The virtual office model means employees aren’t housed in one site — they’re probably working out of their own homes or in rented office spaces across the country or even all over the world. Thanks to conferencing technology, including programs like Skype, and screen-sharing technologies like Joine.me, virtual offices can approximate traditional setups. And the cost of this equipment is more than offset by the savings realized by not having to pay travel expenses, site rentals or office space rent.
From the employees’ point of view, there’s more freedom in being able to set one’s own workflow based on the company’s needs and priorities. And virtual office employees report that they can work anywhere they feel content and most productive, which could be a client’s office, the library, a coffee shop or even at the beach. Most delightful is being spared the expense, frustration and time lost commuting to a traditional office location.
Employers benefit from being able to hire anywhere in the country, without being limited to the local talent pool.
Chief complaint? Social isolation — no water cooler or coffee klatch for casual exchange or comments, work-related or not. Virtual office employees can’t just walk down the corridor to chat with a colleague, even for a few minutes.
And it’s important for employees to remember the importance of work-life balance by maintaining firm personal and professional boundaries. There is no clear division between work time and downtime, which can lead to employee burnout.
In a conventional office, guidance or direction on a project or task is a simple walk down the hall to speak with someone. In the virtual office, it can take more time to get information, especially if a key person isn’t available.
How to create a productive and happy virtual office?
- Hire the right people — Successful virtual employees are self-starters and self-disciplined, committed to the task and the organization, and dedicated to the success of their work. Autonomy is essential.
- Have the utmost trust in new hires — Business owners in these settings must have an extremely high level of confidence in their employees.
- Set realistic benchmarks and check in at times — Managing someone from a remote location means coming up with some criteria to measure progress and success — total contacts made or total widgets produced. Some leaders reserve a particular time of day or week for call-in staff meetings.
- Communication needs to be sufficient, frequent and intense enough to satisfy both employer and employee. Find ways to create a sense of unity, for information sharing and team building. Some plan get-togethers for social interaction among employees who may have never met or need to know each other. Management can discuss policies and ways to improve processes.
Prospective virtual office business owners need to enter into the virtual management concept with goals of hiring appropriate employees and creating a genial, productive atmosphere. When a virtual office is set up with care and attention, the result can be an efficient, productive and cost-effective solution.