Remote working has been a really big business topic for quite some time. Everyone from consultants to internet startups to large, established corporations like IBM have jumped on the “work from home” bandwagon. For many small companies it makes financial sense to switch to a virtual office environment and save on the costs of maintaining a physical space.
Are you thinking of taking the step of turning your office into a virtual one but don’t know where to start? There are lots of things to consider, but you can break it down into broad areas and then create a plan for each.
The technology you choose is going to be the core of your virtual office. You will need to set up systems for file sharing and storage, task management, sales, reporting, etc. You will also need to take into consideration security issues for each of the above. You have to protect your intellectual property as well as keep all client data confidential.
There are a number of file sharing and storage options available and you’ve probably heard of at least one of them. Dropbox, Google Drive, and One Drive are the most well-known, but there are more cloud-based applications being developed all the time. Most options have tiered subscriptions systems so you can purchase the plan that suits your company size and the features you need.
Task management and time tracking solutions are also widely available. As with file sharing, you can purchase a plan with the number of users and features you need rather than having to shell out hundreds of dollars a month for a system designed for larger companies. Some of the more popular programs out there include Basecamp and Asana. Do some research and don’t be afraid to test out different options before making a final decision.
You likely already have sales, reporting, and financial systems in place. Most of the popular tools for these functions have cloud-based capabilities that will allow your employees to input, track, analyze, and report from anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection.
If much of your work involves direct client or vendor contact, you will have to find a phone system that routes calls to the appropriate employees no matter where they are. If most of your employees work behind the scenes, then only a few of you will need to have official company phone numbers. Setting up a phone system will take some research and consultation with vendors, but you should be able to find a solution that works for everyone.
Inter-office communication is going to be a priority because you are losing the ability to walk over to someone’s desk to consult on a project or to schedule weekly update meetings in the conference room. This is where technology re-enters the picture. Make use of a virtual messaging tool, such as Slack, that will allow your employees to discuss ongoing projects, raise questions, and even share resources such as images and documents all in one place. As for those times that you just have to have a meeting, look into programs like WebEx and GoToMeeting which will allow everyone to consult remotely while sharing screens.
Perhaps the most overlooked part of creating a virtual office is setting clear procedures and rules for your employees BEFORE you send them out in the wild. You need to set the parameters not just of how tools like smart phones and messaging software are to be used, but also basic things like what hours people should be at their “desks” and how quickly they are expected to respond to requests for information.
Dealing with Physical Stuff
The last thing you should worry about is what to do with the stuff every office has: inventory, financial records, office supplies, old technology shoved in the closet. When the time for emptying the office comes, you can follow these simple guidelines:
- Employees will take the computers and files they need to complete their work.
- Excess technology, desks, office supplies, etc., can be sold to an office re-seller. You can also consider donating some items to schools, non-profits, or thrift stores in your area.
- Anything broken, outdated, or otherwise useless can be recycled or disposed of properly (this include all the food in your break room fridge).
You will then be left with company records, such as tax records, and any inventory that must be maintained as part of your ongoing business. The obvious solution for this is to seek out a storage facility. This could be anything from a local self-storage company with air cooled units and good security, to specialized storage companies. Start by figuring out what you have to keep and how often you will need to access it and start searching for a local facility.
As you can see, switching from a traditional to a virtual office will involve some careful planning and coordinated effort on the part of your entire staff, but it is really no more difficult than moving your office from one building to another. If you’ve decided that the benefits to a remote workplace are worth pursuing, then start working on your virtual office plan right now.