Creating a Virtual Culture.


I want you to think about the culture at your place of work.  Everyday you go into work, see your co-workers and form relations with the people that you work with.  Whether this interaction between co-workers is positive or negative, it creates a sense of culture and teamwork.

I read the article “How to Build a Culture Across Your Virtual Workforce,” written by David and Carrie McKeegan, the co-founders of Greenback Tax Services.  Greenback Tax Services is a global firm that prepares tax returns for expats living all over the globe.

The workforce of Greenback Tax Services employs associates stationed all over the world.  Having a staff that is completely virtual normally does not constitute the ability to offer employees a sense of culture and unity due to the fact that they do not interact in face-to-face communication processes that a normal “office experience” provides.

The McKeegan’s believe that just because their associates do not participate in the traditional work environment doesn’t mean they can’t create a sense of comradery and relationship building within their company.  They have used some interesting but practical installments to facilitate this development.

  1. One installment in Greenback Tax Service’s internal build is something that they call a “virtual water cooler.”  The company uses two online database systems, Podio and NIng, which are an intricate part of each employee’s experience.  Within these systems, personal experiences are shared between one another as daily questions and discussion boards are created for employee participation.  These databases bring everyone together and let people connect on a personal level; much like the interactions that occur within closely knit office “families.”
  2. Another issue that the McKeegan’s found and addressed was the inability for virtual employment to establish employment principles, guidelines and a code of conduct for the associates to follow.  Using feedback from their team, the two established over thirty principles in which each employee must follow.  Once a month, through their online databases, they focus on a certain principle, which keeps these ideas fresh in the employee’s heads.  Focusing on these principles ensures that employees don’t lose pride or forget the importance and professionalism of their company is.
  3. Recognition is something that every employee, no matter what industry, strives on.  The lack of face-to-face contact constrains a manager the opportunity to recognize a job well done.  The McKeegan’s have introduced two practices to recognize star employee work.  “High Five Fridays” and “Best Practice Mondays” are two systems that facilitate recognition.  “High Five Fridays” posts the names of employees that have gone above and beyond quotas and exceptional work every Friday; “Best Practice Mondays” posts a case study of someone within the office that has innovated a process or experience.  These establishments give employees the credit they deserve along with creating a sense of community within the virtual employment team.
  4. Greenback Tax Services also encourages teamwork, acknowledging that employees are in different locations, time zones and environments.  This sense of teamwork can be seen in the proxies that are instituted which allow employees to brainstorm ideas and submit them for review by other employment.  This system brings employees together on the same projects while also establishing a sense on control within the business hierarchy.

I appreciate and am very impressed with the recognition and institutions against the lack of community found within a virtual work environment.  David and Carrie McKeegan have found much success by ignoring the business norm and have institutes policies to create the teamwork that can now be seen within Greenback Tax Services.


McKeegan, David & Carrie. "How to Build a Culture Across Your Virtual Workforce." Entrepreneurship, 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

Mauro, Vanessa. "John Coates: Insights From The Virtual Community Summit #VICROMM13." 25 Mar. 2013.
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6 thoughts on “Creating a Virtual Culture.

  1. A company’s culture can drive up morale and build employee loyalty so I see why Greenback Tax Services has invested in these projects. The virtual water cooler is a nice idea but I’m not sure it is can be very effective, especially if it is a global company and there are time zone differences and it heavily relies on employee participation. The questions are a tool to stir up activity but if you leave it to the employees I am not sure it would get many daily hits. I know some companies use a system where you can earn points for productivity or representing the company’s values. You can redeem these points for gift cards and other prizes or even give them away to other employees I think that is a more effective way to build a culture and encourage productivity.

  2. I am not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I can see how “culture” or relationships can be shared on online forums such as Reddit or other websites like that, but I believe that a virtual connection of shared interests on the internet is different from everyday personal interactions that are conducted face-to-face. However, on the other hand, this eliminates the smalltalk of everyday office environments which for me are so disingenuous and almost erode at relationships ( I’m talking about the everyday “good how are you?” that people shoot off on autopilot). I guess thinking about it more there is no way to strike a perfect balance between genuine personal interactions and internet interactions which may be more candid due to a sense of anonymity over the internet, but lack the personal human touch.

  3. I love how the McKeegan’s put time and effort into trying to unify their employees. It’s not always easy to establish a friendly culture within a company, its much more difficult where the employees are working virtually and in most cases independently. Although this doesn’t necessary establish a couture it allows employees to help each other out, and establishes a unified ethical code for everyone to follow. This allows for the company to run much smoother.

  4. Hey there Jeff, I enjoyed reading your post. I like the idea of a virtual work place. We are currently living in the technological revolution, where technology keeps on continuing to grow to become a huge part of our lives. For example look at things that were replaced by apps and technology? You can use a flashlight on your phone now, along with a camera, you can even order a cab to your exact location through your phone. I am curious as to how a business can benefit from this. In a situation where a corporation is based across the country with multiple locations I can see it as a huge connivence to be online. It could cut costs on travel and other instances that result from geographic separation. I agreed with your statement when you said that it was hard for these companies to develop a code of conduct. Im sure employees would find ways to “free ride” when working online or virtually connected to work.

  5. Your post caught my attention especially because I recently wrote one regarding open-plan workplace environments and the negative effects on productivity and morale. I bring this up because while observing yours, I wonder if the average of 86 minutes of wasted time which applied in my study can be alleviated by taking to a virtual workplace.
    However, when considering the positive effects of being in person, as you listed, “recognition” and “face-to-face contact” are considered by many to be essential to the psychological well-being of an employee.
    Either way, many benefits do exist for both and it is truly up to the company to uncover not only what is important to them (in terms of profitability) but also to the welfare of their employees and overall culture within their company.

  6. A virtual workplace can be tricky to work with, but it looks like Greenback Tax Services does a good job of making sure that their employees still have a type of workplace environment/camaraderie/bond. I had a summer job working with a company that has been transitioning to everyone telecommuting. On a good day there were 10 people working on site, while the other 40 employees worked from home. The head of the department I worked in was very wary of telecommuting, and reluctantly made a schedule where only one person could be telecommuting that day. He was afraid that the department would lose the momentum that had been established if they did not see each other face-to-face. Comparing his department to ones where maybe one person would actually be on site, you could tell there was a difference in the relationships people had with their co-workers. So if it is handled in a way where everyone is on the same page and equally enthusiastic about a virtual workplace, it could be successful.

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