Running a Virtual Organization


HiringThing was started a little over a year ago, and from the beginning we had a vision of building a virtual organization. No central office, everyone on the team working from their own preferred locations and heavily using online tools to collaborate. As an online company, it seemed like we were perfectly suited for virtual work, and now that we have a solid track record of making it work, I’m happy to say we were right. We have 6 employees working from 5 different cities , and HiringThing is doing better than ever.

Benefits

There are some real, tangible benefits to having a virtual workforce, some of which we predicted, and others which have shown themselves as we gained experience. They include:

  • Reduced overhead. Without an office to support, we save a considerable amount on rent, utilities, office furniture and other expenses.
  • Increased productivity. Every employee is free to work in whatever environment works for them personally, and our team loves it. While some managers worry that their employees will play video games and do the laundry at home instead of working, our experience shows that the net benefit is more thoughtful, productive work time and happier employees.
  • Ability to attract talent. Freed from the constrictions of only hiring in one small geographic area, and able to offer telecommuting as a strong benefit, we’ve been able to recruit team members that otherwise wouldn’t have even considered working with us.

How We Work

Running a virtual organization requires a different management style than working with a team onsite, and we’ve been mindful to design a workflow for the team around these realities. Open communication and collaboration are absolutely critical. Some of our practices are:

  • Regular video meetings. It’s true that there are some nuances to conversation that just don’t come across over the phone. To help keep us all in sync, we have video meetings three times a week, where we review the latest issues and discuss solutions. The video conversation really helps us read each other and encourages good discussion.
  • Chat room discussions. Every day, the entire team logs into a shared chat room, and we use it to share tidbits of information and discuss operational issues throughout the day. This helps keep everyone informed, and there’s a real feeling of community created by being on the same page.
  • Skype and IM. Group discussions are helpful, but much collaboration occurs between specific stakeholders. Our team members are always available to each other via Skype and IM for quick meetings on specific topics.

Culture

Having the tools in place to manage a virtual company is only part of making it work. In conjunction, it’s important to also have a culture that supports a workforce that isn’t always looking over each other’s shoulders. Here are some aspects of our culture that have really helped our virtual company work well:

  • Performance tied to productivity. You’d think this would be obvious, but in many workplaces employees are judged on many factors, including how loud they are in meetings, how many hours people think they work, or how neat their desk is. At HiringThing, the primary performance metric is the quality and results of your work. I personally could care less if someone on the team takes a video game break midday – as long they’re producing stellar work.
  • Hire experienced, motivated talent. We’ve made a conscious decision to staff our team with professionals who are proven in their fields and know what needs to be done to do their jobs well. Many startups take another route and hire promising junior employees, at lower salaries, hoping the team can grow together. This approach certainly CAN work, but in many ways requires more oversight and hands-on coaching.
  • Trust-based management. Micromanagement really has no place in managing remote workers. If you wonder if an employee is doing their laundry rather than working, you’ve already lost. An example of our trust based approach can be seen in our Unlimited Vacation Policy.

Tools

We get a lot of questions about the tools we use to run our company, and I’ve compiled a list below. It’s certainly not an all inclusive list of the software we use, but I’ve included everything we use that helps us collaborate specifically.

Summary

Virtual organizations work and I encourage any new company to seriously consider whether or not they need an office. Some teams are simply more gregarious than others, and the thought of not sitting next to their co-workers doesn’t sound that great. For others, working from home is a dream come true, and you’ll get better results and a happier team as a result.

Don’t just take my word for it — here are some quotes from the HiringThing team:

“One of the biggest benefits I appreciate in working from home is the absence of a commute. Instead of spending 2 hours every day getting to and from work in a crowded, frustrating public transportation environment, I start my day early with a good workout and am happier, healthier and more productive throughout the workday as a result. Being a naturally self-motivated person, I find that the lack of a shared office space results in fewer distractions and enhances my concentration and ability to complete detail-oriented projects with greater ease and efficiency.”
Jess Tejani , Director of Finance & Operations, HiringThing

“In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work for two virtual companies and I benefit from skipping the commute part of the day. Instead of sitting in a car, I can spend my early morning time exercising or working in my vegetable garden, then start my work day focused. Creating a dedicated office space made it easy to separate my work and personal life. And using tech tools like Campfire and GoToMeeting, I know my colleagues are just a text message away when I need their input and support.”
Rachel Bell , Director of Marketing, HiringThing

Author: HiringThing

HiringThing is easy to use, intuitive online recruiting software that makes it easy to post jobs online, manage applicants and hire great employees.