"Work is what you do and not a place to go!"
Today, we all live and work in an interconnected world of fast broadband, tablets and mobile devices. The pace of technological innovation now allows many of us to work remotely, away from our normal place of work. It's estimated that around 4.2 million UK workers now shun the daily commute in order to work from home.
This requires organisations to manage effectively those workers who they deem suitable for remote working, and enable them to do so through virtual technologies. Workers themselves also need to be disciplined in time management and meeting project deadlines.
The rise in BYOD (bring your own device) and the consumerization of information technology at work have helped to increase the popularity of virtual working. There are significant benefits for virtual and remote working for both the organisation and the employee alike.
'Virtual', 'knowledge' and 'collaborative' working
It is useful to help define virtual, knowledge and collaborative working:
- Virtual working - performing all your usual office activities on office systems whilst not located in the office (i.e. mobile or from remote locations).
- Knowledge working - performing work based on the value of information that involves its creation, dissemination, exchange, consumption or management.
- Collaborative working - performing tasks together in real-time via the internet, working on tasks as if around a table or PC in the office with colleagues.
Organisations increasingly expect their workers to do all three, and whilst this may seem like ‘big company’ territory, it applies equally to small and medium size enterprises too. There has been a huge growth in support services for virtual working, including virtual receptionists and virtual meeting rooms that can be booked at short notice if you need office space to meet business clients.
Online business is global business. We need technology to help us work smarter at a time when we are all leading busy lives and face a daily barrage of information. Of course, we should always find time for the most important things in life, for example our families and friends. Virtual working can enable us to manage our time better. Successful virtual working is determined in part by the selection of appropriate technologies for the tasks, whether that’s email, phone, instant message, file sharing, white-boarding, or something altogether more sophisticated. There is plenty of technology to choose from these days, and much of it is free or low cost.
Benefits of virtual working
Business owners will be interested in raising productivity, improving quality and fostering a happy team. If you want your team to embrace your new technology and working practices then you need to promote these benefits too:
- Less travel - reduces company travel costs and is good for the environment;
- Reduced overheads - if you have fewer employees using your business facilities you may be able to reduce the overall costs of running the office;
- More time for important work - reduces cost of time finding information;
- Flexibility to work from wherever’s best - being in control of your own time boosts morale;
- More spend in the local community - support your local shops and employment ecosystem by spending resources locally.
But there are also some risks in virtual working that you need to be aware of.
Factors inhibiting productivity
- Difficulty building face-to-face relationships - 60%+ of communication is non-verbal;
- Inappropriate communication - not all communications are online. You may need to meet, phone and message too;
- Multi-tasking - distractions do affect concentration;
- Team work - your actions do affect the productivity of others;
Factors undermining quality of life
- Always-on and contactable - You may feel you’re always on-call. This is not good for work-life balance if managed unsuccessfully;
- Personal style - some people prefer interaction, others crave anonymity;
- Confidence in self and role - technology tends to expose weaknesses in skills;
- Isolation - home working lacks the social interaction of the office;
Does virtual working work?
Of course it works - for the right people who don't need micro-managing or really don't have to be in the office every day. As a business owner you should know which members of staff will get the most from virtual working. Virtual working is based upon a two-way trust between employer and employee.
Virtual working reflects a new way of working which goes far deeper than the technology which enables it. Virtual working is working to achieve results rather than how much time was spent doing a task - a business ethic which both entrepreneurs and business owners will recognise immediately.