Is The Virtual Office The Future Of The Workplace?
New communication technology is constantly making the world feel smaller. At the time, the invention of the telephone revolutionized the way that people worked. Contact was no longer limited to people in the surrounding area and communicating with people that weren’t nearby meant days of traveling. These days, we have the capability to collaborate with people all over the globe at the touch of a button and it has drastically changed the way that businesses operate. The ease of sharing information and the availability of technology means that the traditional office set up is quickly becoming obsolete. You might not realize it yet because most businesses still have a physical premises, but more and more people are starting to turn to virtual offices instead. You no longer need to fill your office with employees from the local area. Now you can employ people from all over the globe and have them work remotely.
Is A Virtual Office Better?
People have a lot of reservations about the idea of people working remotely but most of them are unfounded. The myth is that people will be less productive if they’re working from home because there are too many distractions and no authority figures to motivate you. For some people, this is probably the case, but most people tend to be more productive if anything.
Recent studies by the Harvard business review show that people that work from home are, on average, far more productive. There are a few reasons for this, and they aren’t what you would expect. Most people expect there to be more effective communication between employees that are in an office together, but the truth is, people become more complacent. When employees are working remotely, they tend to put more effort into effective communication and work together a lot more effectively. Teams that don’t interact face to face that often also tend to make better use of their time when they do, so even though they work closely a lot less often, they are infinitely more productive when they do. Better use of technology is another benefit of working remotely. When you’re part of a virtual team, you rely far more heavily on technology than people that meet together on a daily basis. As technology becomes increasingly important, the employees that are better equipped to use are the ones that will thrive.
When it comes to distractions, people’s preconceptions are way off. When you’re working remotely from home, you aren’t distracted by any of the other people around you. In a rigid office environment, people are often looking for distractions but in a more relaxed home environment, people can concentrate a lot easier. Remote workers also, on average, work more hours than office workers because they aren’t limited to an eight hour work day.
One of the main benefits of a virtual team is that it massively reduces your overheads. Instead of needing a large office that can house all of your employees every day, you just need a much smaller space for the occasional team meeting.
It also means that you have a much wider choice when it comes to hiring employees. Instead of being limited to the best people in the local area, with a virtual office, you can choose from the best people in the entire world. You no longer have to compromise when it comes to hiring so you can create the very best team possible. By having employees around the globe, you can expand into new markets far more easily because you don’t need to set up expensive new offices every time.
What Are The Negatives?
By this point, you might think that starting a virtual office is a no brainer, but it does have its downsides. One of the biggest problems that people encounter is a lack of expertise. In a traditional office environment, if you have an IT problem, for example, you can head down the hall and find somebody to help you out. You won’t have that when you’re at home working as part of a virtual team. However, remote working is starting to correct those problems as fast as they arise. The experts that offer home IT services can repair most common issues remotely so you still get the benefit of a great IT team without having to wait for them to come out to you.
A good working relationship is important in any workplace because a team that don’t gel well together won’t work efficiently. In an office environment when you’re working together every single day, those relationships are far easier to build. When you’re part of a virtual team and you tend to communicate mainly by email or phone, you feel quite detached from each other and it can be harder to build a good working relationship. That doesn’t mean that you can never create a coherent team, you’ll just have to work at it a little more. When the team does meet in person, you need to put a bit more effort into getting to know one another.
Not being able to monitor your employees as much is another concern that people have about virtual offices. Monitoring their workload isn’t too much of an issue because they will have tangible results to show you but when it comes to their well being, it’s harder to know what’s going on. If your employees aren’t happy, then productivity will drop drastically so it’s important that they’re happy. It’s best to check in from time to time to ensure that they don’t have any major problems that are affecting their work.
So, those are the pros and cons of a virtual office. If it seems like something that might work for your business and you’re going to set one up for yourself, make sure that you remember these things.
Use Video Calling
Face to face contact is important when you’re trying to build a relationship with somebody. So many virtual teams make the mistake of communicating solely by email but this is not effective. Not only can it be inefficient because you have to wait a while for a response, it also takes the human element out of those interactions. Video calling isn’t an ideal solution, but it’s much better than emailing. You can put a face to a name and get to know each other a little better. While it isn’t as good as meeting in person, it’s as close as you can get.
Establish Clear Responsibilities
In a traditional office, everybody’s roles are fairly clear cut. If you want to know who is handling a certain part of a project, you can just ask. However, when you’re part of a virtual team, you won’t have everybody on hand. You also don’t know how other employees are dividing up their own workloads. That means that sometimes people are unclear about who is doing what and that can seriously affect efficiency. That is why it’s so important to set out clear cut responsibilities at the beginning of a new project. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself dealing with disputes between employees about who was responsible for what.
Choose Employees Carefully
Although a lot of the concerns that people have about remote worker’s motivation are unfounded, that doesn’t mean that everybody thrives as part of a virtual team. Some people will have trouble motivating themselves outside of a rigid office environment. When you’re interviewing employees, you should obviously consider their qualifications first, but their personality is incredibly important. You need to be looking at the tell-tale signs that indicate whether they’re motivated or not. If you employ somebody that can’t keep themselves motivated properly, then they’ll be a weak link in the team and efficiency will be affected. This is an even bigger problem in a virtual team because you might not realize that there is a problem until further down the line.
Keep People In The Loop
One of the biggest downsides of a virtual team is that people don’t always feel like they’re really part of the company. In a normal office, everybody is aware of new hires and other company developments, but virtual employees won’t always know about these things. Putting together a monthly newsletter that keeps people up to date with all of these developments makes them feel more a part of the team which creates more loyalty to the company and in turn encourages them to be more motivated.
Make Time To Meet
This is the most important thing for any virtual team. Although new technology means that communicating remotely is easier than ever, there are still some things that need to be discussed in person. Important decisions about the direction of the company should always be decided at meetings. Another thing to consider is the safety of information. When you’re communicating online, there is always the chance of a security breach. With this in mind, you should always keep discussions about sensitive information in person where possible so you reduce the risk of any security issues.
The virtual office is set to be the future of the workplace so start setting up yours now and stay ahead of the curve.