Why Working Virtually Is Great for Businesses

(This article was written by John Caplan and appeared on forbes.com.)

During this unprecedented global health crisis, many companies around the world are operating remotely to protect employees and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With a vaccine still in development, this new way of working will likely continue for the foreseeable future. While it takes some getting used to and comes with its own challenges, there are exciting opportunities.

The biggest opportunity is that your business does not need to be limited to the immediate geography of where you’re located, meaning you can connect more extensively with customers, partners, and opportunities around the world. A virtual sales call with a client halfway around the world used to sound like a crazy idea, but today it has become common practice. Finding a new supplier of raw materials for your business from a top producer in Italy used to be something only big companies with travel budgets would do. Not anymore. Working remotely is a great equalizer and has opened new channels.

Working remotely may also be a key to globalization. Our U.S., Europe, and Asia local teams are working from home, so we are all quickly learning that we really are just one big team. The disappearance of office walls and satellite locations removes any “us versus them” mentality or sense that the people you are physically closest to are the ones you should be most aligned with. This global team unity is a powerful silver lining of how we’re working and thinking today, and it’s just one example. Advantages like this are already transforming the way we do business, helping us achieve new levels of proximity, understanding, productivity, and innovation. To start unlocking them for your own business, follow these eight strategies as you manage your teams.

  1. Be transparent.

The further apart we are, the more easily mistrust between co-workers and business partners can develop. If people are out of the loop or have partial information, their productivity and happiness decline. Make a deliberate effort to integrate people into the decision-making loop by hosting regular virtual town halls, video conferences, and virtual office hours. Regularly sharing information, goals, and metrics about your company’s strategy and personnel decisions will make the entire team feel respected. By keeping communication channels open, employees will understand how much you value them. This will help them become more invested in your business, and meetings will be less about updates and more about inclusive, productive collaboration. Now is the time for over-communication, openness, and transparency. Even if you think you’ve already said something, say it again.

  1. Be human.

Keep in mind that part of being transparent is being human. Go ahead and talk about yourself as a person, not as a worker. Does your dog want to make a Cameo on a Zoom call? Does your partner want to wave hello? Go for it! This openness will allow colleagues to support one another on a more personal level and ultimately build a more unified and resilient workplace culture.

  1. Simpler is always better.

We like to say, “no gray areas,” because every degree of complexity introduces risk to a business. Misinterpretation can drive disconnection and poor outcomes. So as you’re setting objectives, focus on prioritizing activities that create clear customer value. It’s best to accomplish only one or two goals at a time and then go deep on them to build shared understanding. This kind of focus and communication always wins.

4. Earn value.

As we all connect and collaborate more over Zoom, Ding, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, it’s hard to have visibility into all that is going on, including who is doing what and who is happy, productive, and making an impact. It’s especially difficult for a leader of a team to align with and support the team. One of our core values is “trust makes everything simple,” and that means both trust within our company and for small-and-medium-sized businesses to do business globally. To help set a tone for a culture of enhanced trust, be humble. Think of coming to work every day as a reset, and try to earn credit—with your team, customers, and partners—by the end of each day. Help your team be productive, no matter what it takes.

  1. Set a clear goal.

Establish a single, clear overarching goal for your team—and then resist the urge to micromanage. Do that, and you will demonstrate your confidence in your people, which will ultimately inspire creativity and maximize productivity. This is crucial while people aren’t commuting, have the ability to reallocate time and are more flexible and available than ever before. Now is the time to invent solutions and uncover opportunities.

  1. Embrace diversity and celebrate innovation.

Out of chaos and disruption comes opportunity for small-and-medium businesses. We are experiencing 20 years of business and digital transformation packed into just a few months, and employees at every level have newfound freedom to exercise their ingenuity and solve problems in compelling ways. As a leader, be intentional and vocal about encouraging and rewarding this inventive mindset. Use this moment to lean into digital and global opportunities and open paths for all members of your team to contribute creative thinking and make new connections. Don’t resist the change, go with it. Say yes. It’s only when we welcome diversity of people and ideas that people can innovate freely.

  1. Results > Hours.

This is not the time to micromanage or be strict about hours, face time, or protocol. People all over the world are now navigating disruption and change in their lives. You may not know it, but members of your team may be struggling with their responsibilities, like taking care of kids or worrying about the health of elderly parents, all while trying to demonstrate their value and do their jobs. If you notice that your team member is not available on-call or on-chat 15 hours a day or responding immediately to every message, let it go. What matters first and foremost is their physical and mental health, their family, and their ability to drive business outcomes.

  1. Always be listening, learning, and growing. 

As the world changes and as all businesses more fully go digital, there is fresh opportunity everywhere. For example, since people are accustomed to using technology to collaborate, you can leverage that experience into helping your customers. Ask them what they need. Our team has invented new ways to engage with our customers, such as daily webinars for our sellers that teach them how to add customers globally, and launched virtual trade shows that match buyers to the right supplier. We’ve also debuted Transformer Talks, a Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn Live series where we interview leaders, such as celebrity chef and advocate Tom Colicchio, to tease out insights that small businesses can use to chart a path to success in the face of today’s unique challenges. All of these initiatives were invented in response to this moment, to help those who use our services bridge to the next decade.

As we continue to navigate through the pandemic and beyond, businesses that actively lead with transparency and humanity—with a focus on collaboration and innovation—and who embrace a global and digital mindset, will be the ones that inspire their people and their customers.