Virtual Working in the Real World

In the recent spell of snowy weather, absenteeism reached up to 14% per day due to the extreme weather conditions, hitting the economy adversely to the tune of £0.5 billion per day. For a fair percentage of those unable to reach their place of employment, there was the chance to work from home. Some workers were able to operate reasonably productively working from home, and indeed others may have found the calm and quiet of their home a boon to projects needing peaceful attention.

With the January Big Freeze still fresh in people’s minds, it is a good time to consider the arrangements and benefits of Virtual Working. This would mitigate the risk of lost productivity when conditions make it difficult to attend the office, but more importantly it offers real benefits to employee, employer and clients.

MA Consulting follows a virtual business model. There’s no head office where workers are expected to commute to. Our management team and consultants work primarily based from their own homes, or in situ with clients. I’d like to explain how to make the most of this business model; some of the benefits of working in this way, for everyone involved in this equation, and to give you my thoughts on some best practice for virtual companies support and services.

When we first considered what support systems we would need for the virtual office, we received some quotations from some great IT companies, to give us a bespoke solution. We didn’t pursue this route, and the 5 figure price tag wasn’t what dissuaded us. We realised that we would be better using systems already developed and on the (internet) shelf. Some of these have basic level memberships which are free for the user, and a good way to familiarise oneself before committing to a subscription for a more premium level membership. We use Huddle for secure online workspaces. We can share, edit and store documents easily, safely and securely, and use the white board facility to exchange ideas around MA Consulting, and with clients. Skype gives us an essential face to face communication tool, though we use video conferencing for multiple “attendees”. We’ve found Pearl to be excellent for CRM, and very flexible in its pricing structure. One more service to mention that has worked especially well for us is Beprofessional.

Even with the collaborative tools mentioned we don’t profess virtual office life to be the same as meeting at the photocopier, but they do support the creation of an office environment. We have had to work with our teams in different ways, and change ways of thinking about achieving goals. Managing our virtual office required a shift of mindset from attendance to delivery – measuring people’s output, not their hours of work, number of emails sent, nor presence.

Leaders in virtual companies have particular challenges to face. Many of the employees will have grown up with social media, SMS and the like, so may have a better handle on the technologies than their seniors in the organisation. Leaders can be facilitators to the virtual social and working process; they can support the development of robust virtual relationships and smooth the progress of effective communication. They should be looking to align company structure, supported by the right technology to ensure that tasks are completed effectively.

Because micromanaging isn’t possible in the virtual office, workers are free to work with less interference and more self-management. As with managers in this environment, it can take a little time to adjust and become accomplished at being a virtual worker. We consider whether a potential new team member has the desire to communicate and the skills to maintain connectivity and credibility while working away from the office. They should display a desire to learn; be a self starter; be disciplined in their work pattern, and be a good listener. On and offline networking have brought many of our staff to us through recommendation, and therefore an inbuilt level of trust to start with. Our associates see the benefits of reduced costs and stress of commuting and the flexibility to work the hours of the day which suit them best. We encourage people to work and network where it suits them, be that their home, internet cafes, libraries or other location. One told us about the “Jelly” co-working gathering he had attended, supported by @CoWorkingWest who aim to “Build a community for co-working, digital nomads, web-workers, hot-deskers, location-independent, home workers and freelancers etc. in Bristol and Bath UK”. We trust our associates to deliver results, and they find the best locations to suit them to do this.

And of course this works two ways. We can tap in to a rich seam of talent which we might not have been able to entice if working with MA Consulting required a move to be in commuting distance of a centralised office. We can retain those people if their circumstances change (a move for a partner’s needs for example). Absenteeism is limited. We see our associates being able to maintain a positive work and family balance. Our overheads related to office space and equipment are reduced.

These benefits reach our clients too. We offer very competitive rates for our products and services, in part facilitated by our lower overheads costs. Clients use the collaborative tools described above, eg a joint workspace in Huddle where they then have immediate access to all the documentation related to the project we are working on. In effect it’s like an intranet system and they can review and work on the project files at a time to suit them. We feel, if anything, our customers receive better and closer contact than from traditional bricks and mortar companies.

Face to face time is important to us too. We have real meetings with our clients on at least a quarterly basis, and our regional teams often chose to meet with regularity, say once or twice a month, depending on their needs. Even taking in to account these get togethers, there is no doubt that as a company our carbon footprint is a small fraction of that of a comparable centralised organisation.

We would be interested to learn more about your experiences of virtual working, from any angle. Please leave us a comment on this blog.

Be the first to comment

You may also like...

An Investment Opportunity for a High-Tech Passionate

Are You Actually a High-Tech Passionate? MA Consulting International Adds Virtual/Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence to its Portfolio and offer an awesome Opportunity Industry Sector: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented & Virtual …Read more  »

Is Mobility the Critical Missing Aspect of your Business Strategy?

You may wonder about this question – and more significantly the answer! If you haven’t grasped the fact that methods of communication are rapidly changing, you’re overlooking one of the …Read more  »

U.K.’s Internet Economy – how connected is it?

It’s been well documented that the Internet has become a platform for innovation, economic growth and social communication, and we all recognise that it’s now an integral part of our …Read more  »

People will soon be throwing away their wallets – is your business prepared?

Even back in 2007, research indicated that people were more likely to leave home without their wallet than their mobile phone (Sunday Times article 29/4/07) and credit card companies and …Read more  »