment because the economy was so bad, we made a big decision.

The idea was to have all of us work from home for just a year.

But, when about 10 months had gone by and it was time to look for office space again, I was met with resistance.

Everyone wanted to continue working from home.

Which was fine by me because it is glorious.

How We Work: It Provides Cost- and Emotion-Savings

No longer did I have people flying off the handle because someone ate their lunch.

There was no more surprise $1,200 electric bill because they kept fighting over the thermostat.

If someone’s computer blew up, it was no longer my problem.

No one fought or said mean things to one another under their breath.

They were forced to have video chats when something wasn’t going our way and the snooty emails stopped.

Not to mention, I could work in my cycling clothes and ride at lunchtime, while also working on my tan.

All of our former commute time was either used for getting uninterrupted work done or seeing our kids off to school.

Both luxuries we did not have in the office.

But mostly, when I looked at productivity of every individual, it rose by 80 percent.

Eighty. Percent.

Between that and no longer spending $150,000 a year in office space, it made complete sense to stay where we were.

That was six years ago.

Since then, we’ve been able to hire the very best people for the job we need done—no matter where they are in the world.

We have people scattered across the U.S., Canada, Spain, and the Philippines.

How We Work: Determining If It’s for You

There are a few reasons you can consider when determining if a virtual team is right for you:

  • As it turns out, work doesn’t actually happen at work. Ask anyone where they get the most work done and I’m willing to bet most will say at home, on the weekends or early in the morning or late at night. No one says, “In the office.”
  • The commute for most people is a killer. I have a friend who just took a job in Chicago and his commute will easily be 90 minutes each way. That’s THREE HOURS getting to and from work. Ug. Imagine what you can do with three hours if you’re not stuck in a car or on a train.
  • When I started my career, I had my eyes on the swanky corner office, the company provided BMW, and stock options. Sure, I had to give up that dream when I went out on my own (or more figured out I’d have to provide it for myself), but it’s been worth it. You can live anywhere and do anything. If you love to ski, you can move to Park City and ski all you want, while still doing the job you love.
  • The nostalgia of all-hands-on-deck Monday morning meetings is just that. You don’t actually need to have them in-person, nor do they need to last an hour. Today’s tech-savvy young professionals don’t care about your nostalgia. They do care about a daily five minute huddle that sets momentum for their day.
  • A few months ago, an article was passed around about the idea that human beings are not wired to work eight hours a day. It worked in manufacturing, but it doesn’t work in today’s information economy. Not only can our brains not be productive in that kind of environment, we stop being creative and interesting, too. In a virtual organization, you focus on results, not on hours worked. If someone can get their job done—and done well—in six hours, so be it!

It definitely takes some doing, an open mind, and well-developed processes, but if you agree with just one of the bullet points above, this might just possibly be for you.

How We Work: The Benefits of a Virtual Office

There also are some benefits to having a virtual office—ones that transcend both company and people.

  • The quality of life for everyone improves. If your commute is seven steps to the bathroom to brush your teeth and then another 14 steps to your office, you can spend your time being productive when it works for you. Ron Friedman has a great quiz to help you figure out your most productive times. For me, it’s early in the morning (I’m writing this sentence at 5:26 a.m.), but it also means by 3:00, I need to be doing busy work.
  • Not to mention, you can live anywhere. Love to ski? Move to Colorado. Want to be near the beach? Do it. Dawn Buford keeps talking about living on Cape Cod for a summer. I’m encouraging her to do it next summer! It doesn’t matter where you are when you work for a virtual organization.
  • Everyone saves money. I mentioned above how much money we saved by going virtual. But it’s not just the organization that saves money. Your colleagues will, too. On gas (which also has the benefit of helping the environment), on clothes, on food, and more. Plus, you can write off your home office on your taxes. Money, money, money, money!
  • Being virtual doesn’t mean you can’t have an office. Some people (like my husband) need a place to go everyday. Maybe you don’t have a dedicated office at home or your kids aren’t in school yet. Or perhaps you’re more productive when you leave each morning. Muck Rack has an office in Manhattan—and most of their employees work from home. Do what works best for you.

How We Work: Building a Culture

The next question people inevitably ask about how we work is:

But how do you build culture when you’re virtual?

Culture isn’t about the free breakfast or the video games or laundry services.

(Though those things are certainly nice.)

It’s about how people do their jobs, the values of the organization, and how you treat customers.

It’s includes things such as:

  • How you talk to customers. Are they always right or is there some leeway? How do you behave when a client fires you?
  • How you talk to critics. Do you feed the trolls or do you ignore them? What if someone gets so upset with a decision you’ve made, they block you on social media? How do you respond to that?
  • In the quality of your products or services, does it have to be perfect or is finished good enough?
  • How you talk to one another. Do you have face-to-face (or Zoom-to-Zoom) conversations to provide feedback or have tough conversations or do you put it in writing? Do you shout and use obscenities or do you treat one another with respect?
  • Is your workload dispersed? Do you pull all-nighters and expect people to work 24/7 or do you take Fridays off?
  • What kind of risk do you take? Do you favor fast growth pivots or do you prefer slow, but predictable growth?

Culture is important in a virtual organization because, the stronger the culture, the less training and supervision you have to provide.

The less supervision means you trust the grown-ups you’ve hired to do a good job.

In how we work, we focus on doing the actual work instead of defining and practicing it.

It has forced us to forgo the social activities and team-building exercises.

We do this in favor of creating processes that can be repeated so our clients and students have the same experience with every one of us.

How We Work: Just Do It!

There certain are some downsides to how we work, which I’ll cover in a later article, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

I have one colleague who needs to travel to a different city today.

He’s taking the train and will be offline for only an hour this morning.

Technology and the fact that he’s already accustomed to working virtually allow him to work while on the train.

Six years ago, he would have had to take the day off to accommodate his personal schedule.

That’s for the birds!

Why not work where you can, when you can?

All those in favor, say aye!

And now it’s your turn.

What benefits do you see from working virtually?

If you’re thinking about doing it, what questions do you have?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Carol Ludtke Prigan

    Thanks for pointing out that humans are not wired to work productively for eight hours a day, day in, day out. Too many employers base their judgements about employees’ work on whether the employee sits in a chair for eight hours on any given day. I have an office, but I find that I’m not there most of the time because I work wherever I am, for as long as I need to. My employer is not always happy about this, but because I get the work done, there’s not much to complain about.

    • it’s definitely a mind shift change. It’s hard even for me, sometimes. I still feel guilty when I ride my bike at lunchtime, even though I’m super productive and I continue to advance my business forward. It’s just not how I was “raised.”

      But if you are getting work done—and even going the extra mile, who the heck cares where you do it?

  • I may or may not still do the “under my breath” thing…

    • Well, the good news is…in an office I’d have to hear about it. Now I don’t. Weeeeee!!

  • And the train was GLORIOUS! Free WiFi (maybe a beer at lunchtime) and relatively uninterrupted work time. I was actually MORE productive. Combine it with my Slack article, and it’s almost criminal how productive I’m being. Almost.

  • Dawn Buford

    Working from home has made me way more productive. I am able to eat breakfast or lunch whenever I want, go for a walk when I want, and work when I want. I get a lot of stuff done between 6a-9a, time during which I would be commuting and getting settled at my desk if I was working in a downtown office. I am definitely less stressed out and much happier. And isn’t that what we all want?!

  • paulakiger

    I am excited about this discussion (and the subsequent ones). One huge plus is the ability to manage our energy differently (than in a traditional office). I have saved money (clothes, gas, food). I was able to care for my father-in-law (although, granted, that was messy time management-wise). I will own this — and not generalize to all — but in a situation where there’s partially a brick and mortar office, then partially a virtual workforce, the culture can get a little difficult to pin down. But then so are cultures in 100% brick and mortar offices, right?

    • I totally agree with you on that. We had the hardest time when we were half and half. It wasn’t until we all went virtual that it began to work.

  • I’m reading all kind of articles on ups and downs of working from home or working remotely. In all these years of working from home, I haven’t found one downsize, not one.

    What’s best than working when you’re more focused and have the highest levels of energy? Or having time to work out without having to commute? Or going for a walk in the middle of the day to refresh your mind? Or my favorite: going to the grocery store in the middle of the day and have the entire shop for myself?

    We tend to point out the new kid on the block (which is not that new anymore) because it means change, it means rocking the status-quo and we don’t like that. Plus, it takes out all the excuses you’ve told yourself over the years: I don’t have time to learn, I work too much, I don’t have time to workout, my commute is too long, etc.

    The greatest, biggest, fantabulous advantage of all is having the opportunity to work with the best of the best, no matter where they are located. And that is priceless!

    • There is one downside: it’s MUCH easier to brainstorm big ideas in person. And we never see one another. But that’s it.

  • I worked virtually for about ten years and then had to do a small stint in an office (prior to joining here), it was so incredibly soul sucking, I was exhausted at the end of each day.

    Fast forward to a week ago when I had no internet and so had to camp out at a coffee shop for a few hours each day. I came home so incredibly exhausted from the energy it took to have to focus on focusing. To not be in my own space, working on my own terms.

    Beyond the time you save, the quality of life improvements, and the flexibility of being able to do your most focused work when you are…most focused (for me, between 5am-8am), being able to control your environment is huge!

    • “to have to focus on focusing.” LOL!! But I totally know what you mean. Kelly will say, “Do you want to come work at my office?” Um, no. Not only is my bike not there, I’m not nearly as productive when I don’t have my stuff surrounding me. Sure, I can work in a hotel room, on a plane, or in a coffee shop, but it’s not the same.

  • Debbie Johnson

    I am more productive when I work at home, and the quality of my work is better. I also feel like I have more control over my time.

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