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Culture and Training: Two Telecommuting Hurdles for New Hires

How are new hires integrated into a virtual workplace?
Training and cultural integration for telecommuting new hires
photo by Mike Lacon

About the Author

Adam Vaccaro
Web Producer &
The Build Network

Return to "The Yahoo Debate"

Upon reading Marissa Mayer’s leaked memo ordering Yahoo telecommuters into the tech giant’s offices, I couldn’t help but to reflect on my own excitement earlier this month when I left a traditional newsroom and took to telecommuting by joining The Build Network.

Did I apply to work for Build because it was a telecommute job? No. But it was a major perk. I’ve never been one to need a supervisor on-hand to make sure I got my work done, and since starting, my laundry process has never been so efficient.

The advantages of telecommuting didn’t come without concerns in two areas, though. Namely I wanted to know, what do cultural integration and training look like without the physical presence of coworkers and supervisors?

Build mitigates potential telecommuting cultural detriments pretty well by using digital tools to force communication – both written, with email and a Facebook group, and face-to-face, with a minimum of two weekly video meetings. These digital tools, which mesh well with the oft-cited 1998 suggestion by Jennifer L. Carpenter that virtual workplaces create “virtual water coolers” to build community, were helpful in terms of helping me get to know the rest of the team’s individual and collective personalities. I also benefited from my start date coinciding closely with one of Build’s semi-monthly daylong, in-person meetings.

Less than a month in, I feel equally comfortable cracking a joke, proposing an idea and asking a question, which from an employee perspective seems like a solid enough standard for culture.

Most of my training was also done digitally, and though this has been manageable it has been a little less than ideal. While the Build team has been great about responding to emails and helping me through issues I have, it does feel like some element of the training process has been lost without in-person sessions. And, in fact, the one in-person training session I was able to arrange with my supervisor in my second week on the team proved very valuable.

My thoughts mirror those of Mom Corps CEO Allison O’Kelly, whose team is 100 percent virtual. “Training is the most difficult part,” O’Kelly tells CBS News’ Laura Vander Kam. Vander Kam’s piece continues:

“You have to explain exactly what it is the person needs to do, as well as your culture. ‘We have had some people who we have tried to train virtually and it really is difficult,’ O’Kelly says. The solution? Spend time together. O’Kelly is in Pennsylvania, and recently hired a CFO in Atlanta who spent two different weeks with her. Spread out over several weeks, those two weeks have been ‘invaluable.’”

Thankfully, much of the work I’m doing with Build is similar to work I’ve done in previous positions. Without familiarity with the systems Build uses, however, I likely would have struggled to gain my footing without more in-person training. But maybe that’s the key for hiring telecommuters in the first place, and maybe it’s not that different from hiring anyone else: You need to hire the right people.

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Build and Yahoo are far from an apples-to-apples comparison in that we all telecommute while Yahoo mixes its telecommuters with office staff. Aside from the water cooler talk those telecommuters theoretically miss out on, this arrangement can also create another culture killer: resentment from in-office employees to their at-home counterparts. How can you mitigate those feelings? BrightHub.com suggests transparency: Explain to those in the office the criteria by which telecommuters were accepted, why they didn’t qualify, and what they can do to qualify.

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