The following was written by and from the perspective of Change Matrix (CM) Partner Elizabeth Waetzig:
When CM started, the partners, Suganya, Rachele, and I were living in three different states. Since that time two of us have moved to different states. I have moved four times. If we were not a virtual company, our ability to continue to work and grow probably would not have happened. It has been a gift to have access to technology and digital platforms to support us. As we have taken on new team members, we realize that we cannot take for granted our communication, work processes, and relationship development. We must remain intentional about creating a building our virtual culture. In the midst of national conversations about virtual, digital, and social media, we thought we might offer some thinking about how we choose to use or not use these platforms in service of our work and ourselves as human beings, what we like, what challenges us, and what we have learned.
What we like:
- You only have to dress from the waist up: having the opportunity to schedule my yoga class right before calls start for the day is a benefit to a virtual office. I will admit that I occasionally push it so that I am running to my computer minutes before we start. Luckily as I stand at my desk, having just brushed my hair and thrown on a scarf, my colleagues cannot see that I am still in my leggings.
- The flexibility: All of us at CM have full lives. We take time to engage in our communities, pursue a variety of interests, and care for children, pets, spouses, parents, and other beings. Working in a virtual, home office means we don’t have to rent space and it also means that there is a lot of flexibility to create work life balance for those of us who are so inclined. It also means that children and pets and sometimes spouses or parents can be seen on our video screen. We are inclusive!
- Diversity: Having a virtual office has allowed us to cast our recruitment net wide when we are seeking new team members. CM currently has team members in 4 time zones, in 5 decades of life, with very diverse experiences, backgrounds, and environments. While it can be tricky to schedule meetings sometimes, we feel good about our national reach and the varied perspectives that come together and make us who we are.
What challenges us:
- We are always accessible: Many (all) of the platforms we use are available on all of our devices. Even my watch lets me know that someone is connecting with me. While it can be distracting, I like knowing what is happening. I have had to discipline myself to choose whether or not to respond and feel good about my choice. It is a work in progress. Ask my 15-year-old who has challenged me to complete my sentences when I am talking with her.
- We miss face-to-face time: In recognition that there is something wonderful about being physically present, CM gathers once a year in a retreat-like location (ok – we did not quite achieve the “retreat” part this year) to connect, build relationships, learn and grow together. We acknowledge that there are some things for which virtual platforms are a poor substitute. Virtual connection and communication are tools to complement in-person connection. We do our best to be thoughtful about what the work requires.
- Technology (ironic, right?): Have you tried to log on at 1 minute before the hour only to be told that you have to run the installer program? I hate that. And sometimes my audio is not clear or the power has gone out. Any one of those things can make me panic. Luckily, we work in teams and can support one another with grace.
What we have learned:
- You have to schedule intentionally: I am not good at this. There are days when I have scheduled back-to-back video calls. And while I firmly believe that video enhances the interaction with others, there are days when my legs are crossed by the end of the third call. And I am not sitting down.
- Choose your platforms wisely and know when to use them: Many on our team are good at, and like platforms that make us more streamlined and efficient. Others on our team get overwhelmed by all of the choices and communication can get tricky. Our suggestion is to have a way to communicate with individuals and teams for short, in-the-moment messages, a project management platform that can organize teams to complete tasks within projects, a way to co-create documents so you are not storing multiple versions (we always say we will go through and discard old versions…) and able to work on them at the same time, and a shared file storage system with a process to archive. We have also created opportunities to communicate and connect internally about things other than work. Having platforms and knowing how to use them is a start. Supporting people to know when to use them is also important.
- Not everyone feels the same way about technology, virtual communication and organizational platforms. While we expect and hope that our team members will connect and use the platforms to work as a team, we also recognize that it takes time to adapt to a virtual office.