DR. DAVID G. JAVITCH
Dylan had it right when he penned his lyrics "The times, they are
a-changing." In today's highly competitive world, if entrepreneurs
don't catch up or keep up with the latest advances in technology
and management, they're doomed to fall behind.
smart move that can save entrepreneurs money--and at the same time
implement the latest in technology and management resources--is
the virtual office. Very simply, a virtual office is one where
employees may no longer be housed on site; in fact, they could be
spread across the U.S. or even the world.
term "virtual conversations" illustrates the idea
perfectly--conversations that take place via instant messaging or
on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and chat
a virtual office, employees work out of their own homes, a rented
office space or a larger, shared office building.
virtual office contains
a computer, printer and fax machine, among other equipment. Often
the computers have webcams which allow video conferencing.
meetings, many employees use software such as GoToMeeting that enables them to
see each others' computer screens without leaving their own desks,
even if the meeting is taking place thousands of miles away. This
way, an individual can work with others and actually share their
screen. This helps members linked in to the meeting to view slides
or software from various sites. Webinars use this process to reach
out to a large number of participants at the same time. In
Webinars, meeting attendees can also use their telephones to talk
to the presenter or moderator and sometimes to each other. The
cost of this equipment is more than offset by the savings realized
by not having to pay travel expenses, site rentals or office space
do virtual employees like about this system? Sharyn Katz,
accounting manager for Boston Software Systems Inc., in Sherborn,
Mass., says, "I enjoy the independence and freedom of being able
to set my own workflow based on the company's needs and
she must be prepared to "deliver the goods" when her boss needs
them, but she has a great deal of leeway when creating her own
schedule. Others say they enjoy not having to report to an office
on a regular basis. They can work from their own home or another
space. In fact, they can be wherever they like--a client's office,
the library, the coffee shop, the beach--wherever they feel
content and most productive.
employees say they enjoy being almost totally responsible for
themselves with no boss or supervisor hanging around their desk,
looking over their shoulder or pressuring them for work results.
Many employees who prefer the independence of working alone in a
virtual environment say they're spared the bother, distraction and
negative office politics found in the traditional office setting.
Beck and Dave Linde, principals of Studio 18 Group in Wellesley,
Mass., both say they've benefited from gaining strategic
management clients from throughout the U.S. They've accomplished
this not through face-to-face business development meetings, but
rather by using electronic tools to increase their client base.
Finally, virtual employees are spared the expense, frustrations
and time loss commuting to a traditional office location.
with these positive features obviously come negative ones. The
chief complaint most virtual employees mention is social
isolation. There's no water cooler or "coffee klatch" for a casual
exchange of comments, work-related or not. They can't simply walk
down the corridor to chat with a colleague, even for a few
these staff members, seeing other employees on a computer or video
conferencing screen simply does not replace personal contact. As
for time off, those without firm personal or professional
boundaries can end up spending much of their non-work hours back
at their desk, pounding out more work and forgetting about the
importance of work-life balance.
drawback is that it's too easy to start work late, run an errand
or find a distraction rather than doing one's work. Frequently,
these behaviors are a means of compensating for the lack of having
other people to interact with.
further disadvantage of a virtual office when compared to a
traditional one is that in a conventional office, if employees
need additional guidance or direction on a project or task, they
can simply walk down the hall to speak with someone. In the
virtual office, it sometimes takes more time to get information,
especially when the key person, or an alternate, isn't available.
these positive and negative factors, what caveats exist for the
effective entrepreneur who wants to create a virtual office?
hire the right people. This
is true in any company, but even more so in the virtual one. Deb
Beck of Studio 18 Group says that successful virtual employees are
"self-starters and self-disciplined--it's definitely lonely
working in a vacuum, and they need to be able to deal with this."
Katz echoes Beck, saying that effective virtual employees, "need
to connect with other outside communities," not just the virtual
work environment they're in.
virtual leader needs to have the utmost trust in new hires. The leader will not
physically see or interact with employees as easily as in a
traditional company. Therefore, business owners in these settings
must have an extremely high level of confidence in their
employees. Employees need to be exceedingly self-reliant and
committed to the task and the organization; self-motivated to work
independently and without much supervision; and dedicated to the
success of their work. Productivity, self-efficiency and autonomy
though virtual employees need to be self-reliant and
effective virtual entrepreneur needs to set realistic benchmarks
and check-in times. To
be able to manage someone from a remote location you must have
some type of criteria to measure progress and success; e.g., total
contacts made or total widgets produced. Some leaders reserve a
particular time of the day or week for call-ins or staff meetings,
using GoToMeeting or video-conferencing products.
needs to be sufficient, frequent and intense enough to satisfy
both the employer and the employee. Many
set interim deadlines for projects so there are no surprises or
gaps. Some, like Boston Software Systems, Inc., organize regional
or national retreats once or twice a year. The purpose of these
get-togethers is varied: opportunities for social interaction with
employees who may never have met or who need to get to know each
other; management and productivity purposes to discuss and improve
processes, policies and procedures; information sharing; and
creating a sense of unity, team building and esprit de corps.
virtual office in this era of cost-cutting can save you a great
deal of money. However, the prospective virtual entrepreneur needs
to enter into this state-of-the-art management concept with goals
of hiring the most appropriate employees and creating a fail-safe