By Avery Faller
Who: Leonora Valvo
The internet has profoundly changed the business world, not just with the explosion of tech startups, but also, at a fundamental level, in how companies are structured. In the past it was often necessary for companies to hire employees who could work in the same office; today, free tools such as Skype have made international communication affordable and efficient, enabling a new class of remote workers. Earlier this week Leonora Valvo spoke to the YEI Summer Fellows about her entrepreneurial career and how she successfully turned a services business into a software business. Her current company etouches, which helps companies manage events, has employees based in several countries to meet the needs of her global customer base.
Virtual Workers and the Company Culture
Virtual workers offer many advantages to a developing company. Often their salaries are lower than an equivalent on-site employee’s would be, and their skills can be better matched to company needs with geographical constraints out of the picture. On the other hand, virtual workers present some unique challenges, such as dealing with multiple time zones and instituting a corporate culture. At etouches, Leonora has developed methods to effectively work around these problems. Every morning at 8am EST, the heads of all the branches and departments have a video call to discuss that day’s updates. Since etouches is a global company, there are people from Connecticut, Washington D.C., Sweden, the UK and Australia on the call. The employees feel connected as a company despite their physical distance because they “see” each other every day.
Leonora also has a strict policy in place for hiring: No one gets hired without meeting her either in person or through a video chat. This is important to ensure that employees will fit into the culture of the company, even if they won’t be in the same room. And, when employees come to the American offices, they stay at Leonora’s house to make them feel like they are part of the family. “It’s a little like a dorm,” she said, half-jokingly.
Working with employees in multiple countries presents a unique set of challenges, not the least of which is cultivating a distinct company culture. Hosting daily video meetings via Skype with your employees is a good way to help them feel connected and updated on the company’s condition and progress. Personal touches like letting employees stay at your house can be a memorable and rewarding way to inspire employees with your enthusiasm for the company. Overall you will have to find your own solution to the problem—every company is different—but a good rule to remember is that just because an employee isn’t in the same room as you, doesn’t mean they have to feel like an outsider.Read More