Getting Over the Fear of Going Virtual

September 5, 2019

We’ve been a virtual team for more than 8 months now, so it's a good time to reflect on our journey to working virtually.

First thing’s first: When my team approached me last year with the idea of going virtual, I was not a fan. In fact, I was the loudest voice of dissension in the room.

I had the same fears everyone else does:

  • How were we going to maintain our culture if we’re not physically together?
  • How were we going to maintain the customer experience if we’re not together?
  • How will I know if everyone is actually working? (That’s a stinger!)

Challenge accepted.

I could tell right away that my team was getting very excited at the prospect of working remotely. There seemed to be a groundswell of momentum with the idea of working virtually, and I could tell I was in for an uphill battle if I was going to let my fears get the best of me.

But if there’s one thing I value most about our culture, it’s our extreme sense of accountability for one another.

For us, “accountability” means problem solving. It means working together to solve problems in an open, honest, and respectful manner. Everyone is expected to have an opinion and contribute to the problem-solving process.

“See it. Own it. Solve it. Do it.”  Everyone has a voice.

I challenged the team to put together a business case for going virtual, including all the pros and cons, risks and rewards. A business case that addressed every aspect of our business.

Financial impact. Customer impact. Operations impact. People impact.

Let’s do the work, objectively, and let the business case speak for itself.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin.

That’s one of my favorite quotes of all time, and it couldn’t have been more appropriate for our team as we prepared for our virtual transition.

With all credit to my team, they prepared us.

They created a smaller working group – dubbed the Virtual Task Force – to research and tackle each aspect of transitioning to a virtual company.

They evaluated the financial impacts, interviewed each team member for input, and interviewed other companies who had gone through the same transition. They researched examples of companies who both succeeded and failed, and why. They interviewed our carrier partners. They evaluated different technologies for collaboration and communication. They researched (and ranked) co-working locations around town. And, yes, they even interviewed me – specifically to address our culture.

And the best part – we tested the concept of working virtually for a couple weeks to work out the kinks and feel it out.

And then we had the meeting.

I’ll never forget when the team called the meeting to review the business case. Their presentation of their findings was as good as any presentation I saw in graduate school. In fact, I felt like I was back in graduate school as I listened to them.

The case for change was clear:

  • Financially, it made sense. Removing a six-figure nugget from our P&L for rent expense was a no-brainer.
  • For the team, it made sense. They were clearly motivated to make this work!
  • For our carriers, it made sense. For most of them, they were already virtual themselves.
  • From a technology perspective, it made sense. I think that Internet thing is here to stay!
  • From an operations perspective, it made sense. They even figured out what to do with the mail. (Come to think of it, why do we even still have mail?)
  • For our agents, it made sense. Mostly, because they wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) know the difference.
  • And yes, even from a culture perspective, it made sense.

So, with the business case for change clearly laid out in front of us, there was only one remaining question to answer: would I give the approval to go virtual?

Trust is everything.

I’m 95% subjective, according to all my personality tests. And I hate that about me.

The room was quiet, and all eyes were on me.

But in fact, for me, it was quite noisy. The voice inside my head, the one I committed to listening to more in my life, said don’t do it.

What if we fail?
What if we have service break downs?
What if our team culture falls apart?
What if our agents hate it?
What if the team hates it?
What if the earth stops orbiting the sun?
What am I so afraid of?

Trust. Ouch.

But that was the harsh reality.

Could I trust my team to get the work done?
Could I trust my team to stay connected?
Could I trust my team to deliver an even better experience for our agents than if we were physically in the same space together?
Could I trust my team to be accountable?
Could I trust myself to not become the leader I didn’t want to be if I couldn’t trust my team?

And, there it was. The real issue. Trust.

The moment of truth.

Could I trust my team? That’s a stinger of a question. Because what if the answer was “no”?

All eyes are still on me.

This was a moment of truth for the team. If I said no to going virtual, the question was going to be “why?”. And I’d owe my team the honest answer. Trust.

All eyes are still on me.

But did I really not trust my team?

After all, trust is one of our core values. It’s non-negotiable. We trust everyone and each other, implicitly. And if I didn’t trust my team to do this, then the right response to that concern would be to fire myself. The fact of the matter is I hired everyone in that room – and if I couldn’t trust them, then I needed to go. Fire myself. No questions asked.

This was a moment of truth for a team I built. And for a team that lives and dies by our culture.

All eyes are still on me. They’re waiting for my answer.

“Let’s do it.”

Man, what a relief that was!

“Under one condition”, I added. “Our culture is non-negotiable. As is our brand promise. Non-negotiable. We need to make a commitment to each other to keep our culture intact and to keep our brand promise for our agents intact. If we do this right, no one should know the difference. In fact, we need to strive to make this our advantage. Sound good?”

Fast forward 8 months...

We’re communicating better than ever. We’re collaborating better than ever. Morale is at an all-time high. Engagement is at an all-time high. Adoption of our technology is at an all-time high. And our agency Net Promoter Score is trending at an all-time high.

Are we perfect at this virtual thing? Of course not. We’re learning and making improvements as we go. But with all credit to the team, we’re heading in the right direction and not turning back.

When you truly trust the culture and team you’ve built, taking your company virtual is a piece of cake. 😊


 Chad Eddy, MBA, is the CEO and fearless leader at Indium. He has more than 20 years of multifaceted, multi-industry experience. In addition to serving independent agents, Chad is passionate about spending time with his family, playing and watching hockey, listening to good music, reading, and raising money for cystic fibrosis research.