It’s easier than ever to run your small business from anywhere. Before moving out of your brick-and-mortar location, consider the benefits and challenges of a virtual office.
From time to time, Karen Hough, CEO of ImprovEdge, has considered moving her home-based business into a brick-and-mortar building. But, to date, she hasn’t because she always determines that the benefits of a virtual office outweigh the negatives.
“The virtual office is a good fit for my company,” Hough said. “We are a group of people who thrive on creativity and flexibility—and working virtually suits our employees.”
It’s a position shared by more and more companies. An increasing number of companies allow people to work remotely and a growing number operate completely virtually, like Hough’s ImprovEdge, according to Flexjobs, a company that tracks remote jobs and virtual companies. Between 2014 and 2016, Flexjobs’ list of virtual companies jumped from 26 to 125.
Allowing employees to work from home makes sense for TimeDoctor.com, a software company that helps businesses track their employees’ time, said Liam Martin, its co-founder, and chief marketing officer. Still, TimeDoctor.com recognizes that not everyone is suited to working from home.
It takes discipline and can get lonely, Martin said. Therefore, the company pays careful attention to who it hires. Applicants are screened to see if they fit the company’s culture before they even interview with a hiring manager, he said. Currently, the company has 80 employees in 27 countries.
Martin and Hough, who has 20 remote employees, offered the pros and cons of virtual offices, as well as a few tips for making the process easier.
Low operating costs. Remote companies do not have to pay rent or purchase office buildings. While they typically supply computers to employees, they do not have to buy office furniture or other supplies.
Flexibility in hiring. Companies that operate remotely are not limited by commuting distances nor do they have to pay relocation costs. They can hire candidates from anywhere in the world.
Ability to visit client sites. Clients are thrilled when Hough tells them she or another ImprovEdge employee will come to their location to offer business training based on the skill needed to perform improvisational comedy. “We travel to our clients’ offices all over the country and the world every week,” she said.
No commuting. Hough and her employees love working from home because they don’t have to worry about traffic or weather.
Flexible work times. Many remote companies allow employees to set their own schedules as long as they complete their work on time.
Workers feel isolated. Working from home is not for everyone, Martin said. People who crave the social interaction of the workplace or have difficulty working independently likely won’t succeed in a remote job. Hough has turned away qualified candidates who she really wanted to hire because it was clear to both of them that working virtually wasn’t a good fit.
Difficult to share “sacred knowledge.” In every company, there are job procedures, company or client histories, and other bits of information that employees share with one another in order to keep things running smoothly, Martin said. Transferring that knowledge from one employee to another is more difficult when employees aren’t working side-by-side.
Keeping track of employee productivity. Employees can take advantage of working at home and do less work or fudge their time sheets.
Difficult to meet as a company. In order to bring virtual employees together, companies must fly them to a centralized location and find space to host the meeting.
If you operate your small business with a remote team, consider these tips to boost employee engagement and productivity.
A virtual office isn’t for everyone. But if you consider the benefits and challenges of leaving your bricks-and-mortar location behind, you might find that the flexibility and affordability of virtual office space is right for your small business.
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