The job listing said that Sched is a virtually distributed company. I understood the company to be an event management software platform, but I wasn’t sure I understood how a virtual company might work. While many companies pivoted to a virtual office during the pandemic, Sched’s business has been viral since its inception more than a decade before. The question running through my mind as I applied to be Vice President of Marketing was, “does this really work?”.
I was surprised to learn just how geographically distributed Sched is. Outside of the United States, Sched has developers in Croatia, Ireland, and Canada, plus support teams in the Philippines and Guatemala. And just to add to the international salad, there’s the American based in England, the two expat Brits (one in Greece and one in Belgium) and then there’s our Kiwi who seems to change countries and time zones every month or so. The team is truly global and potentially located wherever there is a strong internet connection.
Working virtually isn’t for everyone or every company, but it seems clear that getting virtual teams productive requires much more than just great team software. Sched employees have to be committed to 1) Strong organization skills, 2) Near-perfect communication skills and 3) Sched’s “secret sauce” for thriving as a virtual company.
After six months at the company, I felt like I was good at numbers 1 and 2 plus all the team software. I interact with almost everyone in the company. We have a robust chat platform, which means we know about siblings, spouses, pets, and children. We know what happened last weekend and what’s in store for the next. We make the time to do more than just business in an effort to build real connections with our virtual colleagues. We even held an embarrassing photo day where each of us was encouraged to post the photos that we should never have saved – let alone shared with others. And yet something was missing.
There are limits to our virtual and distributed design. The biggest decisions, for example, are the hardest to make remotely. These are the pivotal decisions that typically stir up polarized opinions. When those opinions all come out at once, Zoom sort of falls apart. The tool prefers meetings designed around Robert’s Rules of Order, but when passions are flying, Zoom becomes a communication inhibitor.
Conflicts are a big part of any organization and having a structured resolution process is vital in a virtual organization. At Sched, we are committed to making sure that everyone is heard but have also drawn clear lines about how we make decisions when people don’t agree.
As the months marched on, I felt like I knew these people really well but hadn’t seen, touched, or smelled any of them in person. I couldn’t explain why but somehow that seemed important. Apparently, I needed more than a headshot to connect with my colleagues. That’s when I was introduced to Sched’s secret sauce.
Enter the Schedcation. The word Schedcation combines the company name with the concept of a business vacation. I was initially confused by this reference to a business vacation. Was it more business or more vacation? At first, it seemed like any other business trip, albeit in an exotic location. But that’s not what our CEO had in mind.
A Schedcation is 80% vacation and 20% work. While I was slow to catch on to the concept, I was quick to enjoy the power of a business vacation. Our CEO reserved only a couple of hours in the week to discuss business, and made sure that the rest of our time together was structure free. He wanted us sitting next to each other, chatting with each other, and he scheduled daily adventures where we played tourist together. The primary goal of a Schedcation is to create connections that can stand the test of the virtual strains we would soon go back to.
Our Schedcation took us to Marrakech, Morocco. The company rented a luxury villa that included two swimming pools, a tennis court, gorgeous indoor and outdoor workspaces, plus a gourmet cooking staff to deliver authentic cuisine. This wasn’t just any vacation; this was a life experience designed to be shared with business colleagues.
We toured the sites, rode camels, and even took a cooking class together, but mostly we just enjoyed each other’s company. Even when the experience wasn’t perfect, it became a shared source of laughter.
The secret sauce for making a virtual and distributed company work is the need to build deep and resilient connections across the team.
While the technology for virtual teams is clearly important, true success requires employees who are not just loyal to the company but to the other people on their team. There’s no better way to build those bridges than by vacationing together.
It’s these deep employee connections that ensure a remote team can deliver much more than a team that simply relies on proximity or Zoom for its synergy and cooperation.