Overcoming Virtualophobia

Or How We All Went Home and Became a Better Company

Part One: Laying the Virtual Foundations

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer dealt a huge blow to the progress toward virtual workforces about a year ago when she banned her employees from telecommuting. It makes no sense to me. If you want to build airplanes, you have to be in the hangar, but if you want to build Internet services, you shouldn’t need more than a computer and an Internet connection. Personally, I think she did it as a headcount strategy — she slashed headcount and morale in one blow.

Whatever the reason, Mayer’s decision fed into the biggest obstacle for anyone considering a virtual workforce: fear. It made a lot of CEOs say, “If Yahoo! can’t do it, there’s no way WE can do it.” Best Buy, for example, canceled their work-from-home option shortly after Yahoo! did. CEOs fear it because they think they can’t measure what they can’t see. Turns out we measure better now that we’re virtual — more on that below.

You Already Have the Technology

Mayer said people can’t collaborate if they’re not face-to-face. Wrong! CEOs are already collaborating virtually with the CFO, COO, CIA, CPA, CCCP, and every other C. Sure, they’re right in an office right next door, but they’re not face-to-face. They email and IM each other all the time! They’re already using the technology that makes virtual collaboration possible.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake to create a virtual workforce that works. At Decision Toolbox (DT) we’ve been 100% virtual for years. The bottom dropped out of the market following the tragedy of 9/11, and dozens of companies in our space simply quit and went home. We went home, but we didn’t quit!

There aren’t any guidelines or manuals out there about how to do this, so I thought I would share some of DT’s learnings. It has made our company stronger, our people happier, and our bottom line more robust.

Prairie Dogging Isn’t Supervision

First and foremost you need to create two things: metrics and culture. Here’s the part about measuring better. There in your sticks-and-bricks office, you see your Recruiting team at their desks, on the phone and clicking away at their computers. They look sharp in designer suits and the latest hairstyles. A simple glance into their cubicles and you’ve effectively measured their performance, right? Maybe. Or maybe they’re chatting with a spouse about dinner or playing Words with Friends. Sticks and bricks can blind you.

But numbers don’t lie. Numbers don’t play Words with Friends (but it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t tried it!). You need to establish your overall metrics first, and then tie individual key performance indicators to it. For me, the overall metrics are the 3 Ps: individual Performance, group Productivity, and company Profit.

Virtual Mother of Invention

At DT we monitor our Recruitment Partners (RPs) online, along six KPIs that include customer satisfaction surveys, days to find the candidate who is hired, repeat business and others. The RPs are paid by the project, and assignments are made based on KPI scores (and other considerations). Not only does this arrangement incentivize the RPs, but it also gives our leadership team real-time insight into performance. I’ll wager that few CEOs have this kind of insight. And we never would have created this sophisticated tool if we weren’t virtual.

Now that you have your metrics tools, you can wrap the love around the whole thing to support, develop and retain your talent . . . from a distance. Creating and maintaining the culture has to be a deliberate and proactive effort. As CEO my biggest concern is NOT pulling more money through the door. It’s how to improve our culture.

In Part 2 of this blog series, I’ll dive deeper into nurturing that culture. It’s a living, growing thing, like a garden. And, like a garden, you can’t just plant it and ignore it. But we’ve watered and tended our culture with TLC, and it has paid off: we don’t have 100% retention, but we have darn close to 100% retention of the people we want to keep.

Editor’s Note: This Article was co-authored by Tom Brennan, Senior Writer (DecisionToolbox).


Kim Shepherd
Kim Shepherd
AS CEO of Decision Toolbox, Kim Shepherd leads the company’s growth strategy, primarily through developing partnerships, alliances and as an active member of the Los Angeles and Orange County human resources community. A recognized thought leader by HR organizations nationwide including the Human Capital Institute, Kim is a regular speaker at national and regional events on various business models. Kim joined Decision Toolbox in 2000, and brought her unconventional approach to the company she had admired as a client. Today Decision Toolbox is 100% virtual, with more than 100 team members working remotely across the U.S. This company is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. This unique business model has played a key role in the company being awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Decision Toolbox was also named one of the "Fastest Growing Private Companies" by the Orange County Business Journal in 2012. In addition, they have been named 3 years running to the INC 500/5000 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies and have been a 7-time recipient of the HRO Today’s Baker’s Dozen for Midmarket and Emerging Markets. Calling Kim unconventional is an understatement – her former endeavors include 10 years as a TV and Foreign Correspondent, a stint at Club Med and a near miss at a spot on the Olympic ski team. Kim is an active member of the Adaptive Business Leaders Executive Roundtable and the National Association for Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter). She served on the Executive Board of Trustees for Girls Incorporated of Orange County and is also the Board Chair for Working Wardrobes. She is also a former member of Impact Giving. Kim is the recipient of the National Association of Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter) 2013 Innovator of the Year Award, the 2014 Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year, and the 2015 Family Matters Award from WomanSage.

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