Happy woman talks on the phone

The right technology can make managing virtual teams easier and more effective.

Few things are less quantifiable, more important, and more difficult to directly influence than a company’s culture. In the modern era, where managing virtual teams and other distributed entities is the rule, a measure of cultural consistency is a written-in-stone necessity. This is something small fish and big players alike must manage for the sake of the name on the awning.

And, despite the challenges a long-distance working relationship can represent, today’s executives can’t just give up on imposing a singular culture because their virtual enterprise operates under more than one roof. Giving your locations the same feel, regardless of geography, can yield productivity benefits and make sure remote employees get a consistent workplace everywhere.

Here are a few takes on making your culture more portable in the mobility era:

Formalize and Centralize

The word “formalize” doesn’t always conjure images of a happy, productive workforce, but according to Recruiter, building a distributed culture gets a lot easier when you know what it is and what you’re trying to get from it. The first step in that process is asking yourself and your team questions about the company’s end goal, core values, and approach to productivity, and coming to thoughtful, collaborative answers.

You may discover that your company puts a lot of stock into communication and collaboration. You could also find that you’re in a laid-back workplace that doesn’t dictate process or strict behavior standards as long as the ethical end results are there. Maybe you’ll discover a more formal, buttoned-down environment. Or, maybe you’ll discover something else entirely.

Whatever that “something” is, write it down. Since this is an attempt to instill or influence culture, you may wish to only include positives to emulate. That said, this could also be an opportunity to identify and eliminate negative factors, which can obviously affect employee engagement and productivity. Either way — and even if you think you have a good grasp of your company’s culture — be sure to put it on paper first. You may be surprised at what you find.

Ears to the Ground

At the risk of sounding cheesy, it also goes without saying that workplace culture — both company-wide and on the individual-location level — is a living, breathing, organically cultivated thing. Keeping every location in cultural lock-step may not be fully possible because of this, especially considering how hard culture is to force.

However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be influenced or nudged in a certain direction. More, the high-level aspects you noted earlier can often be implemented through policy, management behavior, tone of internal communication, and other obvious and not-so-obvious avenues.

When managing virtual teams and other branches, one such not-so-obvious avenue — asking employees directly — can be huge in determining and dictating culture. This is especially pertinent since employees at all levels, from management to HR to ground-level reps, tend to believe their particular roles are the primary cultural influencers within their workplaces. Though you may not be present in every location long enough to get a real feel for their internal culture, and while employees are undoubtedly likely to understate any reservations, pinpointing trustworthy sources within branches and speaking to them regularly can yield real, workable results for individual roles and the company at large.

Translate with Technology

Once you’ve located positive cultural aspects and things worth changing, the next challenge is to replicate them. When you’re managing virtual teams, chances are you’re making heavy use of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools. Just like they enable basic work, these solutions will likely play a key role in replicating your culture across office walls.

The “laid-back” office referenced earlier provides one example to follow. While lax attendance policy may be acceptable when the job’s getting done, there will still be times when productive but MIA employees are desperately needed. This problem is easy enough to handle in single settings but increasingly difficult with a growing number of branches. Presence tools and cloud-based collaboration solutions can make it easier to track these troublesome-yet-productive employees and continue with the get-your-stuff-done atmosphere across locations. This will enable a greater level of collaboration than businesses working without cloud collaboration tools would be able to muster.

The other, more formal office can glean similar benefits from communication and collaboration tools. For example, weekly performance meetings could be held on a company-wide basis despite a growing number of locations, while particularly zealous regional management could use video tools to check on compliance concerns at multiple branches at once.

In both cases — and countless others — the goal is to nudge branch office culture in the same direction as the rest of the business. In some sense, the policy governing these locations should do most of the heavy lifting. Instead of trying to force its hand, company leaders concerned about replicating a successful culture should do what they can to identify the positive aspects, then cultivate them everywhere within the company.

To mangle the old saying, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing when it seems like you haven’t done anything at all. Happy growing!

To learn more about how technology can help you develop your company culture, reach out to a Vonage Business representative.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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Two men and a woman reviewing documents in an office.

Using business communication systems can help create a more collaborative atmosphere.

Your small business can only produce fantastic products and provide stellar customer service through business communication systems if everyone is working on the same team. And as anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship knows, communication is essential to working together. While it’s not likely your staff is going to argue about who needs to take out the trash (although the break room refrigerator may be a touchy subject), you need to make sure you are providing the tools and processes to help make sure every member of your staff is on the same page.

By the time many small-business owners realize there is an internal communications issue, it’s often too late to effectively address the situation. By proactively considering communication across team members and providing the necessary tools, your small business will have a competitive edge over your competitors.

Here are four ways you can bridge the communication gap with business communication systems:

1. (Almost) Face-to-Face Meetings

Emails are important. Phone calls are great. But being able to see someone’s facial expression makes all the difference when it comes to letting remote team members form relationships. This way, it’s easier to tell when someone is joking – or not. With video conferencing, you can avoid miscommunications and help employees develop a rapport with each other. This works if you have multiple offices or if you have employees who are working remotely.

2. Create a Collaboration Culture

With remote teams, one top challenge is effectively working together. When teams work together onsite, they typically use a conference room as a home base, with sticky notes, empty pizza boxes, and whiteboards full of chicken scratch, arrows, and asterisks to show for it. By using collaboration tools and web conferencing, your team can have a virtual whiteboard, calendar, chat, contact list, and many other tools to help bridge the communication gap, whether everyone sits in a single room or spans across the country.

3. Reduce Versioning and File Access Issues

One of the most important forms of communication these days is written communication. Teams often have to share documents and work collaboratively on a project. However, keeping the versions straight and making sure everyone has the access they need when they need it can be challenging, even for teams working in one location. This becomes even more cumbersome when teams work in different locations, sometimes resulting in missed deadlines, extra stress, and frustrated employees. By using file-sharing tools, everyone has access to the files they need to do their jobs, and no one has to worry about their colleague overwriting their work or updating an old version of a document.

4. Share Knowledge with Each Other

The skills employees need to do their jobs these days seems to change and evolve at a dizzying speed. To stay competitive, it’s essential that small businesses ensure each employee has the necessary skills to get the job done. One solution is using a virtual classroom to have an employee with the needed expertise provide training to teammates. This technology can also be used to bring in an outside expert to teach your team.

By using business communication systems, you can increase your company’s knowledge base, foster a culture of teamwork, and make collaboration more effective across the organization.

Contact Vonage Business for more insights on using business communication tools.

About Jennifer Goforth Gregory

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a technology freelance writer specializing in B2B and telecommunications topics. She has written for national brands including IBM, Samsung, ADTRAN, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Verizon, Costco and American Express. One of her superpowers is being able to translate technical speak from the experts that make products work into language everyone else can understand. Jennifer has a master’s degree in technical communication and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.

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A man and a woman using laptops while sitting at the bottom of the stairs.

In a virtual enterprise, co-working spaces let employees enjoy collaboration and flexible schedules.

The workplace of the future looks awfully familiar. It looks exactly like your living room (and not because of the open floor plan), or your favorite coffee shop (and not because everyone is way too caffeinated). It looks like an airport, a hotel, or even a public park.

That’s because the workplace of the future isn’t a place. It’s a collection of places — a virtual enterprise where employees can work anytime, from anywhere. Sure, they get together sometimes to brainstorm or just to socialize, share ideas, or swap some gossip. But then they go their separate ways and work wherever they’re most productive. Still, they remain seamlessly connected via mobile technology, video conferencing, and cloud-based collaboration tools.

Of course, remote work isn’t new: 37 percent of U.S. workers have telecommuted, according to a 2015 Gallup poll. Yet the average employee only telecommutes two days per month, which will likely change soon for many employees as technology makes it easier and easier to support this type of work. Most organizations are already preparing to become a virtual enterprise, even if they don’t know it yet.

The following are four trends that point to the future of workplace evolution:

1. The War for Talent

With baby boomers now retiring en masse, the talent shortage you’ve been hearing about for years has finally arrived. It’s a seller’s market, where employers must compete to attract the smartest and most innovative thinkers. Of course, many of the best and brightest are millennials, who tend to view flexibility, mobility and the opportunity for remote work as job requirements, not perks. And they’re happy to live at home with Mom and Dad until they find employers that fulfill their desire for work/life balance.

Telecommuting also enables organizations to assemble the best possible workforces by removing geographical barriers. Rather than hiring the best person for the job within driving distance, they can hire the best person with a Wi-Fi connection.

2. Emergence of Co-Working Spaces

Companies have been toying with the idea of telecommuting for decades. However, many employers are hesitant to let their employees work remotely out of fear that they can only produce great ideas when they get the gang together in person.

To provide employees with the best of both worlds, many companies now provide communal workspaces so remote employees can come into the office and meet with colleagues in person, if and when they need to do so.

Companies that don’t want to pay for office space for remote employees can provide them with access to one of the new co-working spaces that are popping up in major cities across the country. These membership-based facilities offer camaraderie, workplace essentials such as coffee and snacks, and a variety of workspaces, from quiet offices to conference rooms to lounges.

The popularity of these new workspaces is just further proof that the conference room of the future isn’t really a conference room at all. It’s wherever employees choose to meet up and collaborate, whether online or in person.

3. Mass Migration to the Cloud

Not too long ago, if you wanted to work from home for one day, you had to save all the information you needed from the company server before you left the office and then sweet-talk a colleague into emailing you whatever you forgot. Or, you had to log in to a slow, clunky virtual private network (VPN) to access company files.

With cloud computing, authorized employees can quickly and easily access all the information they need at anytime, from any location, on any device. The cloud enables employees to integrate all mission-critical business applications, customer relationship management (CRM) tools, or workflows with their communications system so that they maintain a seamless connection — and business presence — no matter where, or how, they choose to work.

Most companies have now moved at least some workflows into cloud environments. Gartner projected that the worldwide public cloud services market will grow 17.2 percent in 2016 to a total of $208.6 billion (up from $178 billion in 2015). Cloud infrastructure services will see the fastest growth, expanding by 42.8 percent in 2016.

4. Growing Suites of Collaboration Tools

Cloud-based collaboration tools such as file-sharing software, enterprise mobile apps, internal social networks, and video conferencing provide employees with instant access to the information they need to get their jobs done. Rather than wasting time scouring through email in pursuit of the latest version of whatever document they need, workers can quickly find up-to-date information. Teams can also share information and collaborate in real time using these tools, whether they’re on different floors or in different states.

This doesn’t just make employees more productive — it makes them increasingly mobile and able to get work done wherever and whenever it’s most convenient.

Slow and steady doesn’t win the race anymore. In the digital age, it’s the nimble innovators who come out on top. Driven by the need to be faster, more flexible, more creative, and more cost-effective, organizations are investing in new technology that enables workers to be productive from anywhere. And that’s exactly where innovation will happen in the future — from virtually anywhere.

Speak to a Vonage Business consultant today to help your company become a virtual enterprise.

Taylor Mallory Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a professional writer with more than 11 years of experience writing about business, technology and health care for both media outlets and companies. Taylor understands how enterprise mobility and cloud technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration and reimagine the customer experience. She is passionate about helping business leaders understand the impact that emerging technologies can have on communication, operations and sales and marketing.

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A man and a woman in front of a blackboard with equations on it.

Co-creation helps small companies looking for feedback on new products.

What is co-creation? It largely depends on whom you ask. Like “lean,” “agile,” and numerous other buzzword methodologies, its core tenets have been adapted to fit a massive number of industries, with businesses of all sizes striving to innovate practices that reflect its core directive: build value by soliciting and absorbing input.

In other words, co-creation is all about taking an active, intelligent stance toward feedback and then finding effective ways to solicit, consider, and implement it. Moreover, small businesses are particularly suited to this task. Their inherent flexibility and agility (there’s that word again!) allows them to integrate input from customers, employees, and business partners faster and more fully than others, with none of the inertia that may hamper their larger counterparts. That’s especially true when the practice is used in conjunction with the democratizing power of technology.

Here’s how to make this methodology work in your business:

Co-Creation Means Redefining Service

Without getting all armchair-philosopher on you, embracing a co-creative mindset means rebuilding, or at least refreshing, your understanding of concepts such as service. Take these three examples of regular people buying regular things:

  • A man hires a plumber to fix his frozen pipes during a nasty winter chill.
  • A teenage girl drains her savings account to buy a cheap beater car on Craigslist.
  • A gourmet cooking enthusiast spends too much of her sales bonus on a high-end blender.

In all three cases, these people are ultimately buying a service, whether it was water, transportation, or high-grade food chopping. Though this seems like common knowledge, it’s important to keep it in mind as you consider ways to embrace the methodology, if only because it keeps you thinking about novel ways to provide value.

Collaborative Advantages for Small Businesses

As the name implies, co-creation is all about directed collaboration. That could mean collaboration while designing a product, solving a problem, or determining products to put on a new location’s shelves — or any number of other value-focused team efforts. The small company that works with a call center vendor to constantly evolve an effective script is co-creating, as is a large business such as Lego®, which constantly solicits ideas from its core of superfans.

This is where those advantages mentioned up top come in. Although most small companies can’t open a web portal to ask thousands of fans for their opinions on products or offerings, they can implement, roll with, and even abandon changes with less transitional pain than a larger organization might. This is an important quality when making continued feedback part of your processes.

Of course, adaptability means different things to different organizations. A company looking to provide a better, more consistent customer experience based on employee or customer feedback with cloud integration tools may benefit from the average small business’s centralized power structure, where one person or small group can implement major changes without institutional inertia or layers of oversight slowing down progress.

A smaller company looking to change customer-facing aspects or design a new product, on the other hand, may benefit from a lower signal-to-noise ratio as it curates an ideal combination of co-creators, such as customers, employees, and trusted vendor employees. While having a large pool of customers to draw from is hardly a bad thing, there are advantages to being up close and personal with the people who drive the business.

The Democracy of Technology

Businesses can also be the customer in the co-creative relationship. Looking back at the call center example, there is a chain of co-creating fun. The business, a “customer” to the vendor, works in collaboration to improve a script, which was written based on collaborative changes, which were made to provide better value to customers — and so on and so forth.

On top of that, technology’s tendency to get better, more accessible, and more affordable means smaller companies can effectively collaborate at the enterprise level without the infrastructure requirements and costs associated with full-blown enterprise tools. Cloud technology’s long-term trickle-down to smaller organizations comes to mind as a primary enabler of communication and collaboration. Teleconferencing and video conferencing, project management, and numerous other tools enable close integration between unrelated businesses, allowing the company seeking collaboration to assign more responsibility and autonomy to collaborators (including customers and vendors) without relinquishing control.

A Collaborative Future

As a methodology, co-creation is less of a thing to adopt and more the shape all business is taking. The never-ending push for a more satisfied customer and rapid advancement in technology are quite literally changing the way businesses operate, giving rise to an era where collaboration is constant and design-by-committee is something businesses strive for and search out. Don’t dismiss this movement as a buzzword — capitalize on your strengths as a small organization, get involved with your vendors, and get co-creating.

Seamless communication is an essential part of effective communication. Let a Vonage® Business representative show you how.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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