Gini Dietrich

The Benefits, Challenges, and Solutions of a Virtual Office

By: Gini Dietrich | July 6, 2016 | 
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The Benefits, Challenges, and Solutions of a Virtual OfficeIt’s no surprise that I love our virtual office.

I love the community we’ve built on Slack.

I love messaging Corina Manea with one word, “ZOOM!” and she jumps on immediately.

I love showing up for staff meetings in my cycling clothes…and then having my team do the same because they’re making fun of me (not because they’re going to ride a bicycle).

I love being able to go for a long bike ride in the middle of the day and no one cares, says anything, or thinks it’s unfair.

I love having one entire Slack channel dedicated to the hilarious thing Pete Salmon says.

I also love that, when I need to do deep work, I don’t have to close my door, which always make people panic. I can just block the time on my calendar and everyone assumes I’m in a meeting.

There was a time, before we had a virtual office, that I was venting to a close friend about how people were driving me crazy—complaining about their food being eaten, about the sink full of dirty dishes, about how cold/hot it was  in the office.

He said,

Are you sure you’re cut out for running a team of people? Because this comes with the territory.

Oh.

Fast forward to today where I don’t have to listen to any of that and the temperature of my office can be 85 degrees and NO ONE complains.

It’s pretty fantastic because it allows all of us to do our best work without the, shall I say, annoyances of putting a bunch of people together in one spot.

A Virtual Office Boosts Productivity

There is no commute (unless you count the 152 steps between my bed and Jack Bauer’s food bowls and back to my desk).

There aren’t any unnecessary meetings.

No one eats someone else’s lunch.

The dishes left in the sink are your own and you’re responsible for cleaning up after yourself.

In fact, I see my colleagues more now than I did when I was in the same office as them.

You almost take them for granted when they’re there and make time to see them when they’re not.

And not just that…

Today, we know that having the flexibility of a virtual office boosts worker success and leads to greater productivity by reducing stress.

Think about cutting that commute time out of your day, being able to work at the hours where your productivity and focus peak, and not have to worry about taking a half day off because you have to step away for a doctor’s appointment or meet the cable guy, whose window always seems to be somewhere between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

According to statistics from a 2014 American Community Survey, a virtual office makes up nearly three percent of the American work force, which was approximately 3.2 million workers two years ago.

What’s more, Fortune 1000 companies are revamping their office space to accommodate for a workforce that’s away from their desk 50-60 percent of the time.

The Benefits, Challenges, and Solutions of a Virtual Office

That said, there are special set of benefits and challenges of having a virtual office.

It’s up to you to recognize the challenges and put systems in place to overcome them.

For example, when do you expect your colleagues to be “online” and available?

On the flipside, when should they expect you to be available? Are there meetings or conferences you expect them to travel to? What’s your preferred communication style?

In addition to these questions, here are some of the benefits, challenges, and solutions of leading a virtual team.

Benefit: You can hire the right team members, regardless of their time zone. One of the biggest perks for having a virtual team is the ability to hire anyone you want based on their qualifications and culture fit, versus their proximity to your headquarters.

Challenge: If you have team members around the globe, there might not be much overlap for real-time communication. This can create a disconnected team that’s having trouble communicating and relating to one another.

Solution: Create a virtual water cooler for your team. With tools such SlackZoom, and Facebook Groups, there are plenty of options to figure out what works for you. When bringing on a new team member, make them feel welcome. This can be as simple as sending a company-wide welcome email, or even a video call to get everyone in the same ‘room’ for a face-to-face welcome. If possible, plan an annual, in-person team meeting to get everyone in one place. All of these tools are great, but nothing replaces the in-person experience.

Benefit: Your employees and contractors have the flexibility to get their work done at their optimal productive times—as long as they’re still attending necessary meetings and meeting deadlines.

Challenge: A lot of managers cite “trust” as a roadblock to building a virtual workforce. The biggest misconception about remote workers is they goof off on company time. If you’ve hired the right people, you’ll find that just isn’t the case.

Solution: Hire people you know you can trust. You can also build in a trial period where you’re checking in with your new employees once a week, and even hopping on a meeting to check on their progress of a project. This can be a slippery slope into micromanagement if it’s not handled properly. You want your employees to know you trust them, and you want to set a great precedent for remote work that does allow for laundry in the middle of the day or exercise at lunchtime.

Benefit: It’s all about bringing your own device (BYOD). Everyone has a personal computer these days, which makes the equipment overhead practically nonexistent for business owners.

Challenge: There’s no longer a central drive on the office network where all of the files can live, plus there can be security issues on personal computers.

Solution: Embrace the Cloud. With Dropbox and Google Drive, you no longer have to worry about a file getting lost because an employee’s computer crashed. Our IT professional services all computers and our team are required to install the software we use.

Before managing a virtual workforce, remember to also take stock of your own expectations and limitations as a leader. How you approach your virtual relationship will be an undeniable factor in the success of your team.

A very loose version of this first appeared on PRSay

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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