Have you been hearing whispers about “virtual offices” lately?
Some of our clients have been asking about this new trend, so we thought we’d spend some time talking about what exactly virtual offices are, why the trend is gaining steam, and whether or not a transition might be a good idea for your business.
What is a “virtual office”?
A virtual office isn’t an office at all; it’s when a company decides to forego having a physical office space altogether, and instead has its employees all work remotely (generally out of their homes). This is now possible for a few reasons:
- The Cloud. Cloud solutions like virtual desktops allow organizations to work from anywhere with an internet connection – without having to worry about owning and storing their own servers anywhere.
- Collaboration Tools. Sophisticated software packages like Slack, Trello, and Basecamp make it much easier for remote workers to collaborate with one another, and stay “connected” despite physical distance.
- Internet. Improvements to residential internet allow us to connect into these cloud solutions without performance being painfully slow.
Just because it’s possible to have a virtual office, however, doesn’t mean that this is a necessarily a good idea for your business. To help you determine whether or not it’s worth serious consideration, we’ll work through the pros and cons below.
The pros of virtual offices
There are some pretty compelling advantages of the virtual office model, the main ones being:
- Saving Money. For most businesses, the two largest expenses on our plates are our people and our rent. With a virtual office, you’d be eliminating the latter altogether. Even if you need to invest in some new equipment to make sure your staff can work comfortably out of their homes, you’re still looking at an immense amount of money saved in the long run.
- Boosting Productivity. We’ve been hearing for years how a flexible work environment will do wonders for morale, and how that boost in morale will in turn do wonders for productivity. If your whole team is working out of their homes (with no commute and with more family time), you might find that your business can get a whole lot more work done.
The cons of virtual offices
The challenges your business would face with a move to a virtual office are:
- Maintaining Your Culture. Even if your staff is able to work effectively from their homes (or any other location), you’ll need to be very deliberate in maintaining your culture so that your team will continue to feel like, well, a team. If casual watercooler conversation is important to your company, how will you simulate that? If you held regular team meetings, will you mandate regular video conferences? What other rituals will you need to recreate virtually?
- Managing a Remote Staff. If you aren’t used to managing a remote team, this can sometimes be a difficult transition. How will you track each employee’s progress? How will you maintain regular, meaningful communication? How will you keep your team united and collaborating effectively? How will you know if one of your team members begins feeling isolated and unmotivated?
Is a virtual office right for your business?
Set that “pros” list aside for a moment and focus on the challenges of a virtual office. Would you be willing to face these? Would you realistically be able to overcome them?
Many organizations find that they aren’t ready to fully commit to a virtual office scenario, but that it might make sense for a portion of their workforce to be remote, while a portion remain in smaller office quarters. This is how our own company is arranged, and it’s working out quite well for us.
Above all, we recommend that you approach this conversation from a business perspective, and that you plan and execute any transition thoughtfully and methodically; rent can cost your business a lot, but so too can losing top talent due to a hasty switch.