A traditional office with desks, a water cooler, and break room is so “last decade.” Today, businesses around the world are sending their employees home. If their job involves a computer all day, why pay for the office space? Why make them commute when they can just as easily communicate with you from their homes?
The other big trend? Hiring independent contractors rather than full time employees. Contractors don’t ask for retirement plans and healthcare—two expenses that take a large bite out of profits.
Each of these is reason to consider making all or a portion of your office virtual. Of course, not all businesses have this option but for those that do, here’s some small business advice about how to manage a virtual office.
1. Hire the Right People
This is true in any company, but even more so in the virtual space. Seek out people who are disciplined self-starters that can be productive in an isolated environment.
2. Establish Pay/Status
You can hire employees or obtain independent contractors. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Determine whether you will pay a salary, hourly wage, or by project. Contractors are typically paid by the hour or by the project.
3. Ensure Employees Have the Right Tools
Work-at-home employees typically need, at a minimum, a computer, a combination copier – scanner, and an Internet connection. You can provide the equipment and retain ownership or require employees to secure their own tools. Contractors typically supply their own equipment.
4. Set Up Data Access
Most small businesses don’t have large IT departments capable of setting up remote servers. Enter “The Cloud.” The cloud resides on somebody else’s server and allows employees to access files from home and to share projects.
Three of the best-known cloud services include Dropbox, iCloud, and Box. All three offer a reasonable amount of free space with an option to buy more. If you store your information in the cloud, make sure to back it up. The cloud is reliable but not so much that you should trust your essential data to it.
5. Trust is Essential
Since you will not physically see or interact with employees in person, suspicion that they aren’t being as efficient as they could be is a reasonable feeling to have. Regular communication will ensure everyone deserves and has earned your trust.
6. Set Realistic Goals
Establish regular check-in times and set benchmarks to help employees know how much they should accomplish at each step of a project.
7. Communication, Communication, Communication
8. Schedule Face Time
In-person meetings don’t have to be held often – once a month for employees who are nearby and once a year if your workforce is spread far and wide is plenty. Some companies, are so geographically diverse that face-to-face meetings are simply not feasible. Luckily, video conferencing is easy. Anybody with an iPhone or iPad can video conference with the touch of a button.
It’s important that virtual employees feel appreciated as well as part of the team. Employee-of-the-month awards and other incentives can be presented via conference call, video conference, or even email.
10. Dealing with the Downside
The chief complaints from virtual employees are social isolation, working too many hours, or being distracted and not completing tasks.
Managing these issues involves first, being aware they exist. Attack isolation with regular contact. Caution employees to take breaks and set regular work hours. At the same time, establishing communication and benchmarks will help those who tend to get off task.
Want to learn more about how a home office works? Watch our webinar, How to Start a Business from Home.