Remote work is a desirable option for many employees. Here are 3 tips to establishing a virtual workplace, according to small-business owners.

For many employees, remote work is a desirable option they don’t want to lose. 

However, turning a physical office into a digital workplace or building an entirely new telework environment, can be daunting for small-business owners. The process doesn’t have to be complicated, but establishing a healthy workplace culture is essential, Josh Albrechtsen, cofounder of the healthtech firm Cortex, said.

Like many companies in 2020, Cortex’s employees worked remotely when COVID-19 reached the US. However, after pandemic restrictions eased, Albrechtsen said he attempted to have in-office get-togethers, but quickly realized that “nobody liked it.”  

After surveying the team on their work preferences, Albrechtsen and Riley Adamson, the founder and CEO of Cortex, decided to take the company remote in February 2022. 

“Universally, everybody said ‘I’d prefer to work from home,'” Albrechtsen said. 

Here are three tips for small-business owners who want to establish a successful virtual workplace, according to two entrepreneurs. 

1. Open communication through digital tools is key 

When Cortex’s cofounders went remote, Albrechtsen wanted to create a culture of open communication. Instead of scheduling weekly chats, he set up permanent and recurring meetings for various departments that were always open for members to join.

Employees would pop in and either mute themselves or keep their microphones on to speak with one another, Albrechtsen said. 

“It wasn’t a perfect recreation of the office environment, but it did invite that small talk and chitchat that we knew we were losing by closing the office,” he said. 

John Connors, the founder and CEO of the advertising-services business Boathouse, said his company remained fully remote after pandemic restrictions eased. However, during the early days of lockdowns, he communicated with employees more over Zoom to keep them informed about the financial status of the company. 

“It’s less sexy than I wanted it to be,” Connors said.

2. Create opportunities for employees to connect

Additionally, hosting informal sessions for employees can help foster a sense of connection, Albrechtsen said.

To get workers to open up, Albrechtsen asks team members: “What makes you, you?” 

“Somebody speaks for about 20 minutes in a really vulnerable way, telling their life story, often they’re sharing details about trauma, their life, parents, all of it,” he added. “That has made the human connection, even though we’re virtual, really tangible, and really can help.”

Both Connors and Albrechtsen agreed that having in-person events a few times a year was vital to creating a healthier remote culture. For example, Connors said he likes to bring his employees together every winter for a few days of fun. 

“It builds that personal accountability to each other that actually allows those personal bonds to be built,” Connors said. “So then, when we’re all back remote again, everybody knows each other’s personal story.”

3. Keep productivity goals transparent

Lastly, it’s important that employees stay productive while working remotely, Connors and Albrechtsen agreed. Both leaders enforce quarterly objectives and key results, which is a strategy some companies use to set measurable goals and track employee performance and productivity. Additionally, Albrechtsen uses the goal-tracking software Tability to monitor progress.  

Albrechtsen insists it’s not all about the numbers, but keeps in mind that “employees have seasons and waves in their motivation,” he said.  

Connors noted that Boathouse’s “strong value system” created a sense of trust and reliability. 

“If you treat your employees like crap or treat them transactionally, it’s going to become transactional when you go remote,” Connors said. 

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