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Developing a Successful Virtual Workplace: Secrets From Sodexo

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Posted by Darleen DeRosa July 11, 2017

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These days, many employees can be productive from anywhere with the right technology, training and guidance. Just ask Sodexo, a world leader in food and facilities management services.

The company has maintained a successful virtual workplace for well over a decade now, overcoming the challenges of working across time zones and cultures as it evolved from a multinational company to a truly global one. 

We have worked in partnership with Sodexo for much of this time and continue to be impressed by what we’ve seen. During a recent conversation, Sodexo’s director of diversity and inclusion initiatives, Jodi Davidson, shared some great insights into what has made their model work so well. 

Sodexo’s Talent Acquisition Team: A Success Story

With more than 420,000 employees globally and over 100,000 in the US alone, recruiting is both a critical function and a costly one. A number of years ago, Sodexo tried outsourcing its recruiting in an effort to reduce costs, but the move   proved to be unsuccessful. In transitioning back to an internal function in 2004, the Talent Acquisition team found a compromise that allowed them to hire high-quality people and save money – that was to allow their recruiters to work from home. The team implemented an optional remote work policy which remains in place today for their team of 100 professionals, to include recruiters, and communications, advertising and branding specialists. What has contributed to their success? 

  1. Communicating a Clear Vision, Values and Goals

Each new hire participates in a virtual orientation that outlines the company’s vision, values, history and key initiatives. Managers communicate expectations and work with employees to set corresponding goals which are monitored on a regular basis. 

  1. Frequent Communication

The team hosts weekly webinars and weekly one-on-one calls take place between managers and employees. In addition, the team comes together for less structured meetings to develop and share best practices, acknowledge achievements and for virtual birthday parties, baby showers, etc. 

  1. Ongoing Training

The Talent Acquisition team and the larger organization regularly host webinars that include training virtual leaders in fundamental skills like hosting effective virtual meetings, managing accountability and coaching. 

  1. Motivating and Rewarding Employees

In a virtual environment, recognition takes many forms. Talent Acquisition team members are frequently acknowledged for their contributions and for going the extra mile through the company’s “Sparx card” recognition program, powered by Sodexo’s Benefits & Rewards segment. Through their annual Spirit Awards program, they recognize individuals and teams and awardees select a professional development conference of their choice to attend. Talent Acquisition’s department-wide focus on pay for performance, training, and communication in a virtual environment has resulted in higher engagement and productivity while reducing overhead costs. And while this team has demonstrated exceptional success, it’s just one part of the company’s overall commitment to greater workplace flexibility and a strong company culture. A few company-wide initiatives that support this include: 

Global Diversity Initiatives 

To collaborate effectively from a distance, employees need to have an appreciation for cultural diversity. Sodexo’s global cultural agility initiative and managerial behaviors are helping managers hone their leadership skills and to collaborate with others across the globe. As part of their curriculum, managers complete a culturally based self-assessment that is helping them gain self-awareness while they learn about others. Their insights are helping them enhance their ability to interact while helping to overcome language barriers, accommodate different time zones, etc. “Through self-discovery, leaders understand that there’s not just one right way of doing something and instead they can find common ground and build from there,” Davidson said. 

Virtual Mentoring  

Sodexo has a strong mentoring culture, with many programs being offered virtually. Both Mentees and Mentors appreciate the reciprocal learning that accelerates development, enhances communication skills and helps them boost their confidence. For example, in their LEAD Mentoring Circles, mentees in operationally based roles connect with others in different lines of business to focus on a specific competency such as strategic leadership, leading change or client relations. They convene monthly through a video conferencing platform, and through their facilitation, Mentors ensure space is made for equitable sharing and that more reserved Mentees have the chance to fully contribute. Participants find the Circles to be of tremendous value as they learn about one another’s business, share best practices and help one another overcome challenges. 

Encouraging Flexibility 

Workplace flexibility improves employee morale and retention and is critical for attracting, engaging and retaining top talent across the generations. Sometimes a simple change in the time or location of work can make all the difference, and yet employees may be hesitant to request what they need. Sodexo recognizes this, and through their FLOW (Flexibility Optimizes Work) initiative, managers are encouraged to facilitate open dialogue with employees, empowering them to negotiate the type of flexibility that works best for them while keeping the needs of the organization and business results top of mind. In doing so, employees have a greater sense of control and well-being, and this is helping Sodexo engage and retain top talent. 

Setting the parameters for a virtual workplace can be a challenge, particularly when that workplace spans the globe. The most successful companies take a proactive approach that includes virtual team building and training virtual leaders for the unique skills their role requires. To learn more about training your virtual leaders, check out this helpful guide. 

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Topics: Work Smarter Virtually, Virtual Team Building

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