Today I am talking to Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder and CEO of Time etc, an award winning virtual assistant service that helps entrepreneurs and leaders achieve more, without working harder. Through Time etc., Barnaby simultaneously provides a resources to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, while providing an opportunity for stay at home moms to find meaningful work on their own terms.
While Time etc. is primarily a workforce of virtual employees (around 700 employees across the UK and USA, with a home office of around 30 employees) Barnaby emphasises the human experience as an essential element of company culture. We talk about how this plays out both in the experience of his employees and in the engagement that his clients receive.
On today’s podcast:
- Cultural shifts around the virtual workforce
- Evolving role of the executive assistant
- Challenges and solutions with new clients and new employees
- Building high performance teams
- Eliminating corporate hierarchies and creating a flat office
5 Ways to Enhance Corporate Culture and Grow a Virtual Workforce
Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder and CEO of Time etc, employs roughly 700 freelance virtual workers. While the perceptions of working with a virtual workforce have changed over the 12 years since he has been in business, what has changed most for him is recognising how important the human side of business must be even if you only physically engage with a small per cent of your workforce.
For Barnaby, creating a truly human corporate culture at their physical office has had a remarkable impact on client and remote freelancer retention. Here are five strategies he uses to improve corporate culture that you can implement even if your workforce is completely virtual.
1) Develop a Peer-Led Structure for Problem Solving
Find ways to structure the week around sharing challenges, successes, and accolades. For Barnaby, this translates into daily huddles where everyone gets a chance to speak. Opening a dialogue among staff who don’t often work together creates an opportunity to appreciate each individual contribution, and value on a peer-to-peer level.
Transitioning from a management-led structure to a coaching structure can also be a useful tactic. Coaches serve in a mentor role and allow employees to thrive by encouraging more autonomy in decision making, instead of working off directed task lists.
When you break down the barriers of a traditional office hierarchy and create peer-led engagement, new ideas are suddenly easier to share.
2) Involve Employees in the Interview Process
Current employees feel empowered and invested when they are engaged to participate at the hiring level. For Barnaby, this means every candidate brought in for an interview at their office has meets with a minimum of four employees.
The idea behind this is twofold: employees get an opportunity to determine if the candidate is a cultural fit by asking questions and engaging with them. Candidates get a better sense of the environment and workload, and can make a better determination about the position from their standpoint as well.
Taking this to the next level, invite the employees who interviewed the candidate to play an active role in the decision-making process. Use their feedback and assessment of the candidates to determine who is the best hire.
3) Identify the Motivating Factors of Each Employee
This starts at the interview level. When interviewing a potential employee, ask them candidly to reveal their motivations and drivers. Understanding what makes a person tick and how they are best encouraged can help them grow as they take on new challenges at your organisation.
From a virtual perspective, get an understanding of their experiences with remote work and how they stay motivated without the physical interaction. Get a sense of what their ideal schedule looks like and how they prefer to communicate, both from a frequency and device standpoint.
4) Be as Human as Possible
Whether you are interacting with your employees or your clients, the key is to behave in as human a way as possible. People naturally want to feel heard and appreciated, and keeping your actions and interactions with this in mind can help grow relationships.
Being human with your employees involves recognising what is going on with your staff, and acknowledging opportunities to unlock the baggage they may be carrying from previous work or life experiences. In doing so you allow them to flourish in a safe space, and perhaps also unlock potential even they weren’t aware of.
5) Create Content to Build Skills
By providing resources that build skills, and investing in content under a branded umbrella, you can create new ways to be a helpful resource to build skills, grow strengths or even give them the chance to consider going beyond working with you. As crazy as it sounds, by developing a pathway for autonomy—especially your virtual staff who may have ambitions of creating new pathways for their work— you can enhance your retention and increase employee referrals.
For Barnaby, that means some of his virtual assistants may move beyond his platform after leveraging the tools he has provided, and he is ok with that. As an entrepreneur, with a passion for helping entrepreneurs succeed, is that any surprise?
What books would he recommend?
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson
- How to be Human, the Manual by Ruby Wax
- Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hseih