I started my business in 2002, because launching a consulting firm in the throes of a recession seemed like a good idea at the time. Like many startups, we mortgaged our future and lived on cold pizza for a couple years. We miraculously won a project, then another, and built a successful company.
I started my business because I was tired of the rat race. I'd had it with corporate America-too much travel, arbitrary rules and a sense that for someone else to win, I had to lose. My idea was pretty radical at the time: the vision to start a company based on a fundamental American principle... freedom.
I have run a virtual company for the last 15 years. I have encouraged my people to attend their kids' school events, or to work out in the middle of the day. Giving people time and space to have true balance is just good business, and a better way to live.
It wasn't hard for me to create this environment, because as a recovering workaholic, I just assumed people would do the right thing for their company and their customers. Studies reveal that virtual employees work more hours than those who report to an office. This is in part because of their lessor commute times, and their compulsion to prove they are not slacking off.
Change is hard.
Startups, often fueled by youthful exuberance, have propelled alternative work environments to the forefront. But established companies with stodgier managers are having a hard time converting to virtual work for one simple reason-some managers just don't trust their employees.
This says more about the managers than the employees. Perhaps they need to get out more. Have you ever noticed that the people who don't trust others often don't trust themselves? Just yesterday a manager of a small company told me, "I need to see people to know they are working." My thought was, this guy has excellent prospects for the future... as a greeter at Walmart.
Hire the right people and trust them.
So here is what I have learned running a virtual company for 15 years: Hire great people, teach them what to do, and trust that they will do the right thing. Rocket science, right? If people can't live within your values, simply wish them the best of luck in their next position, wherever that might be.
You need the right collaboration tools to promote productivity; that's a given. But I think it's much more important to have the right mindset about the world of virtual work. Employers are learning the importance of providing connectedness with every person that works for them.
Make virtual part of your DNA.
Startups have done so well with this because the same methodologies used in agile apply to virtual work. Daily huddles and weekly check-ins provide the opportunity for people to work together to solve problems.
Companies must also have formalized systems that make it hard to hide if someone is not pulling their weight. Find ways to measure productivity and make those numbers very public. Having freedom comes with the responsibility to perform.
You too can be a rocket scientist. Hire the best people, have structured systems and training, and set them free. As a bonus, you will save a lot of money on rent.