When we launched the business that would later become SharedTEAMS in 2010, many other small agencies were beginning to employ a virtual team structure. Because the overhead associated with a geographically distributed team was significantly lower than maintaining an in-office environment, and the technology to support a virtual team was only recently affordable, the switch to a virtual office made economical sense. Many of these agencies were very successful at replicating a traditional in-office structure using real-time chat systems, video conferencing, and project management tools to keep their geographically distributed teams coordinated.
At SharedTEAMS, unlike our competition, we purposefully chose not to replicate a traditional in-office structure and instead, we focused on building the ideal virtual office environment from scratch, rather than virtualizing a traditional in-office structure. This might be because our founding team was not comprised of marketers with agency experience, but rather technologists with software startup experience. This put our team on a path to developing a system that has outlasted most of our competitors from that era and changed the way that we view virtual teams.
The road to build this ideal virtual office environment was deliberate, but also a long one. Our trajectory was driven by practicality. For instance, our target audience has always been comprised of extremely busy people, so we understood the importance of valuing our members’ time very early on. Because of this, one of our primary account management goals from the beginning has been increasing the efficiency of collaboration with our members and reducing account management workload, as a means to reduce overhead. As our team began to address this challenge, we realized that the more we removed real-time collaboration from the process, the more efficient our team was, the better our communication was, and the happier our members were.
This was because, with every question or piece of feedback that a member posed, our team had that ability to coordinate internally to provide a thoroughly researched response (typically within a 24-hour period), rather than being on-the-spot in a meeting environment. At the same time, our team’s total effort was significantly less than if we fielded the same questions in a scheduled meeting environment (since all members of our team would not need to be present), bringing our collective effort down significantly, while maintaining high-quality team collaboration.
Getting both our team and our members on board with an environment where real-time collaboration is not standard was particularly challenging because the buzz around virtual collaboration has largely been centered around real-time chat, video conferencing, and other technologies that were replicating an in-office environment. Adding to the challenge, the element of personal connection can be lost in an environment without real-time collaboration. Plus, traditional agencies rely on relationships with their clients to maintain low attrition.
As our collaboration process matured, we began to experiment with tools that would continue to keep real-time collaboration at a minimum while also addressing common concerns, such as creating a stronger human connection with the businesses we serve, and providing an adequate level of collaboration between our team and with our members.
This led to the addition of in-system communication templates (predefined replies) to facilitate collaboration with clients as well as recorded video communication (utilizing Snagit) directly from our project team, cutting out the account management middleman. Today, recorded videos are used in almost all of our projects as a means to convey complex project updates or simply convey the status of a project.
For example, our digital advertising team creates a 5-minute video each month to convey the latest advertising trends on a campaign and the optimizations that were made. Our design team uses recorded videos to present and explain branding concepts. Likewise, similar processes are used by our communications and web production teams throughout every project type.
Today, the automation present in our online office combined with text communication and recorded video presentations have effectively eliminated meetings and real-time collaboration both internally and with our members. We can confidently say that our team is more effective and our members are more satisfied because of this.
In short, we have developed a system that engages the right members of our team at the right time, creating an environment where there is very little operational waste without sacrificing quality. With the utilization of creative automation and collaboration tools, we have eliminated real-time collaboration entirely from our structure, creating an environment that is both flexible and highly efficient.
Since we are not an investor-backed company and are solely focused on serving our team and our members, this lean structure allows us to reinvest directly into our team and processes to provide comprehensive, high-quality services to small businesses at rates that are far below the industry standard.