Rise and rise of the virtual business

Thursday, 10 February 2011, 12:40 | Category : General
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As a company without a large, expensive HQ filled with large, expensive furniture and equipment, and costing the earth in business rates (otherwise known as an office) we are often faced with questions about whether we’re a ‘proper’ business. How can decisions be made, projects delivered and a great culture built without staff clocking in to sit at a desk and look each other in the eye each day? Sceptics poke fun at the idea of a ‘virtual’ business and ask ‘so which bits are actually real’?

After running a successful virtual or ‘office-less’ business for over five years I thought it would be fun to debunk some of the myths around why virtual businesses don’t make the grade.

Before I do that I should say that not everyone makes a good virtual employee. Juniors will always need a good training ground and that’s best delivered where they can observe and learn from senior colleagues. People need to be comfortable in their own space and to be hugely self motivated and productive. Setting a routine for the working day helps – in our business we all have things we want and need to do during the day, from child and doggy care to exercise. We believe it’s about what’s achieved during that day that’s important, not lots of email traffic. Everyone works differently and in the future people will be encouraged to stay vital and focused throughout the day, not to sit on their laptop 9-5. The work we’ve done with our clients at Ashridge Business School proves that virtual working is being taken seriously by huge corporates too – here’s why.

Top Five Reasons to Go Virtual

Productivity is vastly increased – staff are no longer wasting time on pointless meetings, travel problems, fag breaks or water cooler gossip. Water cooler moments are good for Eastenders’ viewing figures but bad for business. When I moved out of an office environment into my own workspace my output increased ten fold. And I don’t even drink much water!

Culture is easier to create and maintain. Because face time with colleagues is precious, staff will tend to use it wisely and there are fewer opportunities for personalities to clash. Where issues do arise, they can be nipped in the bud rather than allowed to infiltrate the whole culture – no more multiple resignations as one team member poisons their peer group…

Collaboration is fostered as people relish the chance to share ideas and work together. Projects are planned precisely and resource allocated according to skills, experience, availability and chemistry. People are brought together for a reason and with a remit. Meetings are tightly planned and rarely cancelled as staff can’t bump into each other in the corridor and decide to ‘just have a quick meeting’. This means there’s more time for the meetings that do need to happen. Oh, and to deliver on those projects.

Communication. Sometimes face-to-face is the only way to hold a meeting or deliver a message. However now we have email, Skype, IM, Webex, FaceTime and social networking, it’s easy to communicate in your own time and in your own way. As long as you’re available to staff, clients and partners when they need you to be, there’s no need as a business owner in my industry to be communicating from within the same four walls.
Especially as you’re probably using the above tools anyway – even if the recipient is a desk away!

And finally…

Profitability. Without that big office it’s a lot easier to show a good profit and deliver value to shareholders – while still making important business investments. It really is that simple. Isn’t that what business is all about?

Nicky

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