The virtual office has come a long ways since Telsec Business Centres’ was established in 1980. A business using a P.O. Box for its address was not really looked upon as a negative and several Fortune 500 companies used a P.O. Box for customer enquiries and transactions.
The remote office and workforce has become widely accepted as major corporations begin to adopt coworking office space as their primary means of providing employees’ a workspace and support staff. Coworking leverages the flex time (employees choose their working hours) component and ability to do some work at home that millennials are favoring. This has saved these companies a lot of money in real estate and support staff costs.
Why a Virtual Office?
A virtual office takes coworking to a whole new level with the ability to have all work done by a remote workforce. Many digital marketing companies use a virtual office because they are often a collection of free lancers and many of the best professionals in this field refuse to work in offices and wish to remain free lancers. The advantages of a flexible office space provider like Telsec are:
- Provide meeting rooms, conference rooms and seminar/training rooms at the same address as your business
- The ability to grow to any size without changing your address or phone number (even if you move from that address)
- A more professional perception by customers
For many people starting out in business a virtual office seems like an expense they can forego until they are ready to move into an office space, however, there is something to say for having a professional answer the phone. A professional operator is important especially if you have young children, dogs that tend to decide to bark to get their owners attention when they are on the phone or other distractions like outside noises you have no control over.
Overcoming the Disadvantages of a Virtual Office
The main disadvantages of a virtual office and remote workforce are:
- Availability of employees that have no set hours of work
- Customer perception
- Lack of communication and collaboration
Availability of Employee(s)
One of the biggest problems of a remote workforce is being able to contact an employee when there is an emergency or need for resources to keep a project going forward. Technology has provided a huge step forward using cloud services to:
- store documents and other digital resources
- employee notes
- track project progress
Another availability issue that arises as a result of a remote workforce is that if there is an emergency the person(s) responsible may not be available to deal with it. This is when cloud services are essential in order to deal with the emergency by providing access to project status and other info are accessible.
Lone Ranger projects where only 1 person has access to project info and materials are a definite problem in a remote worker scenario. To avoid this:
- Never assign one person to a project
- Always have a method to contact mission critical staff (cell phone)
- Use cloud based project management software so project status and materials are always available.
All of the above can be avoided by having one person that can always be reached and has access to all projects in the cloud. I have used Highgear because it has the ability to assign a worker tasks with descriptions of the task and resources needed, deadline and progress of the task. At a glance I can see all the workers on a project, the status of the project and any completed work.
Overcoming Customer Perception of a Virtual Office
First of all it always best to be upfront and transparent about your remote workforce and/or virtual office. Educate your client about virtual offices by telling them how you have overcome the disadvantages of a virtual office. Explain how all mission critical workers and managers are always available by giving them their project leads’ cell phone number and be sure to let the employee know your requirements of availability from the first day they are employed.
One of the ways you can change the perception that customers often have when a company doesn’t have an office space. Explain to your client how this enables you to maximize and leverage your resources which means lower prices for them. In many cases you can build a better team by using a remote workforce because you aren’t restricted by geographic proximity.
Lack of Communication and Collaboration
Communication before the internet was the biggest hurdle for a remote workforce to overcome, however, with the internet came the creation of technologies that have made this a non-issue. There are a handful of messaging services to choose from and even more SAAS project management software. For those who want face to face meetings and the ability to screen share there is Skype and YouTube Hangouts to name just two of the many free and paid providers of these services.
It is important that as remote workers are hired they be made aware of the need for following procedures exactly where communications and project management are concerned in order to manage the security of the company’ resources and information. Give employees private networking and collaboration tools so they won’t have to resort to less secure neighborhoods like Facebook and Twitter!
Overcoming the disadvantages of a virtual office and/or remote workforce comes down to providing employees with the software tools, office procedures and management oversight to overcome the problems that come with these business structures.