If your company follows other businesses in this growing trend, it can mean reduced expenses on office space, equipment, furniture, and power usage for consistent savings.
But for businesses that are already planned according to traditional, in-office activities, a change to remote work can provide some obstacles. A big part of this is a technical issue. For starters, home-based workers will need to have computers of their own or be supplied with laptops or mobile devices for on-the-go workers like salespeople.
It's necessary to have in place solutions that can streamline information management across a much wider and more distributed network. Local file and application servers become internet servers that need to provide fast responses to everyone involved, or you experience a loss of productivity. For large offices, this could mean hundreds of workers and the creation and maintenance of a cloud-optimized data center, or optionally leasing managed virtual environments.
You also need to provide a platform that supports digital collaboration among team members and management. This can include not just email and instant messaging, but file sharing, synchronized updates, and video chat software. Functionality such as centralized scheduling or project software can also help your staff to align their calendars with planned meetings and deadlines.
Another critical factor to efficiency would be individual isolation and the loss of direct human interaction. An office atmosphere where employees can physically see and speak to one another, or indulge in chit chat in the break room or around the water cooler, is important to happiness for many people. It takes certain personality traits to remain satisfied and productive when you're working independently most of the time.
It helps to roll out this kind of large organizational change on a trial basis at first. You could ask for volunteers who actually like the idea of working from home and set up with your IT department the digital tools they'll need. Have them start for a few days a week and as time goes by see how they are adapting, performing, and what additional support they may need.
Their reactions will have a big impact on how fast and with how much enthusiasm the concept spreads to other employees. As the program finds success, you'll get others asking to take part. Be sure that employees understand the advantages of home-based employment, such as avoiding a daily commute and being less stressed in the relative quiet and privacy of their own home.
You might still want to have teams come into the office one or two days a week for meetings or team building exercises. Allow some time for them to exchange ideas and suggestions on remote work. As people become more acclimated, you can reduce or even eliminate some physical meetings altogether in favor of video conferencing
You should also start working on a strategy for onboarding new employees. When interviewing, bear in mind that you're looking for people who'd be comfortable in a remote employee role. Alternately, you could explore the idea of hiring freelancers or outsourced teams rather than local applicants.
Some of these remote employees may not be able to travel to the office at all. There are difficulties in orienting virtual workers to their new roles. Consider mentorship programs with veteran employees to help new hires adjust to your company culture, organizational hierarchy, and expectations.
Hoteling: This is the idea of maintaining at least some office space for employees who may need to come into the office for help, special meetings, training, and so forth. These desks belong to no one, but are open to anyone who needs to schedule on-premises time.
Collaboration software: There are a number of software suites available designed for use over the cloud. Solutions like Office 365, Lync, Yammer, Skype, and Citrix's GoToMeeting are already optimized for supporting communication in distributed environments. You could even incorporate a variety of tools to best fit each separate business function.
It seems more efficient, but going forward don't turn those in-house days into a full day of dull and distracting meetings. Let people unwind and connect face-to-face with associates before returning to their own work.
As part of the virtual workday, include short progress meetings via cloud conferencing. Anyone who hasn't had time to check emails or file updates can be quickly brought up to speed.
Consolidate communications: Although employees will have different needs, consolidate your software solutions as much as possible. This saves time and headaches on administration.
Monitor: Some individuals will see home-based work as an opportunity for slacking. Prepare realistic to-do lists or check server logs to ensure things get done. However, allow your employees to take breaks or request time off for personal errands.
Feedback: Continually ask your employees how they feel about telecommuting, and what problems or concerns they encounter.
Team building: Don't discourage employees from personal interactions. You should encourage it, within reason. Healthy relationships are important to job satisfaction.
Transitioning to a virtual office isn't something that has to be done overnight. It's best for your company to work through the process and improve upon it. Done correctly, in the end you'll be saving money and boosting efficiency.