December 2, 2015

Switching to a virtual office? 6 things to consider

By Jim Annis


So, you've been thinking about giving yourself a "gift" this year and going virtual. Perhaps you've made a list of assumptions about going virtual — in whole or in part — that might need to be checked twice. Here are some things to think about.

This is not a big deal: This can be a game-changer, positive or negative. Your productivity might increase. It might decrease. Your customers might love it. They might hate it, too. This is one of those decisions that cannot be made quickly or lightly or without the analysis from your core team as to whether it is the right thing for you to do.

Everything is in the cloud anyway: That's not 100 percent true, but yes, we are leaning that way. The biggest questions to ask yourself are "What does my customer base require?" and "Is there a need for bricks and mortar?" For a great example, think about if Santa's workshop were considering going virtual. Probably not possible, if they want to keep the mystique about the Santa's Workshop alive and well.

Staff communication: How well does staff communicate now, and how? Going virtual requires a firm commitment to a communication plan which outlines very specific ways of communication (text, email, shared documents/calendars, video, in person, phone conference), dependent upon the purpose, as well as frequency and guidelines as to how to keep everyone engaged (no cellphone use during virtual meetings, etc.). Getting together in a virtual setting may take more pre-planning as you cannot physically get everyone together around a desk in two minutes.

Leadership adaptation: Communicating is not the same as leading! Leadership will need to evolve with a virtual setting to be effective in modeling the way, inspiring shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act and encouraging the heart. Try patting someone on the back from miles away!

Dipping your big toe in first: Allowing everyone to work a day a week at home rather than create some radically new establishment first is a great litmus test. In this way you will be able to observe who is effective at this type of work arrangement, who is not and then make decisions from there. Do they need software? Better time management? What are best practices? Then if it works for you, great! You may not have to go "full throttle" virtual in order to reap some of the benefits.

Office holiday parties: Going virtual could simplify things, reducing your liability and HR headaches the next day. Everyone would meet online in a video chat setting. Drinks are not a budget item because everyone would BYOB from home (or just open the cabinet). Driving home intoxicated and that liability goes away. No worries about food allergies or annoying social media photos showing up embarrassingly after the fact. You can institute a virtual whiteboard where everyone shares their holiday traditions and a live chat allowing everyone to comment. Each person could buy a gift for the Rotary Holiday Toy Drive or other nonprofit gift program, then virtually "gift" it to another employee and explain why he or she chose that item for that person.

There is a lot to "virtually" love about this idea. Just like any important decision, due diligence and open communication based on your particular business, culture and employees will point you in the right direction.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied's COO, contributed to this article.

Read the article in the RGJ here.

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