A lot has been said about the advantages of getting a virtual office. It really frees your employees so they can work from anywhere any time. However, there are some pitfalls in the working remotely scenario as well. It makes sense to be aware of what they are and find ways to deal with them.
Fall in efficiency
When people don’t come in to the office every day but work from home or some other location, you may well find a drop in efficiency. Of course, efficiency may increase in some individual cases, but it’s been found that people working remotely are generally not as focussed on their work as they should be. They tend to take frequent breaks and are easily distracted. Besides, if you need to reach someone urgently, you may find him or her difficult to locate. Waiting for them to get in touch can be frustrating.
There may also be situations when you need to pull out all the stops and work collectively to deal with a crisis. How can you do this if the full team is not in one place to pull their weight? One solution is to schedule a specific time in the day when everyone is on call, a sacrosanct time slot. Scheduling meetings over Skype is another option and has the advantage of talking to people
When they don’t see the entire team working single-mindedly on their problem, clients begin to wonder how serious people are. A negative perception may set in, without real justification in many cases. But clients tend to draw their own conclusions about what they see or don’t see. They don’t have the same comfort level they would have if they saw the whole team on the job working together. The answer is to tell clients honestly that having employees work remotely has been a well-considered decision. It saves the cost of running a full-fledged office and the money is being used to provide better tools and resources to help clients get a competitive edge. Reassure your clients by sending a regular progress report on the job.
Less bonding between employees
Employees need to bond with each other, spend some time chatting over coffee, discussing the latest happenings, sharing views on new movies and having a healthy debate about sports teams and matches. This is not strictly work but it helps create a friendly ambience, which is known to improve productivity. When people are working remotely, they don’t have the advantage of this camaraderie. It’s important for employees to be in touch with each other via email and instant messaging. Make sure social events such as lunches and dinners are arranged at regular intervals so people can feel they belong to the same team. Don’t forget to include people working remotely in brainstorming sessions. Let them also share in decision-making and celebration of milestones such as achievement of targets.
When people are not working together in the same physical office, compliance difficulties may creep in. Safety procedures must be carefully followed so that confidential data doesn’t inadvertently get into the wrong hands. When the question is a matter of sensitive, top-secret information, employees should be asked to come into the office to work on special tasks. Extra precaution needs to be taken when members of the team are scattered in different locations and need to access confidential data.
Loss of trust
There’s a danger that you might lose trust in your employees when you don’t see them at their desks every day. You may wonder if they are actually putting in the time required. This is where you need to pull out the trust card and have faith in your employees. Don’t micro-manage and ask for frequent reports. Resist the temptation to keep asking how the job is going, what progress has been made. Let your employees know that you trust them implicitly and are depending on them to get the job done. Let them know that you are available for consultation but are absolutely confident about their abilities. Sending out a message that you trust your employees will go a long way to ensuring that not only is the assignment done on time, but that it’s done brilliantly.
The pitfalls of a virtual office can be avoided with a little thought and careful planning. Having a virtual office is a whole new way of working, providing flexibility to your employees so they can do their best work at the right time and from the location that suits them best. Exploit these advantages but find a way out of the problems.