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How to Keep a Virtual Workplace Engaged, Productive and Happy

We’re making a big move at the end of 2016. After three decades in our current headquarters location, Herrmann International is going virtual.

This new virtual workplace reflects the increasingly global and dispersed nature of our organization—even here in the U.S., many of our employees are scattered across states and time zones. At the same time, technology is offering more ways than ever for people to stay connected and interact with each other, whether they’re in the same building or not.

But we also recognize that you can’t just flip a switch and expect everything to continue business as usual. So we’ve been approaching this move from a Whole Brain® perspective: The goals and objectives are clear (A quadrant), and we’re keeping our eye on the future (D quadrant), but we also have to prepare for the journey (B quadrant) and keep people engaged every step of the way (C quadrant).

As we expand our footprint across the US and beyond, we’re excited about the energy, innovation thinking and additional opportunities that open up for us, our customers and our employees. But we also want to make sure we set the team up to succeed.

So what do we need to keep in mind? The A quadrant reminds us to seek out expert advice, and that’s what we did.

Employee Engagement Tips for the Virtual Workplace

My good friend Ben Snyder, CEO of Systemation, went through a similar transition a few years ago. Not only does he have the experience, his company focuses on project management, business analysis and work management training. In other words, they’re in the business of getting work done. Seemed like the perfect brain to pick for this particular challenge!

Here are some of the tips Ben shared with me based on his company’s experiences.

Sweat the details: This classic B-quadrant activity can go a long way towards alleviating the concerns some employees might have about the transition. Systemation set everyone up with a phone, computer, printer and allowance for office furniture. In addition to a main office number with a directory, employee lines can be forwarded to employees’ cell phones so they can be reached wherever they set up shop for the day.

Take advantage of technology to keep people connected: There are so many tools available to help virtual employees stay connected. At Systemation, Slack is the virtual water cooler of choice, and everyone is required to post something at least once every day. Whether it’s a salesperson recapping a great call or someone simply posting what they’ve got on deck for the day, this keeps people engaged and tapped into what’s going on throughout the organization.

Prepare managers for the shift: If managers are used to managing people by stopping in to check with them throughout the day, they’re going to need to develop new management and engagement strategies. New processes, workflows and communication systems may be necessary for managing the work productively, and a mindset shift may be required to build trust and confidence in managing people from a distance.

Recognize that change affects everyone differently: Unlike a company that has always operated virtually, Ben reminded me that many of my team members weren’t hired into a virtual environment; they were hired to work in an office. Some will love the new setup, but others will miss the day-to-day interaction and the hum and background noise of a busy office. It’s up to us to take proactive steps to ensure everyone feels comfortable with the change.

Don’t assume one work style fits all: Employees should be encouraged to find the right conditions and set up boundaries so that they can be most productive and efficient. For some, this may mean getting up, showering and getting dressed before ever stepping foot in the office. Others may wake up energized to plow through a project right away.

Ben told me that Systemation employees who prefer the hustle and bustle of an office will occasionally work in public places—a restaurant, coffee shop, the mall or even at a co-worker’s house—because they’re more productive that way. The most important thing is to encourage employees to figure out what works best for them.

Stay focused on results: Ben says Systemation has always been a progressive company in terms of flexible work hours. No one’s scrutinizing your hours or micromanaging your every move; results are what matters. And still, he admits he struggled initially with the meshing of work/life/personal that happens when a company goes completely virtual.

“When you go virtual, people’s lives really get in the blender,” he says. “If I called someone during work hours and they weren’t at their desk, I would think, well, where are they? I had to remind myself to go back to my own rules: Are they producing what I want them to produce? If they are, then that’s all that matters.”

If you’re making a virtual move or already have a large employee population working from home, these are some great tips for maintaining a strong culture, keeping people connected and getting the work done.

We’re excited about the possibilities ahead and looking forward to the innovative ways our employees will embrace technology and find new ways to engage and work together.

And by the way, in celebration of our Lake Lure home and our exciting future, we’ll be sharing photos and stories on social media through the end of the year. We know many of you have special memories from visiting the property over the years, and we’d love to hear them! Please join us in the celebration by sharing your memories and photos on our Facebook page and on Twitter with the hashtag #LakeLureStories.

This post marks the start of our new blog series about a Whole Brain® approach to all things virtual. We'll be featuring ideas for better communication in a virtual environment, Herrmann employee home office setups and much more!

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