When I first divulge to a new acquaintance or friend that I am a 100% virtual employee at ConvergenceCoaching the first response I seem to receive is, “Whoa! I am jealous. I wish I got to work at home.” Quickly followed by a second more intriguing question, “So do you actually know your co-workers?” I giggle and say, “Of course I know my colleagues! In fact, I think I know them the same, if not more than people I have worked with in ‘real life.’ “

When discussing the results of the 2018 Anytime, Anywhere Work™ Survey Results Summary with leaders like my fellow 2018-19 Fall Transformational Leadership Program (TLP) participants, and friends (inside and outside the Accounting field), the question of “actually knowing” my colleagues is coming up more and more. And, frankly, it sparked my curiosity: how do we (ConvergenceCoaching) build a hardworking, supportive and FUN culture working 100% virtually across multiple time zones, states, and schedules?

The answer in one word: intentionally.

We are intentional about the technology we use every day.

Though we are rarely in the same room or even the same state, we often use technology to bring us together. One of the biggest technology tools we use is video conferencing, thus allowing us to hear and see each other. Many video conferencing tools also allows screen sharing and the option to record the meeting. We find the screen sharing and the recording of a meeting particularly helpful when we are training or learning a new process. When loaded to a mutually accessible location (like SharePoint or ShareFile), the recording acts as a reference for when questions come up or if a team member misses the meeting and they want more than the recap outlines, they can hear the full discussion by watching the recording.

If you are looking for a video conferencing tool, your choices are not limited. A quick search in Google for “video conferencing app” will provide you with about 22 million results for you to consider, but I recommend starting with Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, or UberConference.  Many of the options have free trials or free basic plans for you to test out or use on a regular basis.

We are intentional about communicating our weekly responsibilities and tasks.

It is no secret: I am obsessed with organization and keeping all of my ducks in a row. I often make lists, use color coding and calendar reminders to keep all of my responsibilities and deadlines in order. One of my favorite tools that I learned when joining the ConvergenceCoaching team was the weekly Work To Do (WTD). The WTD process is a technique that allows each of us to have a view of our teammates and our own work for the upcoming week. We update and send it out to all team members on a weekly basis to help keep everyone updated on responsibilities, tasks, and projects.

However, one of the most important aspects of the WTD happens before we jump into the list – it is the moment where we write 2-3 sentences (sometimes more) about what is happening in our personal lives. Your son recently accepted a prestigious internship? Share it at the start of your WTD and listen for the cheering and congratulatory emails to roll in. Struggling with an ill family member? Share it and it won’t be long for someone to reach out and offer support or prayers. Adopt a new puppy? You better believe sending a picture will get some well-deserved oo-ing and aw-ing from your virtual team.

Intentionally focusing on sharing our personal lives brings us together over our shared achievements, struggles and adventures.

We are intentional about our behaviors and how we treat each other.

We have many blogs about deal-breakers ranging from Jen Wilson’s business model deal-breakers to Brianna Johnson’s characteristics of a safe and inclusive environment. In short, every firm, business, family, or team of any kind must have expected actions or behaviors outlined and be clear on those that, simply put, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

We know sexual harassment or physical harm are two very common deal-breakers, but what about yelling, triangulation or gossip? How about bullying, snarky comments or being resistant to feedback? Are these deal-breakers at your firm? Commonly, people describe these as “obviously deal-breakers” or “unspoken rules,” but why aren’t the spoken rules? We suggest you make your cultural deal-breakers well known throughout the firm and document them, too.

If documenting your deal-breakers is difficult, start by documenting what your ideal culture would look like. I recommend starting to document your cultural “musts” by using “I will” statements. Some examples of our I will statements include:

  • I will accept ongoing feedback
  • I will continue to work to “get better” in my duties and help others do so as well
  • I will be respectful to all of my team members
  • I will talk about the “elephants in the room”
  • I will do what is right even when no one is looking
  • I will take 100% responsibility for the outcome of my actions and my impact on others

We are intentional about inserting fun, team bonding activities.

At the beginning of the year, we schedule quarterly Brown Bag team calls. The Brown Bag team calls are scheduled well in advance to avoid scheduling conflicts, use video so we can see each other’s facial expressions, and, generally, have a “No Work Talk” rule. We use the designated time to share what we have going on in our personal lives as you would in the lunchroom – if you worked in the same location. We share what is happening with our children, new additions to the family, our personal goals, upcoming vacations, and sometimes disappointments or struggles that we are dealing with. Whatever it is it – we do not talk about outstanding work tasks or projects.

For special events, like an end-of-the-year holiday party or team member’s upcoming baby shower, we get creative and plan (with intentionality) an activity that is out of the norm, will get people laughing and having fun. In 2018, we created friendly competition with a ConvergenceCoaching Family Feud game. Most games you play in “real life” can easily be transformed into a virtual game by planning ahead and using technology to your advantage. If you are starving for inspiration, try:

  • Charades - Use your video conferencing tool to play charades, where players imitate certain actions or subjects for the remainder of the team to figure out.
  • Desk/office decorating - Each team member decorates their desk/office, takes a picture and then sends it to one person on the team. Then, the photo collector randomly displays the pictures and the team guesses who the picture belongs to.
  • Most Useless Gadget – Each team member searches the internet for the most useless gadget or item on the internet (think banana peeler), then each team member has 1-minute to pitch to the team why you should purchase that item.
  • Karaoke – Invite your team for a virtual Friday afternoon get-together with Karaoke. Use RedKaraoke or TheKaraokeChannel on YouTube and be prepared for the laughs (and team bonding) to ensue. You will be surprised about what songs your teammates decide to sing!
  • Pictionary – Pictionary can be recreated by using a video conferencing tool, like Zoom, and using the “whiteboard” function. Randomly, combine a list of items to be drawn and have a designated person or moderator privately chat the item to the drawer.

Firm culture is a key element of what makes your firm unique, special and different and varies from organization to organization. It helps to attract and retain your best and brightest talent, so whether you are a 100% virtual firm or just dipping your toe in ATAWW, build your firm culture with intentionality.

Until next time,