by Corey Michael Blake
Being surrounded by an entire team that doesn’t feel like they work for you can be a ridiculous blessing. But is there a magic formula that makes work feel like joy, happiness and fun all rolled into a single cupcake you can munch on all day long? You bet there is. It’s culture talking. And walking.
As a virtual company that employs 20 people spread all over the country, Round Table Companies (RTC) learned the value of investing time and money into our culture. As a company that helps individuals and companies to connect to their audiences through storytelling, brilliance and joy are two of our core values — and they cannot be achieved without feeling highly connected, caring for one another and setting a tone that empowers people. Since our inception in 2005, we have discovered that there are certain keys to thriving in a virtual business:
1. A Focus on Joy
Above all else, let joy guide you as a leader. When you spread joy by example, it cannot help but infuse itself into the recipe of your business. That means filling your day with what you love and hiring people to handle everything else. Every time I grew to dislike an aspect of my business, I found someone who loved it with as much vigor. When I hated scheduling appointments for our writers and illustrators, I found someone who loved to organize things. When I grew tired of managing the financials, I found someone who loved numbers. When editing manuscripts no longer fulfilled me, I found a lover of words. In each of these cases, I found someone who built their life around loving that role so I could continue to fill my own days with the joy of creating. That power is yours.
2. Family First
When family needs to come first, let it. Every time. No questions asked. As a company owner with two dogs and no children, this one took me a while to grasp, but it has allowed for tremendous growth. In fact, nearly half our staff is made up of part-time, stay-at-home mothers and fathers who are highly educated, ridiculously reliable and organized beyond measure. They add incredible value to our work and they cover for one another in the blink of an eye, creating an entire support network to ensure balls stay in the air.
3. Scout for Culture Fit
We love our staff. Seriously. Love them. That means that we empower them to take risks, catch them when they are falling, cover them when family needs to come first, push them to overcome their own inhibitions, and celebrate with them when they create greatness. When looking for new people, we first ask, “Could we love them?” Everything else falls into place if we’re honest in how we answer that question.
4. Test for Impressiveness
We never just bring someone aboard in a full-time capacity. As a virtual company, since our hire will not be in an office where we can observe their work ethic, there are more variables. We start by testing a number of people who we feel we could love by giving each of them a small project that only requires a few hours. While we’re obviously looking at the skill with which they complete the task, we’re also looking to quickly assess their communication skills, adherence to deadlines, and ability and desire to exceed our expectations. If they don’t impress us immediately, we move on. If they do, we send them another project of slightly larger size. Rinse and repeat until they become part of the family or are excused from the table.
5. Adherence to Core Values
The beauty of strongly flushed out core values is that they make issues black and white, so we can pinpoint problems and resolve them quickly. Is the group functioning as a community? Yes or no. Is our staff being honest with one another? Yes or no. In any of these areas, if we’re answering no, we may need a culture adjustment. Anything short of “yes” requires immediate attention. When leadership makes decisions based on our core values, employees follow suit and then kindly pressure each other to do the same. Over time, adherence to those values becomes habitual.
6. Invest in Systems
Virtual employees spend a fair amount of time communicating and looking for what they need to fulfill their daily obligations. They also have to track their own time, and as they grow with the company, they may begin to manage other staff. To rescue our staff from hours of admin work per day, we automated communication and sharing through software like Trello and Google Docs, billing through Harvest and deadline tracking through Basecamp. Great systems offer our employees freedom from having to waste time on the less joyous aspects of a virtual day. As a result, they show us appreciation through more brilliant performance.
7. Create Regular Touchpoints
Our VP and I get together every two months to brainstorm. Our core team of four gets together quarterly to reevaluate our growth, and our entire staff is invited to get together twice a year to bond. These are the big and necessary touchpoints to ensure deeper emotional connection and personal appreciation. On a smaller scale, our touchpoints are equally as important. We host three executive phone meetings per week: one for operations to talk out any key issues, a client call where we go project by project to assess progress and troubleshoot, and a call where we focus only on issues of culture. These regular touchpoints have proved invaluable to ensure we’re connecting, supporting each other through challenges, and remembering we’re all pulling the rope in the same direction. In the past, a failure to maintain our touchpoints has depleted our natural sense of trust, and so we do our best to stick to these religiously.
8. The Value of Interventions
About a year ago we began what has become known as the infamous RTC intervention. When we notice one of our team members exhibiting behavior that is not serving them, the company, or our clients, we intervene by what we call leading with love. We surround that individual with members of our executive team and we let them know we’re seeing a blind spot that is hindering them. For particularly difficult issues, we offer that individual time with an executive coach or therapist. The company and individual split that cost so there is equal investment in the outcome. These interventions lead to deepened relationships, company loyalty, and the joy of personal and professional breakthroughs that directly impact performance.
At the end of the day, you have incredible control over your culture. Make the decision to invest your time and money into creating a happy virtual workforce and they will go above and beyond to take care of your clients and grow your business.
Working in Los Angeles for a decade, Corey Michael Blake was the face and voice behind a dozen Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 brands as a commercial and voiceover actor (his work won Belding, Addy, Cannes, and London International Advertising awards), before working as a film producer and director, as an author and publisher, and now as the founder and President of storytelling company Round Table Companies (RTC).