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Published on Business Women Scotland. 10th September 2020. https://bwsltd.co.uk/how-to-successfully-run-a-virtual-business-post-pandemic/


 

The recent pandemic has forced businesses across the globe to re-evaluate every aspect of their business models. Lockdown measures have cast questions around whether it’s essential and more importantly, cost-effective for teams to be working physically from one central hub. Interestingly, a forced exit from the 9-5 office structure, has led businesses to innovate and many are now considering the benefits of sustained remote working practises. 

 

Helen Foord is a global, strategic marketing and business development consultant based in Scotland. She is passionate about empowering people to make a commercial and professional difference, in a socially, environmentally, financially and communicationally responsible way. Specialising in the legal sector, she has over 20 years-experience, across a number of in-house and agency roles, supporting organisations towards achieving their business objectives. 

 

She shares her unique insights into how teams can go about successfully creating virtual businesses post-pandemic.

 

It’s been very strange over recent months because people have kept asking how we were all coping, working from home. But the reality is that we’ve all worked like this for years and the recent circumstances haven’t changed very much for us at ELE Global. What I’ve found is that growing the virtual business isn’t hard. Good people have always been easy to find. Keeping them interested and supplied with stimulating work, however, is the big challenge.

 

Theres a wealth of tools and support out there for digital and virtual businesses – if you know where to look and since I’ve been running my business, the market for these has exploded. 

My #1 has to be Xero – having a clear, easy to use and practical finance system is essential. The benefit of Xero is most accountants and book-keepers are happy to use it and can go straight in. It can also be linked up to lots of other things. Getting the financial management and reporting right has to be the first job.

This is actually 2 and 3… we love Zoho. We use Zoho CRM, MarketingHub and a wide range of the other products within our Zoho One subscription. I even use it to get remote access (through Zoho Assist) on my mum’s computer for when she’s having problems! Marketing Hub is newly out and we’ve been trialling it (for ourselves and a couple of clients) but I love the simple to use automation of marketing campaigns, linked with CRM. Being able to set things to trigger CRM tasks and deals, within an email campaign is really powerful.

Fourth would be PandaDoc is another system I love. We use it for all our contracts and agreements as well as proposals. This helps us to make sure everyone knows what they’re expecting and delivering. The best bit is it can be linked to Zoho CRM so we can keep accurate records.

Finally, what agency manager wouldn’t list Slack here?! We use it for virtual coffee, chat, client discussions and also share boards with clients on their projects. We don’t use 90% of the functionality that it has but it’s brilliant.

We’ve invested a lot in looking at our technology and we are constantly reviewing how well it’s working for us as a team. Having increased client engagement digitally has fuelled this, and we’re looking at much greater levels of automation and integration than before.

 

What is hard, however, particularly at the moment when we can’t meet at all, is keeping and motivating those in a virtual business. Historically we’ve had face-to-face coworking sessions and meet-ups, but this is something that we simply can’t do that at the moment, so we’ve had to be more imaginative and use tools like Zoom, Slack and Facebook more and more. My top pieces of advice for keeping up staff morale, loyalty, productivity when running a virtual team are:

 

  1. Don’t assume things aren’t valuable or working just because only a handful of people are using them. You might organise a weekly coffee chat on Zoom only for two people to turn up, but those two people may value that session. It’s quality of engagement and interaction that’s important, not quantity of takers.
  1. Ask people what they think and want and encourage them to direct the activities you implement. That could be face-to-face events or digital, new ways of working or software. Taking this time to gather feedback is invaluable as it will help you shape future decisions that you make in your business. 
  2. Use your internal reporting to help you gain a better insight into what is working and what is not. Most systems allow you to monitor how often people are using them as well as how and when. This can be really valuable to help understand what needs to change or can be done better.
  3. Be as clear as possible about expectations on both sides. It’s important – particularly in a virtual organisation where you can’t just pop down the corridor to check – that you have a clear understanding of what people are going to be delivering, how and when.
  4. Remember that business success relies on personal wellbeing. You can’t separate them and taking time to understand the pressures that each person in the team is under, to support in whatever way is needed, is vital if they’re to be productive. The most productive person is the person that wants to be there and feels invested in the organisation – as well as feeling valued. Taking time to communicate with people and to care is essential to success.
  5. Finally, consider the purpose of the organisation and how this can impact your wider goals. There’s a lot of research out there that demonstrates the positive impact on productivity that having a clear purpose and sense of responsibility can have. Involve people from the bottom up in shaping the purpose of your organisation, so they feel they’re contributing to things they believe in.

 

I’m not sure that virtual organisations will ever serve as a complete substitute to large face-to-face meetings because physically being together from time to time is hugely beneficial for not only teambuilding, but also supporting everyone’s mental health. It’s been really interesting to see the changes in the legal sector over the Covid-19 period. Most firms now freely accept that they can be run virtually and with people working at home, and I think this is going to transform an already booming freelance and virtual working sector.