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Overcome the 5 Pitfalls of the Virtual Office

April 1, 2017 By

Andy Beal, CEO of Trackur, recently blogged about the 5 Biggest Pitfalls of Running a Virtual Office, and the points he makes deserve a second look. While it’s easy to be all gung-ho about the virtues of remote work, there’s often a lot of accompanying headaches. Thankfully those headaches don’t have to turn into migraines. Here’s our take on how to overcome those pitfalls without a bottle of Tylenol.

1. Maximize Efficiency

Efficiency suffers when staff members aren’t available at critical junctures. But this problem isn’t unique to virtual offices — it just requires a slightly different response then the on-site office

  • First, remember that emergencies always strike at the most inconvenient times. With that in mind, create a tiered system of employee availability. Mission-critical staff need to have some method of being contacted at all times. Other staff members should also have “office hours” during which they’ll always be available, even if they’re not actually on the clock during that time.
  • Second, be as completely cloud based as possible. Even when an employee is unavailable for an emergency meeting, if all their work, notes and progress status is available through a cloud service, then there’s at least a modicum of efficiency that can be maintained.
  • Finally, avoid lone ranger projects. Always have two employees assigned to each important project, even if only one person is primarily responsible. This doubles your chances of having a staff member available when a crisis occurs. Using a tool like Soonr allows teammates to keep abreast of each other’s progress even without frequent check-ins.

2. Educate Your Customers

Let’s face it: Many potential customers expect that a truly successful company would have an office space. And while perceptions are changing, you’ll still have to be proactive about educating investors and customers alike. Be upfront about your company’s structure. Don’t try and hide the virtual nature of your business. Jason Fried wrote a great article about the importance of honesty and transparency in customer relations. One of his points definitely rings true here – a customer who’s not comfortable with your structure is probably not a customer you’d want anyway.
Make your company’s virtual status one of its selling points. From maximized productivity to increased flexibility to greater cost savings – all of these directly benefit the customer. So sell them on it! It might be worth the time to create a comparison chart that shows the practical differences between your company and a brick and mortar competitor. (Not naming any names, of course!)
Also, spell out how you’re going to offer the location based perks they expect. Whether it’s face to face meetings or being able to review work product while chatting with the designer, it’s important that your customer knows they’ll get to be just as hands on in the virtual world as if they were sitting in your fifth story corner office.

3. Fight the Social Fight

It’s challenging to build a connected team environment when everyone is separated by time and distance. But there are multiple social networking tools that can make both project collaboration and office gossip sessions a real-time event. Some of those tools include:

  • TeamLab for free collaboration and project management
  • CampfireNow for group chat capabilities
  • Google Plus for casual socializing without becoming Facebook friends

For more helpful tips on the subject, check out this past oDesk post, Maintaining Culture in Your Remote Team.

4. Security Is Everyone’s Job

As soon as you make a new hire, establish procedures and best practices for secure remote work. I don’t have much to add to Beal’s points from the original article here. As he states, it’s vital that each and every remote worker is educated on the importance of safeguarding company and client info.
Security concerns are another great reason to set up team social networking tools. This will lessen the chance of sensitive information being discussed in public forums such as Facebook or Twitter. As far as remote workers’ computers go, consider setting up a VPN to further minimize risks. And if an employee messes up? Have legal counsel in place ahead of time so that you’re not frantically Googling lawyers in an emergency situation.

5. Employ Smart Micromanagement

Staff members need a manager that knows how to balance trust and accountability. This is where the beauty of oDesk’s time tracking system comes into play. You don’t have to question whether or not the work is being done or not — you can just check on work diaries to ascertain what your employees are up to.
This also brings us back to point number 3 — as you build relationships with your staff, you’ll be able to discern who’s the self-motivated workaholic and who needs a bit of hand holding to make sure the project gets done. Different employees will by necessity require different levels of management. Take the time to figure out who needs what. For further reading on this subject, Prospero’s World has a good post about the human dynamics needed for successful remote team management.
And now it’s your turn. What problems have you encountered in running a virtual office? And what solution solved those frustrations? Get the conversation going in the comments section below.
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