When I tell people that I work from home, I usually get a fascinated smile and a question about who I work for and what do I do. While working from home may conjure images of carefree days lounging in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, successful virtual teams need to do more than drink coffee and casually check e-mail. I was able to revisit the history, successes and even the key learning’s from our journey to a virtual team while I was writing the Virtual Workforce trend abstract for Sodexo’s 2012 Workplace Trends Report. Building a successful virtual workforce requires a number of measured and intentional processes that continue to shape our group today.
When we formed Sodexo’s Talent Acquisition department in 2004, we believed that staffing with home-based employees would offer a number of benefits beyond recruiter casual. We knew it would create the opportunity to hire the best staff regardless of their physical location. We knew this arrangement would allow our team to be better focused on goals while avoiding distractions from being physically located in an office or single line of business. And, we knew it would reduce expenses and allow more flexibility in the way our recruiters managed their volume of job requisitions – hiring over 4,500 management employees each year.
Clearly Defined Goals
To be successful, we developed a strong, clear vision and value set to guide our recruiters. What really makes successful virtual organizations thrive is establishing the framework through which you expect your employees to work. Setting clear performance goals that tie back to business objectives gives employees a sense of purpose and direction.
Providing a strong training and development program is also key to helping virtual staff meet these goals. At Sodexo, our strong on-boarding and training program and regular sharing of best practices help keep our recruiters and staff up-to-date on the latest industry news as well as corporate information.
As a company, we value our customers, team work and innovation, and celebrate best practices while measuring and rewarding results. In developing our virtual team model, we engaged operational and human resources leaders to ensure an alignment of our strategies with business objectives. And, we incorporated concepts from Jim Collins’ books “Built to Last” and “Good to Great.”
However, to build high performance culture in a virtual organization, you also need the highest levels of engagement. And, you need to be very deliberate in addressing some of the downsides of working in a home office – such as feelings of isolation and being disconnected from the business, feelings of being undervalued and, not surprisingly, weight gain. For us, we needed to develop a team that would give 120 percent.
Enter the water cooler. Working virtually, there is little time to socialize with colleagues in casual conversations or hold impromptu meetings in the hall. So, we established regular, intentional communication within our team, including weekly team conference calls and bi-weekly individual calls – each with some dedicated time for personal musings and informal chatter.
From birthdays to service anniversaries, pictures and highlights from personal accomplishments and activities, to best practice sharing and external speakers who provide updates on new initiatives, this water cooler time is a critical component of our weekly meetings to help our team stay connected to each other and the business.
We’ve even been known to throw “parties in a box.” We’ve done virtual baby showers, holiday parties, wedding showers and celebrated other life events virtually. For one particular baby shower, not only did we send the mommy-to-be a box of traditional baby shower goodies and gifts, but we all received the same box before we gathered on the phone to celebrate with her – “all” being our Talent Acquisition team plus HR and operations partners from across the country. This was a great opportunity to share a special time and bring the team together as a family.
With a team that works hard, you need to provide intentional recognition. Recognizing accomplishments – big and small – is important for employee morale and for developing a sense of purpose and connectedness to the company for virtual employees. In Talent Acquisition, we consistently recognize our team members for their contributions and successes through quarterly Virtual Star and Brand Ambassador Awards. And, we hold a live meeting annually to celebrate accomplishments, energize and motivate, and enjoy the personal company of each other … fuzzy slippers, optional.
Over the years, what we’ve found is that while it’s natural to connect to one another in a live workplace, you have to be very intentional in a virtual environment. It takes more effort, but it is very possible to have the same, if not a greater, level of performance. By providing training and development and online support, teams can thrive in the virtual environment.
But, don’t take just my word for it. Read some additional research in the area of virtual teams here and here. Building an intentional, purposeful framework for your virtual team will lead you to success.
Arie Ball is the vice president of Talent Acquisition for Sodexo.