Secret Sauce: Enhancing Culture and Behavior Across a Virtual Company

As a provider of customer experience outsourcing solutions, we’re always trying to create an environment and an organization that can do more meaningful, tangible things for customers and employees.

One of our key mantras is “elevating experiences”, which reflects that mission both internally and externally. Our SmartVirtual™ model is a game-changer for most families. It gives people the time and freedom to participate in more meaningful activities while giving many talented, underemployed people in the US the ability to develop new careers, no matter their location.

Speaking on the strategy behind this business model, Activus Connect’s CEO, Felix Serrano, recently featured on a LinkedIn Live conversation with Darin Rowell, a highly prestigious management consultant from Nashville, Tennessee. During the talk, Felix shared some of the secret sauce that has helped Activus Connect grow so quickly, both before and during the pandemic.

In part one of a two-part series, we highlight the cultural and behavioral considerations behind successful virtual CX delivery. Let’s get into it.

[NOTE: Much of this conversation has been paraphrased for brevity and clarity]

Darin Rowell: What should CEOs and leaders know about building a powerful culture for a work-at-home environment?

Felix Serrano: Following the disruption caused by the pandemic, I think most businesses have confirmed that the tactical side of work-at-home deployment was the easy part. What they’re discovering is that the move to virtual is accentuating the cultural aspects of their organizations, both positive and negative.

When we started Activus Connect, the first question for me was, “how do you create a company culture in a virtual environment?” Most people have spent so much time working in an office that office culture is deeply ingrained in our society. However, when you’re creating it from scratch, without brick-and-mortar holding you back, you have a unique opportunity to do just that: invent a brand new culture with complete freedom.

Since the beginning, we’ve always wanted to be very clear on what our business was, what it wasn’t, and how we wanted to show up every day, internally and externally. It’s not as simple as saying “this is what our culture is, let’s adhere to it”; it’s actually about how you approach your work, how you prepare people to operate in a specific culture, and how you give them the tools to be successful.

Before we opened our doors, we worked on this for the better part of a year, outlining who we wanted to be and how we would teach people to operate in a new culture. From day one, we had to be very patient with people, showing them how to work differently while guiding everyone through a new environment.

DR: What are some of the behaviors that reflect and enhance your culture?

FS: One of the behaviors that drive culture is listening to others, which is something we expect the team to have under control. Beyond that, we’re looking for teaching opportunities that will benefit the entire team in a positive, reinforcing way. These include examples like how we might help our clients better, or how we might collaborate more effectively.

As leaders, we should be imparting that knowledge onto our management teams, so that it becomes their method of working with their subordinates, eventually trickling down to the front line. This approach creates a pattern of behavior that underpins how we act as a business at every level, resulting in a stronger culture.

Also, I interact with our front line Ambassadors all the time. I don’t think you can lead a people-related business without being in touch with the front line. What I’ve noticed is that our Ambassadors are feeding back the values that we’ve been planting from the top down, which, for me, is sort of the litmus test that our cultural strategy is working and is permeating throughout the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, we need to go back and tweak decisions all the time as things evolve so fast. However, it’s encouraging to see that our approach to modeling behaviors and reinforcing them is working and flowing through to the bottom line. On top of that, our clients often reinforce it when they talk about the quality of the service and how well we’ve enculturated with them.

DR: When developing a SmartVirtual™ culture, how do you approach employee engagement?

FS: It’s vital to recognize that everyone has baggage. Most people have learned skills and experienced culture somewhere else so they usually bring that to their new roles. Often, we value that skill set when looking at resumes, but there are a series of negative behaviors behind pre-learned techniques, which many companies might not recognize at first.

Boomers, gen X, millennials, everyone has worked at organizations across those different generations in vastly different ways, so engagement in a virtual setting is really about understanding those prior learnings and teaching everyone about this new culture.

First and foremost, you have to be willing to invest time in teaching people about their new environment, while also reinforcing new behaviors and giving them ample time to adapt. When I talk about this, I sometimes feel like we’re rehabilitating our team members because the business world looks different across most organizations. As a virtual company, we expect people to adapt to something that is far from the status quo.

On top of that, I would say that environmental factors and feedback are key. If we want people to adopt a new way of thinking, we have to talk to them regularly and share useful information with them. They have to see it from us first.

Part two of this LinkedIn Live chat focuses on safety, security, collaboration, and transparency. Click here to continue the conversation.

To watch this conversation in full, check out the LinkedIn Live video here.