Many years ago I predicted that Chiumento would eventually become a virtual business. I’m not sure many believed me – except, thankfully, our Chairman.
Back then we had three offices. And nobody believed you could successfully run a “people business” without them. Indeed, I recall some saying we needed more locations, not less. After all, don’t all our major competitors talk proudly about how many offices they have?
Well, in March 2016 we went virtually virtual. Today we have just two staff who are office based. And even they work from home some of the time. You see we’ve realised fixed bases are a limitation, not an advantage. No matter how many offices you have you still aren’t “local” to many of the people you need to help and collaborate with. So we take the opposing view: the right approach is to take services and resources to people – not ask them to come to us.
So how do you make the transformation from a “physical” business to a virtual one? Some business leaders just don’t understand how that’s possible. Well, the secret is really twofold.
Firstly, you have to get your culture right. Low trust organisations expend huge amounts of effort supervising and monitoring people. That’s because they believe that if you can’t see what people are doing they have the potential to do nothing. As a result, they can fall into the trap of judging people on inputs, rather than outcomes. You know the sort of thing. Like counting how many sales calls people make rather than how successful those calls are. Or mistaking “presenteeism” for engagement and commitment.
To go virtual successfully you need leaders not managers. People who hire teams as much for their behaviours as their skills. And being virtual massively extends the talent pool we can hire from. We are not constrained by who can commute daily to location X or Y.
Leaders set people clear outcomes and empower them to achieve. Adopting a coaching style that helps people grow and take ownership and pride in what they do. As a result, their people care and do great things. If leaders can’t let go, you can’t go virtual.
We have some great leaders at Chiumento. And that’s not just my personal view. We’ve just retained our Investor in People Gold award. With the assessment coming six months after our change programme was completed, it is great recognition that our people have bought in to our new way of working.
Part of that new world is a better work life interface. This isn’t a lifestyle business. What Chiumento does brilliantly is support people to manage the tension between a challenging career and their wider life. The balance moves all the time – just like the demands of our clients go up and down. What we’ve managed is to do is stay highly responsive and yet care about the things that matter to our people.
Of course your technology has to be right too. You really have to be able to do anything, anywhere. Our Chiumento24 collaboration platform links our team, our clients and our delegates through a virtual workspace. All our systems are cloud based and every team member has the ability to connect via broadband and 4G. That’s why we’ve stopped talking home working and moved on to mobile working. We have delegates collaborating with consultants globally via our partners in Arbora. We are a UK SME with a truly international outlook.
The other thing you need to go virtual is courage. It’s a big step for organisations and their people. It is different. A very recent starter told me that she’d wondered how it would work – especially things like using video conferencing rather than gathering in a meeting room. A few weeks on and I know she’s a convert. As a working Mum I suspect she’s also found our child-friendly mindset a complete revelation.
Of course not all business can go virtual. You can’t start up a lead smelting plant in your back garden. However, many organisations that today don’t even allow people the odd day working from home, could go largely or fully virtual. If you are curious how we made the journey, ask. We’d be happy to share how we’ve done it. Just drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to talk.