Twenty Years as a Virtual Leader: We’ve Learned Some Things
Friday, May 8, 2020
By: Greg Adams, Chief Executive Officer
Twenty years ago, three colleagues and I started a government affairs advocacy company. We all had young kids, so we decided to give a virtual office a try—and believe it or not it worked. We have expanded over the years into four companies with more than 100 employees, and a virtual office model continues to be our preference.
We learned many lessons about running a company without four walls. Here are a few ideas you might want to consider as you navigate this new world and whether you will continue with a virtual office when this is all over.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
There is a fine line between keeping in touch and limiting the productivity of your team. It is important to make sure your folks do not feel isolated, but not all people connect in the same way. Set up different channels of communications. Email, Teams/Slack, monthly check in calls—let them know you are readily available. Think of it as keeping your virtual door open.
And speaking of communication channels … don’t be afraid to use the phone.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves, which probably shows my age.
It is VERY tempting to get in a rut of doing all your work by chat or email. However, I have seen issues that could have been resolved quickly consume an entire day over email. Pick up the phone, schedule team calls or virtual meetings. You will save yourself time in the end.
Focus on work product, not time at the desk.
One of the values of a virtual office is flexibility. You will be providing your employees with an additional benefit when they can control their schedule and create a better work/life balance for themselves. You aren’t abiding by that benefit when you are monitoring time in the chair. Are your employees meeting deadlines? Are they available for clients? Then why do you care whether they are spending every minute between 9am and 5pm staring at a screen? You have more important things to do.
You are going to make hiring mistakes.
We’ve all made a bad hire. It’s true however you work, but there is a different twist with a virtual office.
Candidates will present well on the phone, in person. Everybody thinks they will be a great fit. And then they start working alone in their home office. All of the sudden, you can’t get a hold of them during work hours, project deadlines slip. Soon you realize your team member is not as strong at working from home as you (or they) thought.
Everyone thinks they can work from home successfully. Everyone can’t. Don’t take it personally.
Above all else, BE FLEXIBLE.
Operating in a virtual office environment is different. You are going to have to make some changes to the way you do things, change is not bad. In the end, you AND your team are going to be better for it.
I would not trade the last 20 years for anything. I have been able to work with an incredible group of people to grow a successful company while still maintaining the ability to be home for deliveries, to run errands for our family, and to coach all three of my sons throughout their baseball careers. And let’s not forget I don’t have a commute.
Greg Adams is the Chief Executive Officer of ACCESS Marketing Services. Access is political communications and design firm that helps clients and partners talk to their audience with messages that are created to persuade and inspire. We help shape discussions across the entire country—from the halls of Congress to the grassroots level.