Thanks to the Internet, more and more businesses are realizing that fitting into standard office space form is soon going to be obsolete for plenty of small companies because of the benefits they could get for going paperless and oriented towards modern web services.
Accounting software, document management, meetings and communication all required much more effort and physical stuff around us before than today. Take Google’s GoingGoogle campaign for example. Bunch of high profile companies and educational institutions seized the opportunity to make their operations more streamlined and simpler.
Modern businesses which do not fear the technology, change and progress are utilizing web services quite often lately and base their operations on them because they are accessible, inexpensive and save a lot of time time which would be otherwise spent on maintenance and familiarization with new interfaces and workflows.
With co-workers able to work, communicate and share documents easily and seamlessly, there is really no need for physical contact in order for a workforce to remain functional.
Why a Virtual Office?
This is where another popular and interesting concept jumps in. “Virtual offices”, which plenty of small businesses use instead of having the physical ones. They offer a wide variety of benefits to both owner and employees.
The first and most obvious one is that you get to work in the comfort of your own home. There is no need to commute back and forth, reducing the stress of having to arrive at work on time.
Although some may argue that a virtual office can increase bills at home, it is important to note that salary for home based workers can be bigger since there are no expenses dedicated to renting office space.
The lack of distractions at home combined with the comfort of being in your own space can also increase productivity for most people. You can arrange your working time around chores, making it an excellent option for stay-in parents.
An added benefit is the fact that most online offices do not hire 9-to-5 workers. Freelancing is a common option, letting you get people as you need them and paying only for the job done. This removes all the hassle of contracts and limits the expenses of the business.
Your choice of employees is not limited by geographic location, allowing managers to pick from the best providers from all over the world. Depending on the nature of the job, this could translate to having a continuous shift of people handling the business.
Note though that even a virtual workforce provides multiple benefits, there are still some disadvantages to it. The most common one are unforeseen events such as power outages, breakdown of computers and sudden Internet connectivity problems.
Due to the fact that the workers are located in different places, however, problems like this are limited to just a few people, therefore not crippling the workforce entirely which is, in turn, another benefit.
Another, often welcomed benefit is having premium location on your business material such as business cards, envelopes and documents. Everybody know that having trustworthy and credible (maybe even elite) address makes people more confident in working with others.
Managing a Virtual Office
Keeping a virtual office running requires a different set of skills compared to running a physical workforce. The fact that you are not physically present usually means you have no direct control over your employees.
For this reason, finding reliable employees is usually more important than finding experienced ones. Through constant communication, you can easily train new people – but experience is useless if they cannot deliver on a timely method. Following are some tips on how to manage an online office:
#1. Find Good People
There are numerous places where you can find possible employees to work on your team. It is usually best to recruit people you have been working with in the past and ask for suggestions from them should you wish to expand. Otherwise, services like ODesk, Freelancer and Elance might do just fine.
#2. Clear Cut Job Descriptions
With zero physical communication between co-workers, a virtual office usually requires a stricter system than most. Essentially, this means that every person must be fully aware of what is expected of them – both the job and the time-frame work must be finished in.
With some workers located in different time zones, it is important to accept that they will logging on at different times and working when it is comfortable. It’s not unusual that such workers often work night or early morning shifts so they could be available to employer and coworkers.
#3. Streamline The Process
There are currently numerous applications and websites that can be used for virtual offices. For the sake of efficiency however, it is usually a good idea to use only one program per task. For example, choose from either Skype or Yahoo Messenger for chats and opt for just one cloud storage service to avoid confusion.
As the manager of a virtual office, it is also a good idea to perform introductions between other members, letting them have a wider picture of what the business is all about.
#4. Back It Up
Always have a backup plan and if possible, find people who can do the job if one person fails to meet the set standards. As with physical offices, no one should be indispensable.
#5. Let Go
Possibly the biggest challenge for most people in virtual offices is the fact that they cannot stay on top of things all the time. It is possible to lose contact with one of your people or have difficulty in letting other people take up the reign on some aspects of the business. As other virtual office managers will tell you however, “collaboration” is the key.
Accountability is important when it comes to online offices, but with the right people, this should not be a problem. The important thing is to let the experts work on the jobs that they are best at and collaborate whenever possible.
Virtual offices are the future of employment and pretty soon, physical offices may no longer be that necessary.
According to some people who have shifted from physical to virtual, the move actually made it possible for them to expand the business and increase revenues even while diminishing expenses.
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