Home – Blog – Best Practices: Virtual Office
June 15, 2012 —
After spending a year in a long distance relationship with my then boyfriend (now husband), I decided to take the plunge and move from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, IL. Of course this was slightly stressful considering I did not have any immediate job prospects in the windy city when I made the decision to move but I did my homework, reached out to my contacts, set up informational interviews and hoped for the best. To my great delight/surprise/relief, this is when the opportunity to join the team at Function1 presented itself. Since I came from a public affairs/political background, it had never occurred to me that I may be well suited for an IT company. Aside from being able to join a team of incredible people doing great things, there was one benefit I could not say no to. I would be working from home. While this is more commonplace in the IT industry, I had never imagined that in my field I’d be able to telecommute. I thought why not give it a try… at the very least I would not have to brave the freezing cold Chicago winters daily that I was so scared to experience!
While not always possible, I believe offering more flex-work options such as telecommuting, even if not full time, offers great benefits to employers as well as employees.
If more employees are working from home, companies can utilize shared work space and reduce the amount of office space and real estate needed/used. While investments must be made in things such as mobile phones, IM, and videoconferencing, employers can save a lot on administrative costs such as office furniture, parking, utilities, etc. Resources can also be saved by a reduced number of personal days needed by employees. Employees will have more personal time with the elimination of work commute as well as the ability to maximize lunch and other breaks. Also, while this may not be true of everyone, I personally have noticed a huge reduction in small illnesses such as colds, the flu, etc. since I am not in contact with as many people on the train and in the office. Telecommuters are less likely to use sick days for minor illnesses.
In this day in age most companies are trying to be environmentally conscious and reduce their carbon footprint. While this point is often argued, I believe that allowing employees to telecommute is a great way to accomplish this. The biggest factor being the elimination of the commute. Commuting by automobile causes air pollution, highway congestion, more need for land utilized for parking vs. public space.
With telecommuting you reduce many of the common workplaces distractions and interruptions that occur through out the day and you can focus on the task at hand. In more flexible project oriented work places, employees can also choose the time of day that is most productive for them to work. Not everyone is a morning person. Also, employers have the ability to really choose employees that would be the best fit for the job since location is not really an issue. The talent pool does not need to be focused on just one small geographic area.
Happier employees have higher morale and job satisfaction which greatly benefit the employer. Of course with these kind of job culture changes, adjustments do need to be made along the way and this arrangement might not work for everyone. Employers must make more of an effort to have staff conference calls or video conferences, retreats, etc. to help facilitate team building.
So how has my experience working from home been personally? Great. Although I do miss the face to face social interaction with coworkers sometimes, we use a lot of tools that help us work together.
Box.com, an online file storage tool has helped us organize our work immensely. When people are at different client sites and locations, having the ability to pull up shared or reference documents at anytime is paramount. You no longer have to wait for someone to email something to you. For the consultants on our team, working in an environment where you may be changing computers on client sites, it is so helpful to be able to access your files from anywhere. We can also utilize it with clients and put our work on there so it can be easily accessed.
Basecamp by 37signals is an online collaboration tool that is great for working on projects either with clients or even internally. You can share documents, leave your comments and edits, open chat rooms, and create calendars for your team, clients and vendors.
Lync is a chat application that we have started using recently. Instant messaging not only helps with the social interaction aspect that is missing from working remotely, but it us so useful for getting work completed. Especially in circumstances where employees are on client sites and can’t take phone calls, you have the ability to reach someone right when you need them. Lync has some great features such as screen sharing and videoconferencing that have been useful in connecting with colleagues.
All in all, I think telecommuting has given me the opportunity to be more focused on my work, while affording me a better work-life balance.
Are there any tools that you would recommend or can’t live without when telecommuting? Even if you don’t work from home on a regular basis maybe you have tools you use while on travel. We would love to hear your suggestions!