Virtual Company, Real-World Connections: Using Technology to Amplify a Thriving Culture

Asher Primrose

HR Director
Allied Health Media

Remote teams face unique challenges. At Allied Health Media, the parent company of continued, a growing online continuing education company, our team is 100 percent virtual—and it has been since the beginning. For many companies, this distance can make it difficult to establish and maintain a thriving culture. Luckily, we’re not most companies.

Our culture is unique and super strong. We’re a collaborative, communicative bunch. We care about one another, and we all know one another well. Once people get here, they’re engaged, they’re happy, and it’s a great place to work—which is why we only have about 2 percent annual voluntary turnover. Oh, and we’re not a startup—Allied Health Media was founded in 1999. We are privately owned by a husband and wife power couple, and we have no outside funding or debt. As we grow, it’s through our own investment.

Working remotely is a great setup for our 88 employees. Many of us used to endure long commutes, work excessively long hours, or spend too much time away from our families. For many, joining our team changed that and marked a positive shift in our lives. Many will say the ability to be there is key to their overall well-being and happiness: to be there when their kids get home, to be there for school or sports event, and to be there for time with family.

Remote teams, close connections

Remote work is a fantastic arrangement for our employees, but it’s not without its challenges. Strong communication and collaboration are critical when you’re dealing with a workforce that’s so spread out. One reason we are so successful being virtual is that so many of our folks are classic extroverts, so they’re forging those connections daily.

Our leadership team puts as much emphasis on culture as it does on revenue. We believe this sets us apart from most companies. In my experience, many companies don’t invest the time or the resources to focus on those softer areas. Our company makes it a priority.

Our core values are to be reliable and excellent, to communicate openly and effectively, to collaborate and support always, and to act like an owner. We approach everything we do with those ideals in mind, and this shows in our company culture. Trying to create a great culture where one didn’t previously exist is really difficult. Fortunately, our culture grew organically from the start. We can now continue to maintain and enhance all the good that’s already here by staying focused on communication and connection.

Happy birthday! The 60 emails that sparked change

When I joined the team, we had about 60 employees. We used email and Skype to communicate, and we also used the Google suite of apps (G Suite) to collaborate. But there was a problem that became glaringly obvious on each colleague’s birthday. Each time a birthday announcement email was sent to the company, I would come in in the morning to literally 60 emails because everybody “replied all” to that email to wish a happy birthday to their team member.

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I would come in in the morning to literally 60 emails…
Clearly, email and G Suite weren’t going to cut it.

Obviously, our people wanted to connect. They wanted to share their excitement, but we didn’t have a communication hub to do so. There was no place they could go to see fun personal announcements such as birthdays and new babies or work-related updates such as closing a big sale, kicking off a company-wide Fitbit challenge, or spreading the word about a new open position on our team.

Clearly, email and G Suite weren’t going to cut it.

Keeping it simple

The search for a company-wide intranet system was in the works before I started at Allied Health Media. At first, there was talk of developing it in-house, but the final call was to seek out expert assistance. When I arrived, that responsibility fell to me.

This intranet had to be able to easily share news and policies; it had to be branded to look like us; it had to be easily configurable; and it had to have intuitive navigation and documentation management. I viewed demos from at least 10 vendors, and together with our leadership team, we narrowed it down to two contenders, including Igloo. I pushed hard for Igloo digital workplace solutions because I found it much easier to use than our other option. And since I’d be managing it, I was given the buy-in I needed.

I loved everything about Igloo. The way you can easily create spaces, pages, and content make using Igloo so simple, and the drag-and-drop functionality is intuitive. I’m a fairly tech-savvy person, but I knew that since folks in each department would be adding content and customizing their pages as well, whatever we chose had to be easy to use. With Igloo, that’s exactly what we got: a platform you can figure out without extensive training.

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I loved everything about Igloo. The way you can easily create spaces, pages, and content make using Igloo so simple…

In addition to an organized, process-based communication hub to house all our more formal company announcements and information, we also created a space for more casual communication. Igloo’s microblog feature allows anybody to share anything. You want to share a cute picture of your kid playing baseball? Share it. You saw a funny video online? Share it. It gives everybody a place to feel like we’re all together. We don’t have an office to do that, so we needed a way to do this digitally. Our Igloo digital workplace definitely reflects our culture—in the way we communicate and the things we post.

The launch and the revamp

We officially rolled out Igloo to our teams in October 2014. We launched our central hub to organize and share company communications, policies, and calendars. We also launched team spaces, a custom sub-portal for each department where they could have a space to post news, calendar items, documents, key information, and more about their roles and department objectives. We launched a similar portal option for cross-team project collaboration, but it never really caught on, so we dropped it. And that’s OK—it’s all about figuring out what works best for our teams.

Our approach has evolved over the years. And we’ve made some changes along the way, too. When we first rolled out Igloo, I was still using a separate HR onboarding system. After getting fed up with going back and forth between the two systems, I reached out to Igloo for help. We broke up the central hub into three sections: communications, culture, and learning. It was easier to find what you wanted in those chunks. And within the learning section, I created a whole onboarding section (the New Hire Zone) that contains everything new hires always want to know and see, such as a checklist of what they need to do their first week, first month, and beyond, a digital handbook, important links and forms, key contacts for questions, and an FAQ. It’s really streamlined onboarding, which is key since I’m a one-person HR department.

Our new hires now complete their onboarding faster, and they feel confident and empowered. I’m hardly fielding any questions—which is a huge change from our old system and shows that all the information they need is at their fingertips. It’s self-service.

If you want to make the most of Igloo, I recommend these three important steps:

    1. Take Igloo’s advice and implement it. Get your Igloo consultant to give you some advice on best ways to organize the information. When I first started, I know I could’ve used a bit more information to make the rollout smoother. So when we did our revamp, I leaned on Igloo to provide me with some amazing tips on content organization and widgets that would help me display information so it was intuitive and easy to find.
    2. Collaborate on what kind of content you want to put out there. You may have an idea of what you want to put into your digital workplace, but lean on your various internal teams and departments to help refine those ideas. Integrate their ideas on what they want to post and see and how information might flow. It will save time re-working things down the road.
    3. Leverage skills within your company. If anyone in your company can help with the creative side of the platform, it’s a great asset. Most HR or tech people who are implementing these digital workplace solutions don’t have those skills. I know I didn’t. Luckily I had a creative team superstar who was incredibly helpful. By collaborating on the look and feel, fonts, colors, standard widget design, and overall design, you can set a baseline design before your teams start customizing. It sets the tone. If you don’t have a resource in-house, that’s OK, too. Igloo offers a service to set you up for success.
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I created a whole onboarding section (the New Hire Zone)… Our new hires now complete their onboarding faster, and they feel confident and empowered.

Your Company Culture Is Your Identity

Creating an amazing company culture starts with hiring the right people. Often, when companies are focused on growth, they start to emphasize speed over the right fit. For us, it’s much more important to take our time and find someone who not only fits the job requirements but who is also a good fit for our culture.

This mentality has to come from the top down. Our CEO lives and breathes our core values and embodies our culture. He is warm, collaborative, and open. I think this full buy-in from our leadership team around our core values is another key reason our culture is so strong. No one feels like they’re “above” those values and expectations for how we work together. That sort of mindset is one that breeds disengagement; we actively ensure that everyone, at every level, is held to the same standards.

By layering Igloo on top of our solid foundation, everyone feels closer and more connected. We’re able to retain that small company feel, which is so important to us as we continue to grow. No matter how big we get, I know we have the culture—and tools—to keep every employee engaged, wherever in the world they may be.

Asher Primrose

HR Director
Allied Health Media

Allied Health Media is a leading provider of online continuing education and student simulation learning. Its continued® brand and associated websites— continued.com, AudiologyOnline, SpeechPathology.com, OccupationalTherapy.com, and PhysicalTherapy.com—deliver affordable, high-quality online continuing education and professional development courses for members in numerous professional areas. Allied Health Media is also the parent company of Simucase, a groundbreaking simulation technology that allows speech-language pathology students and professionals across the country to practice assessments with virtual patients.

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