The Benefit of Being Virtual

15142235124_46089cd54d_kWhen Solamar started, we were completely virtual. In those days, the decision was made both out of necessity and a desire to escape from the confines of the traditional corporate environment. For five years we stayed that way, but as we grew, we wanted to have a place to call home, so we opened a fantastic space in Birmingham, AL, in which those of us who live there have been happily working away for the last four years. Now, with nine years of business under our belt, and a staff that’s grown to around 20 people, we’ve decided to return to our roots and go virtual once again.

Solamar is still based in Birmingham, but the team has always been distributed geographically, with members in Florida, North Dakota, Arizona, Virginia, California, Georgia and Oklahoma, in addition to Alabama. Though it was nice for the Birmingham folks to have a space to gather, it makes more sense for Solamar to embrace its virtual nature and use the resources that went towards maintaining the physical location into reinforcing the systems that keep our spread-out team in sync. Plus, those of us who live here in the ‘Ham are perfectly happy to spend more time at home working in our comfy spots!

Virtual businesses aren’t anything new, and they’ve seen much wider adoption over the last decade or so as technology catches up with the needs of a busy team. Eliminating the overhead that keeping an office creates offers up interesting budgetary options, while at the same time providing your employees with the kind of wiggle-room with their schedules that the modern workforce demands. It also opens up the entire world as a potential workforce, since people can telecommute from anywhere. And let’s face it, we spend our lives making our homes a pleasant place for us to live in, so they naturally make good spaces to work in too, provided one can manage productivity and avoid distraction. Additionally, for parents, it means a much easier time integrating work into family life.

You’d think that working from all over the country would make it hard for employees to connect in the same way that hovering around the water-cooler can do, but our experience at Solamar has shown us otherwise. We make efforts to keep people connected, and to reinforce company culture, but not more than we would probably spend if we all worked in the same physical location. It’s just that the methods we use mostly involve using the internet to tie us together. We have weekly team video-chats within our departments, allowing everyone to get face-time and connect, as well as providing a great environment for brain-storming. Well also use company wide instant messaging, divided into department-specific rooms, meaning with one glance it’s possible to see who is working at any given moment and reach out to them. Finally, we also use an online project management system to organize the millions of tasks that we need to deal with at any given moment, and assign them to the most appropriate people. This way, wherever they are, employees can see the details of anything they need to work on.

Even though we’ve got our virtual communication running smoothly, it’s still important to see each other in person once and a while, even if it’s just so we can give each other hugs! To that end, we hold a retreat every year called the Solatreat, and fly everyone in the company to it. It’s an all day affair, during which we hold team-building exercises, talk about the future of the company, give presentations on new ideas and technology and generally have a wonderful time. It’s silly games meets deep thoughts, a place where everyone can feel comfortable to be themselves as well as an important contributor to the future of the team and the business. Oh yeah, and we partake in delicious food and cocktails together. That’s REALLY important!! Overall, it’s this type of investment in company health and culture that has kept Solamar such a tight-knit group of individuals. Take a look at this video we made at the last Solatreat, where we talk about why working with Solamar is such a wonderful experience.

This isn’t to say that a virtual business is the right choice for everyone. Having a physical space that clients and customers can come to can be a very important piece of any business strategy, but if you find yourself going to the office just because you feel like you are wasting it if you don’t,  then consider going virtual. It could be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself, your employees and your business.

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