Operating a virtual office became a necessity and a reality for countless businesses in 2020, and some professionals found the change worked better than others did. While a few companies struggled to make their remote operations work as well as they would have liked, others found that they were pleasantly surprised by how effective they were with all of their employees working from home.
Even as pandemic-related restrictions ease and more officers are able to open up for in-person work, many companies are opting to keep their office virtual.
Here’s the thing — there are plenty of benefits to running a virtual office, and there are plenty of drawbacks too. The important thing to remember is that it’s possible. More importantly, it’s easier than it ever has been previously thanks to 21st-century technology created specifically to help remote workers with their productivity. All it takes is some savvy and an internet connection.
Companies that operate virtually save money not only on renting an office (frequently cited as the most expensive overhead after employee salaries) but also on all the things that go along with an in-person location, such as parking, janitorial services, electricity, heat, air conditioning, and security.
Additionally, many workers like the freedom and flexibility they get from working remotely. This brings more employee satisfaction and can empower them to be more productive and more creative. There’s also less risk of negative office dynamics because employees are only interacting when it’s necessary to business.
However, a virtual office isn’t like an in-person office and requires a different type of set-up. Failure to plan accordingly and set your virtual office up properly can lead to added stress and loss of productivity.
Set Up Your Virtual Office
- File Sharing: When you’re all on the same secure network in an in-person office, it’s easy for everybody to access the same documents that you need. File sharing software lets you keep everything right where your employees need access to it, so there’s no need to keep emailing a bunch of different versions of the same document to one another (talk about an accident waiting to happen!). Plus file sharing platforms are secure, so nobody is able to access your company’s documents except for your team (and any clients who are granted privileges). Great platforms include Office 365, Google Drive and Dropbox.
- Line of Business Applications: These are the applications and software that you need to handle all the day-to-day activities of your company and meet your client needs. Think of these as the tools you need to provide your product or service. Project management tools like Asana and ClickUp allow you to see what projects you’re working on, who is assigned to what task, where the project is in the workflow, and when your deadline is. Equally important is customer relationship management software (often called CRM for short). These are databases where you can book appointments, store contacts, send out email blasts, send invoices, and receive payments. In many cases, these tasks can be automated to free up some of your time and focus.
- Communication: Communication is especially important for a virtual office because people aren’t working together in person. It’s much easier for poor communication to lead to a crisis. It’s good to have tiers of communication so that a short, quick question doesn’t have to be sent as an email (everyone gets too many emails anyway!) or so that something that requires a lot of back-and-forth isn’t done via excessive typing.
Obviously, you’ll want to set up an email system for your team. The Office 365 Suite works nicely for this purpose, especially because you can sync your devices with resources like email, calendar, and OneDrive.
For shorter, more immediate communication, a messaging platform like Teams is a great choice. Microsoft Teams lets you create separate threads for different discussions (for example, conversations that focus on specific projects) and you can tag team members to get their immediate attention.
The video conferencing platform Zoom has taken off in popularity because of the remote nature of the world in 2020, and with good reason — video conferencing is more personal and allows users to convey nonverbal communication, such as facial expression, that might be lost with a phone call.
Finally, speaking of phone calls, make sure you have a phone system that connects all of your employees. Even if they’re using their personal smartphones, your system will allow them to make calls from numbers that clients will recognize as coming from your company. Plus, a virtual phone system will let you make or receive calls from your laptop if necessary. The team at Office Phones Plus can help you determine your needs and recommend and install a great phone solution.
A well-versed IT professional can help guide you through the process of going either completely virtual or just allowing for a maximum level of flexibility. You might find that having an in-person office is still greatly to the benefit of your company, as an entirely virtual office has its pitfalls.
For example, workers might have trouble setting boundaries between work and home, which leads to burnout. If they feel cut off from their coworkers, they might not be as collaborative as they would be in person. This is why many organizations choose to at least maintain a small presence in a professional setting for meetings and resources like a printer and scanner.