• February 1, 2023

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A couple years ago, as the Covid crisis struck, forcing just about every company to operate as a virtual enterprise, run out of living rooms and home offices. While many have called employees back to the office at least part of the time, others have discovered they operate just fine — or even better — as 100% virtual enterprises. It is estimated that at least 16% are fully remote, and 62% of employees work remotely at least part of the time.

Leaders of what are now all-virtual companies say the forced virtualization of 2020 turned out to be a pleasant surprise for them. “Three years ago I would never have considered an all-remote workforce,” says Juli Smith, president of Smith Consulting Group. ‘We found when we were forced to switch to remote work that not only could it work, but that we could thrive as an organization.”

The skepticism of the past toward remote work has melted away. “I never could have imagined supporting a partial remote work environment, let alone a fully remote scenario, but we love it and encourage other businesses to follow suit,” says Chris Rosica, president of Rosica Communications. “Productivity and culture are flourishing, which, is one good thing that came out of Covid.”

While Rosica maintains a “beautiful, modern” headquarters in northern New Jersey, “we all choose to work remotely,” he maintains. “All team members prefer to remain remote, and this approach enables us to recruit new team members from across the country.”

For others, the transition is underway, but remote-first has become the rule. “As a global brand with employees all around the world, working remotely is sort of our norm,” says Chris Hufnagel, global brand president of Merrell. “Although our teams and technologies were already equipped to operate in a fully remote capacity, we’re still in the midst of defining this organizational plan and will continue to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all of our team members, whether they are in office or at home. I think this new normal for work is better and those who can adapt and evolve will be ahead coming out of the pandemic.”


An advantage that many have discovered is the diversity of talent that is now open to them. Steve Black, cofounder and chief strategy officer at Topia, says his company operates with “a distributed workforce, so we have employees working all over the world from San Francisco to Estonia.” With employees able to work from anywhere, he elaborates, “we are also able to hire from anywhere, ensuring we get top talent, because location is no longer a barrier. Location-agnostic hiring also improves diversity because employees are working from everywhere, bringing in more cultures, ethnicities and stages of live. Those with disabilities or families to raise won’t have to choose between being home and working in an office.”

Smith concurs, observing that here company’s move to all-virtual “opened up a nationwide talent pool that has enabled us to hire the best and brightest, not just the best and brightest who are within a commutable distance from an office.”

Technology makes all-virtual companies possible, of course. But it takes some planning and consideration to get the right mix of solutions. “Some technology solutions create anxiety and stress,” says Rosica. “We look for those and are creating systems to reduce it. We use SharePoint and Google for collaboration and maintaining client activity trackers and. We are also implementing a new, cloud-based project management software, but one that does not send an additional 10 emails a day prompting action steps.”

Expectations for return-to-office and options for remote work are continuing to evolve. “I really believe that companies have to switch their mindset of the office being a place and we need make the office a tool,” says Hufnagel. “If you can’t do the job effectively and better together under one roof, then what’s the point of the office?”

Still, there will always be a need for in-person interaction as well, he adds. “I believe culture is inherently easier to foster, cultivate, and protect when you’re together – that doesn’t mean five days a week, 52 weeks a year – but it’s certainly not 100% remote either – you have to find the right balance.”

Switching to an all-virtual culture is not automatic, either. “We have had to engage a new learning style with new tools and also embrace new ways of employee engagement to build a strong culture, but it’s working,” Smith says. “I have also had to adopt a new way of managing remote workers which does add more time to my week, but it’s working.”

There are additional considerations that need to be made in terms of advancement opportunities while working remotely. “If people are effectively managed – with the right level of support and coaching, when needed, their productivity is elevated, and they are worth more to their employer,” Rosica believes. “We’ve had numerous promotions, bonuses, and pay increases since going remote. And we appreciate and acknowledge people more than ever before.”

For career advancement, the same rules apply, whether you are fully remote or on-site. The difference is all-remote employees are self-managing, and therefore need to be self-driven. “If you’re not willing to learn and evolve – survival, let alone success, is really tough,” Hufnagel emphasizes. “One must embrace a growth mindset, be willing to take chances, fail, change course. Remote workers should invest early in their own personal leadership journey – there are so many great resources available today. Read, listen to podcasts, take a great personality assessment like Myers-Briggs or Insights Discovery, or even find a leadership coach. It is crucial to learn about yourself: what motivates you, where you get energy from, what your blind spots might be, and how you take in information and make decisions.”

Perhaps the greatest business lesson coming out of the two years was that a headquarters does not a company make. “We’re not a ‘virtual’ company, we’re a real agency,” Rosica emphasizes. “We’re fully remote and I’m grateful for our team – who they are as professionals and human beings.”


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