Gini Dietrich

How We Work: Guidelines and Rules

By: Gini Dietrich | November 29, 2017 | 
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How We Work Guidelines and RulesFor the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring how we work as a virtual organization.

It always amuses me when I tell people that we’re virtual and they gasp as if I just said we work from home because we all have communicable diseases.

As it turns out, the productivity of my team is off-the-charts (myself included) and everyone seems genuinely happy.

We’ve already talked about how we work with cost savings and time efficiencies and with meetings and collaboration.

Today we’ll discuss the guidelines and rules that guide us so we don’t fall into introverted, slovenly holes.

How We Work: Daily Check-ins

Most organizations have a daily scrum meeting where they spend the first 15 minutes of the day collaborating on what’s ahead.

Because of my travel schedule, the unreliability of the El train after dropping the Bean off at school, and other meetings I have, I didn’t want to be stuck with having to show up (even on video chat) to a daily meeting at the same time, every day.

And, because my name is on the door, I don’t have to!

Instead, we use Slack for our daily check-in “meetings.”

By 8 a.m. CST, everyone has listed their meetings for the day and what they need to accomplish.

This does two things:

  1. It allows each of us to be mindful when we need something from someone, and they are in a meeting. Their meeting times are listed right there so, if they’re not answering a Slack message, we know why. Even better, we don’t send that message until the person is out of said meeting(s).
  2. It allows us to know if someone has time to throw in a new project, help with something else, or is working on that thing you need from them by day’s end.

When we began doing this, it alleviated a lot of wonder about what people were doing—and it created a new level of trust.

Selfishly, I needed people to see that I wasn’t available from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. every Monday. Not that I was ignoring them, but that I genuinely was not available.

It works!

How We Work: Dedicated Work Spaces

If you work from home consistently—or have ever done it before, you know how easy it is to keep your laptop on your nightstand.

That way, you can roll over, open it, and get to work…while you’re still comfy and warm and snuggly.

Or how easy it is to work from the kitchen counter, on the couch, or out on your back deck if the weather is nice.

The problem with that is well…there are a lot of problems with that.

Not only does working from a laptop consistently hurt your eyes, the ergonomics (or lack thereof) of slouching on the couch to work are terrible.

As we ventured into this world, we discovered people really needed a dedicated work space that includes a door.

For some, that might be co-working space and, for others, it could be an extra bedroom set up as an office.

I recently moved my office to our back sunroom, which has three walls of windows.

While that’s not conducive to recording videos (Tony Gnau has me set up with all sorts of lights to make it more flattering), it’s a great space to work.

There are a few advantages to having a dedicated work space:

  1. You can have a proper screen, a proper desk, and a proper chair (or stand-up/treadmill desk).
  2. It’s far more professional when you are video chatting with clients or your team.
  3. It’s easier to shut everything down at 5 p.m. and walk away from it.
  4. Your family knows the boundaries between your office with a door and the rest of the home.

How We Work: Consistent Set Schedule

There is an extreme amount of flexibility in how we work.

You most definitely can work out at lunchtime, take a short nap, volunteer in your kid’s classroom, or leave a little bit early on Fridays.

For most, including our international colleagues, east or central time is what people work.

Anyone on the west coast tends to works central time.

And, while most are on Slack before 8 a.m., we require just 40 hours a week.

Sure, there are times we have to sprint (we’re doing that right now because of the short month), but mostly what we do is a marathon.

There are no hero awards if anyone works more than 40 hours.

We ask that people be available when our clients work.

It’s as simple as that.

How We Work: Get Your 10,000 Steps

In the beginning days of our virtual organization, we had a steps contest.

It finally went caput because no one could keep up with Laura Petrolino and me.

(Which is a good lesson in and of itself—don’t compete with your team.)

Though not everyone has a FitBit and competes for their 10,000 (or 20,000) steps anymore, there is plenty of leading by example.

I have a desktop on my stationary bike that I’ll use during meetings. Laura and Corina Manea both have a treadmill desk.

While we don’t require people get their 10,000 steps a day, the culture of our organization is one of wellness and health.

When you work here, it’s impossible not to get swept up in taking care of yourself.

It’s so much a part of what many of us do every day that it permeates the rest of the organization.

If you’re starting out on this road, you may have to make a conscious decision to exercise during the day.

Start a competition like we did or just get a FitBit. It has a built-in community to keep you accountable.

If you don’t, you’ll look up a year from now, 20 or 30 pounds heavier and wonder what happened.

And, because you are no longer dressing up to go to work, you won’t realize regular clothes no longer fit.

Don’t let that happen.

How We Work: Communication Still Rules

In some cases, you have to work harder to be a great communicator.

At the same time, we are communicators by trade so we have to be good at it.

It’s so, so, so easy to provide feedback on Slack.

Don’t do it.

I often counsel my colleagues to get on Zoom and have a conversation when they’re upset.

It goes so much further than email or Slack or any other written form of communication.

And this isn’t just for virtual organizations.

When we had an office, I could not figure out why morale was so low.

And it was low. People were complaining about the most awful things, but I didn’t see any of it happen. Ever.

One day I was standing at the printer and I saw an email that someone had printed.

I was ASTOUNDED at what it said.

I mean, I didn’t know human beings said these kinds of awful things to one another, especially in an office setting.

Even though everyone sat five feet away from one another, they were emailing instead of talking.

And it was bad.

I instituted an internal email ban and had our IT team shut off their ability to email one another.

It worked.

You don’t need to do something that drastic, but face-to-face or video chats are always better.

Always.

A Virtual Organization Can Work for You

How we work may not work for you.

You may take parts and pieces of what we do and institute other things for you.

But the gist of it is that a virtual organization does work.

No more community.

No more dry cleaning bills.

You don’t have to worry about taking a lunch or eating crap because you forgot your lunch.

The amount of flexibility you have is extreme.

Often people ask me how I manage to do it all. The truth is, I couldn’t if I didn’t work from home.

I easily save four hours a day just by not having to go to the office.

That’s 20 hours a week.

Imagine what you can do in that time.

If you’re thinking about testing the virtual office waters, leave a comment here.

We are happy to help!

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!

  • Dawn Buford

    I know I am more productive in my home office because I don’t have to bother with ‘getting ready’ for work and commuting. I get most work done right after I roll out of bed and late in the afternoon when most people are trying to get home. There is way less stress knowing that I can go for a nice long walk at mid-morning or lunchtime, or be able to run an errand that would require me to take time off if I worked in an office environment. And Slack is the absolute BEST tool for communicating, which we do all day long. It is truly like sitting next to your co-workers. Of course, it does help that we have a really great team here at Spin Sucks who have overcome the virtual kinks and are able to function cohesively in our virtual workplace.

  • We hear about virtual work more and more, and there are a number of workspace companies popping up (WeWork, FlexDay, etc.), and yet my friends still jealously say “You’re the only person I know who works virtual full time). There seems to be a perception that virtual work is something reserved for freelancers and consultants. Those people who work for a number of different people, or themselves. Don’t get me wrong. I like being in this enviable position, but I also feel that “regular” businesses should put themselves under the microscope and think about how offering up virtual working as an option may be a strong incentive to their team. Maybe you can’t afford to give someone a raise, or you don’t want to lose someone because they’re having trouble making the commute work… virtual freedom can work, but it’s not the wild west. It works as long as you have guidelines and rules to follow.

    • I think you’re right. There aren’t many organizations that are fully virtual. Even Yahoo! called back their virtual teams to the home office.

    • Debbie Johnson

      I wish “regular” businesses would start shifting toward virtual work environments. I agree that you need guidelines and rules to make it work, and you also have to have the right people.

      It would also open up your candidate pool when you have an opening.

  • I’ve worked remotely for just over 20 years now ! Since this was before it became ‘normal’, I knew that to keep up (and not get left out) I had to communicate A LOT. Back then, my boss and I used Yahoo Messenger (because it was like the only thing available). Although there are now much better tools (like those your team uses), I’ve always known I had to have a separate office space–to make it clear both to myself and others when I was working.

    Now, as I begin the third decade of remote work, I can’t even imagine going back into a “show-up and clock-in” environment! 🙂

    • Right? I cannot imagine, either. While I have you…I have something stirring in my head I’ve been wanting to talk with you about. I’ll email you.

  • At some point everyone is going to work in a virtual environment. With AI, VR and such, we may not have to go to buy groceries or clothes at all. Amazon is great at that.

    Even if you don’t have a home office, because you prefer to work from a co-working space, the fact that you don’t have to spend hours and hours on the commute is gold. 20 hours a week is A LOT of time to save for yourself or work, if that’s what you want.

    Our most valuable currency today is time and working in a virtual environment gives you back time in the day.

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