Although virtual offices are by no means new or uncommon in the business world, the Covid-19 pandemic has massively increased the appeal of remote working solutions. Businesses that previously had little interest or need for a virtual office are now abundantly aware of the benefits they offer. With many businesses weighing up whether or not to make remote working part of their 'new normal', we explore how to think long-term when setting up your virtual office.
1. Do your research
There are many companies that are already fully remote and have been for some time. See what you can find out about businesses of your size that are operating virtually within your industry, as they can act as case studies.
When carrying out research of this kind, it’s essential to be open-minded. A virtual office is a different beast from the conventional workplace you are used to, and there will be aspects that seem foreign or even off-putting at first. Planning ahead and doing thorough research will help ensure there aren't any surprises down the road.
2. Involve your team early on
When you made the initial shift to remote working at the start of the pandemic, you will have put a lot of faith in your employees and relied on them to make it a success. Going forward, it's vital to involve them in the planning stages of making remote working long-term.
For your virtual office to be as productive and effective as possible, your team needs to feel confident about how to approach their work in this new environment long-term and prepare themselves for everything it entails. Creating a safe and honest environment where concerns can be voiced openly will be appreciated by everyone.
By demonstrating your trust and valuing employees’ opinions, you will also boost morale and bonding within the group, which can go a long way when employees are no longer returning to a physical office.
3. Look into remote IT services
Regardless of the industry you work in, technology is a vital component for remote working long-term. Remote IT solutions can be invaluable, as they’re specifically designed to help you to work efficiently from a virtual office. While the needs of every business vary depending on their size and the nature of their sector, remote IT support, IT security and cloud computing (more on this later) offer a huge advantage.
Many businesses outsource their IT needs for one reason or another. For some, the key benefit is to cut costs by eliminating the need for an in-house department. For others, it’s one less thing to worry about and gives your IT team more free time to work on creative projects — rather than spending all their time answering IT questions or performing fixes that could be easily handled externally. Efficient remote IT also ensures that your team can work whenever they need to, without delays or other issues cropping up.
4. Move to the cloud
You will have undoubtedly heard of the 'cloud' and likely use it on a daily basis, in one form or another. Cloud computing gives your employees access to anything they need for work, such as software, tools and documents, regardless of their location. The other benefits of a move to the cloud include increased productivity and flexibility, high performance and scalability, and improved IT security.
When creating a virtual office, your team needs to have access to everything they would in a regular office environment. By storing your data, documents and any other essential resources in the cloud, your team — and with permission controls, only your team — can access what they need, when they need it.
Cloud computing is also a fantastic asset when creating a long-term virtual office because cloud providers are continually updating their software to increase efficiency and fix any issues. In a real-life office with an IT team, this would have to be carried out across multiple devices and could lead to delays or downtime. With cloud computing, all updates are automatically completed behind the scenes while you focus on your work.
5. Give employees a platform to socialize
One of the most challenging adjustments of remote working is the lack of face-to-face interaction which helps provide a strong sense of camaraderie in the office. It’s a common mistake for businesses to neglect this when creating a virtual office and merely rely on work emails and phone calls. The reality is that this can lead to a breakdown of employee relationships, with poor communication leading to inefficiency, and it can take a severe toll on morale.
When you consider the wealth of apps and software designed for this exact purpose, you’d be doing yourself and your team a disservice not to explore your options. A great example is Microsoft Teams, which offers instant messaging, video conferencing, shared storage space, and the use of Microsoft apps (Word, Excel, etc.) to increase productivity and encourage collaboration. The great thing about software such as Microsoft Teams is that it caters to the varying needs and budgets of both small businesses and large organisations by offering several different packages.
For long-term success in any endeavour, it’s essential to monitor your progress, note the pros and cons along the way, and adjust your process accordingly to suit the needs of your business and team. A virtual office is a drastic change for any company, so you can expect some challenges and bumps in the road. But it’s how you react and evolve throughout that will set the tone for your business’s future success — and close observation is crucial to achieving this.
Every business is different and will face unique challenges when they 'move' to a virtual office environment. This makes it crucial to maintain a clear understanding of your successes and failures during the early stages, with the latter being an ideal learning opportunity to increase the former. Regular brainstorming sessions and feedback will benefit you immensely in the long run.
About the Author
Mike Castle is ITRM’s Chief Technology Officer. He provides technical leadership to clients that need a strategic approach to their IT as well as virtual CTO advice, wherever it’s required. ITRM is a managed IT specialist which provides a range of sectors with remote IT services — such as IT support, security and cloud computing — that allow businesses to reach new levels of success, as well as the tools and resources they need to create long-term, successful virtual offices.