This post was authored by Salem Kimble, social media development manager with BetterWorld Telecom.

BetterWorld Telecom provides services that enable and support a virtual work environment, as a donation partner with TechSoup Global. However, BetterWorld itself works as a virtual team, with team members scattered literally across the U.S. With TechSoup's focus on virtual work this month, we thought we'd share some of the tips and practices we use to make 'virtual work' work for us.

Democratic Workplace

The primary organizing principle behind all the practices that our team implements is a democratic and horizontal management structure. This means that decision-making is pushed out as far as possible to the people actually doing the work. Two outside organizations that help to track this and provide best practices are B Corporation, (whose online assessment is available in full for free) and WorldBlu (providing 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy).

One of the benefits of working virtually is that a results-only work environment (ROWE), naturally arises, making efficiency and clarity of focus the working norm. (ROWE is management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence.) A democratic workplace and management style establishes trust, maintains adult relationships, avoids micromanaging, and is a key component of successful virtual or distance-based teams.

Regular, Structured Check-ins

Each member of our team emails their main achievements from the past week and their primary objectives (As and Os) in the coming week to the team every Monday. This is followed by a Monday morning conference call where each member shares weekend highlights, top three As and Os, and a review of company progress towards monthly goals. Having consistent and structured check-ins helps keep the team connected to each other, accountable for their work, and up-to-date on company direction and goals.

Easy Access to Team and Colleagues

Using BetterWorld Telecom's Unified Communication platform (one of the services we provide), our team members can see who is available and who is on the phone at any time. Clicking a team member's name causes the system to call their phone and to call your phone to connect. Our team also utilizes Google chat for quick questions, although this has more limited reliability.

Easy Access to Tools

Members of our team use different tools and platforms for their jobs, but everyone is connected to Jungle Disk, which allows for instant sharing of relevant files with the rest of the company. Everyone is also connected to Salesforce, which is a cornerstone for much of our customer care and company activity.

BetterWorkTM

We commissioned a nine-month study with Bainbridge Graduate Institute on the environmental and business impacts of adopting a virtual work environment,  the result of that study was a framework called BetterWork TM.  BetterWork TM is an organizing strategy that physically provides substitutions for commuting, travel and building activities through the implementation and adoption of current virtual work tools (audio, video conferencing, unified communications, and so on.). Many of the tools and solutions we provide to our customers support virtual work and we use them ourselves to optimize our work environment. 

More Tips and Tools

Below is a summary of tools, practices and tips from our team.

Tools Used by BetterWorld for Virtual Work: 

  • Customer relations management in the cloud with Salesforce
  • Backup and file storage in the cloud with Jungle Disk, shared files, redundancy, security
  • Unified communications - central platform for phone, fax, departments, routing calls, visible availability, instant messaging
  • Business info tools - all business information is accessible anywhere via CARE, Salesforce, Jungle Disk, Nagios, and others.

Practices Used by BetterWorld for Virtual Work:

  • Weekly sales funnel review
  • Weekly and bi-weekly phone check- in's with departments and team
  • Weekly email progress reports or updates
  • Tracking of tasks in Salesforce

A Few Work Tips from BetterWorld Team Members:

  • Use a hotspot internet, it allows more environments to support productive work
  • Budget time between online and offline activities
  • Use time in transit to get things done (calls and so on)
  • Always have your office with you
  • Control email downloading, choose when to see it
  • Keep some stretch of time digital-free each week (for example, 24 hours each week)
  • Lessen the rigidity between work and rest of life, be flexible
  • Identify "boulders" of the day, first things first

Virtual work can be a daunting shift for organizations, but it also has been shown to decrease costs, increase employee retention and satisfaction, and catalyze greater productivity (Filling the Tank with Telework, 2011). Insuring that you have a structure and policies in place can insure a successful transition to a virtual work environment for your team.

Becky Wiegand is the Webinar Program Manager at TechSoup.org
@bajeckabean on Twitter