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Building Office Culture in a Virtual World
Learn how to create an environment that makes your team feel valued when you’re not working side-by-side in a bricks-and-mortar space.
September 20, 2017
Clockhouse Realty opened its doors in January 2017 as a full-service mobile brokerage serving Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Despite not having a physical headquarters, the 25-agent company is growing rapidly, with a goal of adding at least 15 more by 2018.
Jared Phillips, co-owner and vice president, along with his father, James Velozo, co-owner and president, put a lot of effort into making agents feel connected. Phillips believes every relationship matters in the business, and he takes that motto very seriously. “We maintain a close-knit, healthy, respectful atmosphere at Clockhouse, along with an open forum between management, agents, and clients,” he says. He builds a rapport with prospective agents prior to bringing them on board. After that, he conferences with every agent on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
According to Gallup, U.S. employees are spending less time conducting business in an office, with 43 percent working from home at least some of the time in 2016, up from 39 percent in 2012. The study also shows that the trend is strongest in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries.
But how do you create a company culture that helps people flourish and the bottom line grow when everyone isn’t working in the same location?
“Company culture does impact growth, productivity, employee engagements, retention, and attraction,” says Samantha Clarke, owner of Samantha &, a “happiness and change consultant” who works with technology and creative companies. The right culture showcases how things are going to be done, what the company stands for, and the glue that makes it work, Clarke adds.
Here are some tips from Clarke, Phillips, and others on how to keep a business culture cohesive, strong, and productive without physical office space.
Add value to your remote workers. Clarke says some of the biggest companies that operate remotely provide good frameworks for their staff, such as providing the best equipment, technology, platforms, and even a stipend for improving their home offices.
Share the wealth. Since the utilities and other office expenses don’t exist, Clockhouse Realty is able to offer a 90/10 commission split with their agents. “Spending money only where it needs to be spent results in happy agents and, in turn, happy clients,” Phillips says.
Bring people together. Just like a family, Clockhouse members bond during regular meetings, outings, and over social media. “We find that one way to inspire collaboration and the sense of belonging that people value in the workplace is to share individual achievements over social media so that the community can witness their success. That way, when one of us wins, we all win,” Phillips explains.
Let love and joy be your focus. “Lead from a place of love,” says Corey Michael Blake. He has run his virtual business, Round Table Companies, from his home in Deerfield, Ill., since 2005. His company—with dozens of employees across the country—helps other companies connect with audiences through storytelling. “Emphasize this notion of love and put a lot of practice into it,” he says. One way to do this is to fill your day with the things you love to do, and make sure the people you bring on board are doing the same. For instance, he despised scheduling appointments for his writers and illustrators, so he hired someone who loves organization.
Keep the door open. It’s much harder to retain people these days, Blake says. So when one of his employees wants to leave, he applauds them. “But we keep the door open so they can come back. They learn some new things, but many of them end up missing this family,” he adds.
Harness technology effectively. Cloud-based systems can ensure that documents and emails can be accessed remotely, Clarke says. “More than that, platforms like Skype, Facetime, Zoom, Donut, Slack, Trello, and 15Five can easily be harnessed to combat any physical distance that could hamper interaction, culture development, and feedback with colleagues,” she adds.
Let go of the traditional mindset. Have the confidence to go all in from the start, Phillips says. That will create buy-in from your agents and staff. “Successful business is a high-stakes chess game. Not only do you need to see the next step, but you must also anticipate where that step will take your company,” he says. If you are willing to think outside the box and plan accordingly, you will be able to make your dreams a reality.
Offer opportunities for growth and fun. Research has shown that people are more likely to stay in a job if they have close friendships in an office, and this still holds true for working remotely, Clarke says. “As humans, we are all wired to connect with others. So, in or out of an office, our desire to belong is strong,” she says. There are obvious perks to working remotely, but there is something to be said about carving out dedicated time and space to meet up on an annual company retreat, “workcation,” or monthly team meetups, Clarke adds.