Working in a virtual office has its advantages, but there are also limitations. Below are some of those limitations and how to overcome them.
- Keeping work content secure is part of your job
Working in a virtual office means you have the added responsibility of keeping the computer you use for work virus-protected, as well as keeping your software up-to-date. It’s also important to keep important files private. Losing a client’s data or sharing it with others can impact not just you, but it can have negative effects for your client should their data be accessed.
Ensure all members of your team understand and are trained in good data security and check what software methods are available to protect your workspace. A VPN, for example, can be a great way to securely connect a virtual workspace together.
- Lack of Communication
Being part of a virtual office removes the ability to partake in direct, face-to-face communication. It also means that employees don’t have the opportunity to pick up on non-verbal cues that a colleague may indicate. This not only leads to an increase in miscommunication and misunderstandings, it can also be detrimental to office morale and the creation of a positive office atmosphere.
Keeping in contact is important not only to ensure the smooth running of the business, but also to keep individuals in contact with each other. Many remote workers can also go days without contact which may lead to feelings of isolation.
To help employees remain in contact with one another, an internal chat system may be useful. There is software available that allow you to create several different chat rooms, such as project-specific rooms, management-specific rooms, and informal rooms for casual conversation. It may also be good to have a video conference at least once a week.
- Management and efficiency
The best management style is a flexible one that’s able to adjust and meet challenges. This is especially needed in a virtual office. Time management and tracking programs can help you manage staff members without the need to look over their shoulder. Such programs also enable you to track deadline completions and input diary-style updates.
This can give you a solid foundation of data to determine which staff members need to be prompted and guided, and which ones can be left to their own devices.
While one of the main benefits and reasons for an online office is the ability to have staff distributed around the world, this can also cause problems in relation to time schedules and accessibility (for both staff and documents).
Cloud-based document sharing ensures that all changes made are immediately uploaded and tracked, and readily accessible for anyone who needs them no matter what their local time it is. For staff who are on-call, create a tiered system that will ensure at least one member with the required knowledge is awake and available at any one time.
- Cultural problems
As mentioned, miscommunication is often rife in virtual teams but even more so when employees are from different countries and backgrounds. When dealing with people from different cultures, more than simple language issues can emerge. What is polite in one culture may be considered rude in another and misunderstandings can damage workplace unity and productivity.
A good way to combat this is to have guidelines in place to ensure everyone understands their responsibilities regarding communication and to create uniformity. Even between staff members from the same culture, pre-arranged guidelines will help to eliminate errors and enhance productivity.
You should also try setting rules about which programs to use, email response times, and message formats, as well as common etiquette.
Identifying the common pitfalls of a virtual office is the first step to eliminate or reduce them. Remember, the idea is not to make a virtual office like a physical one, but it is to minimise its drawbacks and maximise its benefits.