How to set up a virtual workspace as a small business owner

  • Many employees are reluctant to give up remote work now that pandemic restrictions are easing.
  • Setting up a remote office requires a healthy workplace culture, entrepreneurs told Insider.
  • Two small business owners now offered tips on setting up virtual offices.
  • This article is part of Talent Insider, a series of expert advice designed to help small business owners overcome a range of hiring challenges.

For many employees, remote work is a worthwhile option that they don’t want to do without.

However, converting a physical office into a digital workspace or building an entirely new teleworking environment can be daunting for small business owners. The process doesn’t have to be complicated, but creating a healthy workplace culture is essential, said Josh Albrechtsen, co-founder of healthtech company Cortex.

Like many companies in 2020, Cortex employees were working remotely when COVID-19 hit the US. After pandemic restrictions were eased, Albrechtsen said he tried to meet at the office but quickly realized “nobody liked it”.

After interviewing the team about their work preferences, Cortex founders and CEOs Albrechtsen and Riley Adamson decided to run the company remotely in February 2022.

“Generally everyone said, ‘I’d rather work from home,'” said Albrechtsen.

Here are three tips for small business owners looking to set up a successful virtual workspace, according to two entrepreneurs.

1. Open communication through digital tools is key

When the Cortex co-founders went far away, Albrechtsen wanted to create a culture of open communication. Instead of scheduling weekly chats, he set up permanent and recurring meetings for different departments that members could always attend.

Staff would stop by and either mute each other or leave their microphones on to speak to each other, Albrechtsen said.

“It wasn’t a perfect recreation of the office environment, but it did invite small talk and chatter that we knew we’d lose with the office closing,” he said.

John Connors, the founder and CEO of advertising services company Boathouse, said his company has remained completely remote following the easing of pandemic restrictions. However, in the early days of lockdown, he communicated more with employees via Zoom to update them on the company’s financial status.

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

2. Create opportunities for employees to network

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

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

‚ÄúSomeone talks in a very vulnerable way for about 20 minutes and tells their life story. They often share details about trauma, their lives, their parents and all of that,” he added. “That’s made the human connection, even though we’re virtual, really tangible and can really help.”

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

“It builds that personal accountability to one another that actually allows for those personal bonds to be built,” Connors said. “So when we’re all remote again, everyone knows each other’s personal history.”

3. Keep productivity goals transparent

Finally, it’s important for employees to stay productive while working remotely, Connors and Albrechtsen agreed. Both leaders enforce quarterly goals and key results, a strategy some companies use to set measurable goals and track employee performance and productivity. In addition, Albrechtsen uses the goal tracking software Table to monitor progress.

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

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

“If you treat your employees like crap or transactional, going remote makes it transactional,” Connors said.

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