The concept of virtual office is gaining prominence all around the world.
Whether it is individuals working at home on a full-time basis, or on occasion each month, employees running operations from far-flung areas within or outside of a company’s geographical location, or salespeople operating from their vehicles, the model is quickly catching on.
And for good reason.
The benefits of remote working for businesses are immense. Matters not the size of the business. At the heart of it is a significant scaling down of business costs of all kinds – fixed, direct, operational, the kind. Clearly, you cannot envision a future farther from this.
Despite its promise, the concept of virtual office is still fraught with its own set of challenges. Of course, it had to be. Managing staff is tough enough, and the remote mode of operation only adds another level of complexity to it. But the upside is that the pros greatly outnumber the risks at the end of the day.
Below, we outline some common risks and how to work around them.
Risk 1: Poor Communication
One of the biggest pitfalls of remote working is the strain it puts on communication.
Whereas onsite employees run into each other all the time, virtual workers go for days without contact. The result is a decreased sense of communication, and in turn, holding back work. This is more so when some team members go off the grid or fail to respond to comments or suggestions, which could take the wind out of the sails of the other members of the team.
Establish the primary method of communication from the onset – could be phone, could be email, IM, video calls and so on. Luckily, the times we live in promote virtual working what with the plethora of nifty tools of communication we have at our disposal.
But communication alone is not enough.
What you also need to agree on is the frequency of communication, especially bearing in mind the time difference factor in some cases. Establish a pattern for checking and responding to messages, and stick to it religiously.
Risk 2: Lack of Face Time
The benefits of social interaction at the workplace are well known. What else is known, at least by every virtual practitioner, is that a social life is not one of the luxuries that come with the job.
As with communication, this further compounds to the feeling of isolation and neglect. Which means failure to address the matter might affect staff performance.
While you cannot be in charge of every individual’s social calendar, one of the keys to making virtual staff feel that they belong is to carry out routine meet-ups.
On top of the defined communication schedule, a combination of regular teleconferencing, video conferencing, web conferencing and groupware is never a bad idea as it allows remote staff to get in on the act too (in real-time) with respect to meetings and presentations.
If your employees are within the same city as you, make it a policy of hooking up say, at the end of each work week, to assess and plan for work in person, discuss the challenges in person and so on.
The effect of physical contact is underestimated, but make no mistake, it helps cement an already established camaraderie. Need not be at the coffee shop. No. The emergence of the fully equipped professional serviced office model has offered businesses a better option to conduct meetings.
If your company comprises onsite and remote employees, you may want to schedule time often for the two groups to socialise. That way, offsite employees will feel they are part of the pack and know that you value them and understand their challenges. You don’t need to be told what direct impact this can have on business.
Risk 3: Measuring Productivity
Gone are the days the productivity and dedication of employees was quantified by the number of hours they spent hunched over in their cubicles. Well, almost gone.
When it comes to remote working, it’s hard for the employer to use physical presence as a confirmation that people are working. Realistically though, the same rings true even for workers based onsite. Activity doesn’t necessarily equal productivity.
So, how on earth will you tell your remote workers are putting the hours in? To put is simply, you won’t.
This though, doesn’t mean you are lost at sea.
The key to measuring productivity when running a virtual office is to create specific and attainable goals that are measurable.
It could, for instance, be the number of support issues resolved successfully in a month, goals-related weekly reports on the work accomplished in a given week, a completed checklist of month-end activities, among other measures of job outcomes.
However, don’t focus on the trees and lose sight of the forest: focus on much more than just productivity. Focus on results.
For this to work, the goals and milestones should not be forced down the employees’ throats. They need to be developed jointly with them so that everyone is reading from the same hymn sheet and also ensure each person is not biting more than they can chew.
With these three important points in mind, you can rest easy knowing you are on top of some of the most pressing risks associated with running a virtual office but aren’t evident on the face of it.
Most importantly, don’t allow the possible challenges of a virtual office keep you from exploring the options for your business.