By Richard Lee
Today’s world is one of globalization. For businesses, advances in technology have provided opportunities for employees to work side by side, even when thousands of miles apart. However, as the possibilities of cross-globe interaction continue to increase, the concept of virtual offices is much debated.
With announcements such as Yahoo’s revoking employees' work-at-home privileges, virtual offices are often painted in a negative light and may be associated with words such as “unproductive.” The counter argument that supports remote work is governed by a simple premise: There’s no shame in being virtual as long as the job gets done.
The key to success is creating an environment where remote employees are able to flourish. This requires both an adjustment of company mindset and a robust IT system. Companies that build an IT infrastructure that supports a remote environment are primed for success, and they can use their multi-location business as a selling point.
Saying that a virtual work environment does not come with challenges would be ignoring reality. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the impact it has on employee communications. The plus side to a traditional office setting is the physical environment it provides for collaboration, management and oversight. The communication that is fostered in such an environment is unrivaled. But IT can provide an effective solution to this challenge.
I am living proof that remote offices can foster a productive and successful work environment. My business is bi-coastal, with colleagues in Los Angeles and New York working in conjunction to accomplish projects.
After more than a decade of managing remote workers and virtual offices, I’ve learned that there are certain staples necessary for a successful virtual office. Implementing a well-rounded and simple IT infrastructure is beneficial to all involved: It can help management keep tabs on their team and help employees connect to their management while working as a team. To achieve such an environment, there are a few points to keep in mind:
Integrate essential software into the daily routine.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of remote work is the lack of physical interaction, so any IT infrastructure for virtual offices must establish a two-way flow of communication. Companies can take advantage of software and software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems, which help foster a productive working environment, despite geographically dispersed physical locations.
Basic products such as Skype, Basecamp, Tempo, Outlook, Dropbox, FreeConferenceCall, Google Voice and Google Hangout are all effective and relatively low-cost systems that directly affect a business’ bottom line. Sourcing all work through your software of choice instills a habit in your team to always utilize the program, while also providing a setting for seamless communication.
Don’t forget the importance of appropriate hardware.
Like the power of software, the hardware that a business uses has a direct impact on its virtual capabilities. Modern technology has made remote access a popular, growing phenomenon, with more than half of adult mobile phone users accessing the Internet via their mobile devices.
For the business world, this expands the possibility of employees accomplishing their work at any location. Providing smartphones, tablets and/or laptops combined with a WiFi hotspot is the simplest recipe for success. And while this may seem a no-brainer, these often-overlooked details are incredibly important for a functioning virtual office. It’s important to make sure that all employees are equipped with a reliable smartphone and laptop, as well as a competent Internet access system.
It’s all about the state of mind.
As mentioned before, the main challenge often associated with virtual offices is physical separation that can lead to a breakdown in communication. This is an easy fix that can be accomplished by simply adjusting your mentality. In order to make a remote environment work, you must alter your outlook so that you are approaching the situation in a realistic way.
Particularly for businesses with global employees, building time-zone relationships is essential. A virtual business will thrive only when its employees have achieved the ability to use all of their mental and technical capacities through the software, hardware, services and personnel you employ.
Creating an environment in which communication is promoted is only half the equation. The IT infrastructure you deploy must focus on the organization and centralization of information.
Security is critical.
From an IT perspective, perhaps the most challenging aspect of remote offices is establishing a secure system for communication. Allowing remote workers to access the corporate network can potentially open a business to a breach in security.
Fortunately, technology has provided solutions to this problem. Products such as Log Me In, VueZone and eKeys for eLocks are examples of effective products that are simple to integrate into an existing IT infrastructure. These products provide top-notch security, as well as peace of mind.
Despite the commonly held notion that virtual offices deter from work product and productivity, businesses can succeed and flourish in a remote environment. With the technology and tools available today, it’s a much easier process than one might think. Building an IT infrastructure that supports remote work can be the key to a business’ success.
Richard Lee is founder and chief at large at Pillar Consulting, which provides custom technical solutions for business.