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7 Keys to a Successful Virtual Workplace

Brookley Wofford
Brookley Wofford

Aware Web has been delivering web solutions to clients for nearly 15 years. Nothing unusual about that - except the fact that Awarians have been working remotely since before the invention of Skype and during a time when operating virtually was not necessarily on the list of things the “cool kids” did.

With the increasingly technology-driven world we live in, many companies have fallen in line and began to embrace the idea of allowing their people to work remotely while other companies have decided to do just the opposite.

After years of experience, Aware has perfected the craft of making our virtual work days just as productive as in-office days. So how can you also conquer the virtual workplace?

Communicate regularly with your co-workers and often with sudden outburst of humor

Email doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a forum for brainstorming sessions – so schedule a daily or weekly call with your team to bring about new energy. Aware teams have daily scrum calls where each member is given the opportunity to chat about what they accomplished on the previous working day, what they plan to tackle that day and cover any obstacles that might delay the project. While we always keep the meetings on point when it comes to core objectives, employees are encouraged to bring spontaneity and synergy to the table in order to spark ideas in a way a tame email chain simply cannot.

Leverage technology to appeal to different communication styles

Find out what mode of communication works best for your team as well as each individual. Some people are outgoing and love to talk – over the phone, via video chat or in person. Some prefer the unobtrusiveness of email. Some enjoy the constant, quick contact that instant messaging provides. Aware has taken hold of Lync for instant messaging purposes and a quick way to double check if a co-worker is available for lunch that day, Yammer for internal social networking and the sharing of random humor throughout the day, Smartphones to connect all the dots, and each manager has tailored their approach to communicating with the employees they oversee based on the way they feel works best.

Connect outside of work and network beyond your team

It may seem easy when you don’t see your boss or co-worker in person every day to forget that they, in fact, do exist outside of an email receipt. Make an effort to learn more about your team members than what project items they should be passing along to you this week. Take time to meet them along with members of other departments outside of the virtual workspace – plan a run around a nearby lake, a happy hour, or invite them on a double date with you and your significant other, partner or spouse. Working alongside people virtually can feel exactly as if you were working cube-by-cube. Aware host frequent company outings, employees actively engage afterhours on a regular basis, and a culture of connectedness is nurtured daily.

Embrace the structure that virtual dimensions can create

When the foundation of trust is given to you as a remote worker, you gain a stronger sense of accountability on a very unique level. Although working virtually allows you to own your own schedule, it also allows you to cultivate self-imposed goals as well as a unique structure that awakens when you work outside the daily realms of a regular office environment. At Aware, some of us enjoy scheduling everything out – including our breaks – so that we maintain a structured sense of time management. Having time blocks set for task can boost energy around the projects you’re working on just as designating time for breaks ensures you take that well-deserved breather to spark that extra bit of creativity you were looking for. Some Awarians are major “To-Do Listers” who enjoy nothing more than scratching through those accomplished items.

Switch up your scenery from time to time

A change of venue can be just the thing to jumpstart your productivity and make you feel ready to take on the world. Focused on wrapping up a project? Hop over to your favorite coffee shop and demand that you won’t leave until you finish – or until your latte piggy bank runs out at least. The remote work life gives way to the flexibility of changing locations depending on your mood, the weather, your current workload and what sounds good to your belly at that given moment. Working virtually allows you the freedom to relax on your deck in flip flops while you take conference calls during the spring and summer months, and gives you the ability to opt out of leaving the comforts on your home office during the winter months. It’s also good to have a company office hub to utilize on days when you desire a complete office setting. Depending upon assignment scope and the need for onsite client meetings and project work, Awarians have the opportunity to check in to various office settings throughout the course of the year. This gives Awarians the chance to collaborate with a variety of teams, gain inspiration, and embrace completely new office scenes from time-to-time. On any given day you will find an Awarian plugged in at the local coffee shop, working from their home office, attending brainstorming sessions at our company headquarters in Minneapolis or working onsite with client teams. All in all, we’ve mastered the art of conquering projects from a vast array of remote office locales.

Maintain a seriously fun work/life balance

Just as if you were working in an office each day, you should set a goal to make sure you know when the work day begins and ends. Separating your office space from your personal space within your home helps visually differentiate the two. Working remotely and having 24/7 access to your home office does not mean that you are made to feel you should work 24/7. It’s just as valuable to your overall success as an employee that you take time to enjoy your family, friends and those hobbies that drive your passions. It’s vital that you take time off and spend it doing something that enhances your well-being. As Trevor Olson, President and CEO of Aware Web, told me during the orientation process, “We want you to take time off. It makes the team, the company and you [the team member] better.” And he meant that. Awarians are given paid time off and makeup time options. If we need to escape our virtual workplaces earlier than expected to enjoy a birthday celebration, take a few days off to attend a child’s hockey tournament, or need a week off to relax on an exotic beach far away from WiFi capabilities, we are given that privilege without the weight of feeling bad for it.

Invest in the fanciest slippers you can find

When you work from home you quickly realize how valuable a truly great pair of slippers can be as well as how important it is to splurge on comfort. Purchase an uber plush chair and decorate your office in such a way that makes it an enjoyable atmosphere, make sure you opt for the coziest sweatpants, keep your snack drawer filled with all your favorites, and invest in the best dang pair of slippers you can find. Some Awarians have been with us long enough to acquire a variety of work slippers; a pair for each season even!

What do Awarians feel makes working virtually so awesome?

"When I first heard about working virtually, I have to confess that I didn’t really know what that meant—working, but not really? It turns out that I now find myself working more efficiently and successfully when I’m not in a traditional office. My tricks of the trade include daily (updated!) to-do lists, daily time-tracking, and an obnoxious amount of time blocks in Outlook (e.g., 1-2 p.m. “Testing,” 2-4 p.m. “Develop Specs”). It’s great that Aware supports employees as we find the right individual mix of tools to succeed.”

- Tara Linsmayer, Technical Analyst at Aware Web Solutions

“I worked in corporate cubes and windowless offices for decades before seeing the light and working virtually at Aware. I love the flexible and convenient benefit of working remotely. But my approach to work is the same as always – take initiative, prioritize and set easy work goals each day. I’ll often set a goal like “cook but don’t eat lunch until this report is complete.” I’ve burned many lunches.”

- Doug Kline, Managing Director at Aware Web Solutions

“Many people imagine me working in my pajamas all day, but the secret is I have to shave, shower, and get dressed just like typical office workers – because the process gets me into a “work-mode” mindset, but also because I never know when someone is going to schedule an impromptu off-site meeting or even a Google Hang-Out, and I can get some wicked bedhead.”

- Dan Miller, Creative Director at Aware Web Solutions

“The virtual environment works well for Aware because the high level of accountability and trust we’ve built here. We work hard to make it work. But I must say, if you are planning to work virtually, take a close look at #7. That’s one investment that will pay off over the long haul!”

- Trevor Olson, President and CEO at Aware Web Solutions

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