Virtual offices are extremely popular right now, and for many good reasons. For one, a virtual workforce can be a powerful talent recruitment tool. It’s not uncommon for top performers to rank telework as high or even higher than salary when listing their priorities, and teleworking aids recruitment further by opening up the talent pool to candidates located throughout the country.
Working from home has been known to increase employee job satisfaction, boost productivity, and lower turnover costs. Virtual offices are also often cheaper to run, as they require lower overhead costs associated with office space and utilities. And there are many other tangible benefits of having an intangible office. However, being a virtual company isn’t yet a perfect fit for all companies or industries. Here’s how to determine whether it’s right for your business:
Can Your Business Thrive with a Virtual Office?
Some businesses flourish with a virtual workforce, while others may face challenges in adopting such a model. Certain industries, such as health care and IT, have found that telecommuting is an excellent fit for their needs. It allows employees such as engineers or developers to enjoy greater productivity while working on their own. These are professions that require strong attention to detail and might be significantly hindered by distractions in the office, such as overly chatty colleagues. Virtual offices do a great job of future-proofing startups and small businesses, who tend to find the flexibility and low cost especially helpful at that stage of their growth. Larger businesses are also capitalizing on virtual offices more often, particularly when starting branches in new locations.
Businesses with a significant creative function often find that a virtual office is a good match for them, as there is less of a need for face-to-face conversations or in-person review of a physical work product. Marketing organizations in particular tend to thrive in a virtual setting for this reason. When it comes time to compare notes with colleagues, virtually located professionals can take advantage of conferencing and collaboration technology that allows them to share their screens with one another and join a conference on demand.
Sales, IT, project management, administrative, customer service, and education or training roles also tend to thrive in a virtual office since it supports independent work especially well. In those cases, any internal collaboration needs that employees have can be met with cloud-based unified communications services that enable them to message or exchange files with one another throughout the workday.
However, businesses or specific business units that require a great deal of in-person customer service or team collaboration may decide that a virtual office doesn’t quite fit the bill where those activities are concerned. They may still rely on a physical office or a combination of traditional and virtual office settings to do their work.
What to Keep in Mind When Setting Up a Virtual Office
If your business decides to set up a virtual office, there are a few steps and precautions you should take in order to ensure a smooth transition. First and foremost, it will be essential to have a clear and well-communicated teleworking policy in place before launching the virtual office. This policy should cover several aspects of the teleworking arrangement, including the following:
- A clear explanation of the criteria determining how teleworking privileges will be granted
- A description of how many days per week or month will be worked in the office versus a remote location
- An outline of teleworking employees’ general working hours
- An overview of the business’s expectations of remote workers
It’s also important to make sure that as teleworking gets underway at the company, staff members understand the performance goals they must achieve in their new virtual office environment. Most businesses find that when a significant percentage of their employees work remotely, managers concern themselves less with the amount of time their staff spends working than the actual results they achieve. Even so, supervisors may find that it’s a bit of an adjustment to oversee their staff when they’re no longer physically located together in the same brick-and-mortar office, so they should make sure they have the training they need to properly carry out their responsibilities in this regard.
Teleworking employees often report they are more productive when working from home. Terrific as that may be, teleworkers can sometimes feel isolated from the life of the company when working alone. Some businesses address this concern by proactively arranging regularly scheduled virtual events or meetings in which the staff or various teams share information about what is happening at the business, or they create virtual water cooler spaces where employees can engage in the same kind of casual workplace banter they would at a traditional office. Others secure co-working space for some of their employees so they still have the benefit of social interaction as well as networking and professional events where they may make useful contacts or engage in professional development that benefits the company.
A virtual office can be a great benefit to many types of companies of various industries, sizes, workforce configurations, and geographic locations. If your company has been looking for ways to cut costs, improve employee job satisfaction, and boost productivity, it might be worth considering the benefits a virtual workforce may offer. While it isn’t a fit for each and every business, teleworking can be a major asset to the companies that do choose to offer it.
Contact Vonage Business to learn more about how cloud-based communications can help your company.
At times, managing people can be a real chore. It certainly doesn’t get easier when the only thing connecting your team is a few cables and a couple thousand pixels. Fortunately, the same technology that frees users from cube life also provides some pretty nifty ways to tackle mobile workforce management. After all, a virtual office is still an office.
Workforce Management in a Nutshell
When the topic of workforce management is discussed — virtual or otherwise — two main aspects boil to the surface fairly quickly. The job really comes down to coordinating efforts and equipping your team members with everything they need to succeed. Accomplish that, and the rest is just minutiae. For teleworking employees, however, you’ll need a slightly different strategy. First up: orchestrating a team you can’t see.
Coordinating the efforts of your team is a simple matter of communication. Since you aren’t often going to be physically available to your team members, this requires a certain mastery of technology. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Rather, a certain level of technology is required to master communication in a virtual setting.
Ultimately, the best communication technology is the one you and your team are most comfortable with. Some offices thrive on phone systems, some love text-based chat, while others still prefer visual communication through video conferencing solutions. Either way, it’s imperative to choose the technology that poses the least resistance to your team’s communication.
Tips for Managing with Technology
Whatever piece of communication technology you use — and perhaps you are using several — here are a few key strategies to keep in mind that will help you get the most out of each:
- Visibility: The technology you choose to communicate and coordinate with your remote team must empower visibility. Something as simple as a “presence” indicator that lets team members know who is available and at what capacity will go a long way toward keeping communication flowing.
- Tracking: Remote team members can be tough to manage due to the autonomy a few hundred miles provides. To make management easier and encourage productivity, a little tracking goes a long way. Before you break out the ankle bracelets, just know that those same communications platforms likely have time-tracking capabilities as well. Cloud phone systems even provide built-in analytics and reporting, which allow for a real-time and historical record of employee call activity to gauge productivity.
- Collaboration: Unless you work in an industry where each individual contributes in complete isolation, you’ll need some way to collaborate, be it on documents, communications, ideation, etc. Again, the idea here is to make it as seamless as possible. Look for technologies that tackle collaboration in an inclusive manner while still providing clear ownership and organization.
- Fun: This one goes back to one of the greatest shortfalls of mobile workforce management. When people rub elbows on a regular basis, they naturally form social bonds. This, called by another name, is culture. While it happens naturally to some extent in a physical office, it takes much more discipline and effort to create the same kind of atmosphere in a virtual environment. Some advice? Give your team members the tools to creatively express themselves, even if it doesn’t directly help productivity. No matter how much you disdain animated .gif images, they may just bring your team closer together.
When all is said and done, managing remote teams doesn’t have to be an exercise in futility. With a well-cultivated crop of supporting technologies, coordinating efforts and equipping your team for success becomes a trivial affair.
Contact Vonage Business to learn more about how cloud-based communications can aid your company.