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Seven New Rules For the Virtual Workplace

January 1, 2000
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Related Topics: Telecommuting, Featured Article
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Virtual offices have become a fact of business life and their popularity continues to grow. More than half the companies in North America now permit employees to work at home, and surveys indicate that the percentage will almost certainly be increasing.

The virtual office promises benefits to both employers and employees. Companies gain increased productivity and save millions of dollars through the reduction of real estate costs. For employees, virtual offices ease commuting hassles and provide greater flexibility than a traditional office job.

Nevertheless, discouraging words are sometimes heard about virtual workplace arrangements—by both virtual workers and their managers.

Virtual office workers report struggles with feelings of isolation. They also express fears that, because they're "out of sight" they are equally "out of mind" when it comes to advancement opportunities.

Managers, meanwhile, say they grapple with issues of accountability and quantifying the productivity of a virtual office team. Plus, in-office workers may gripe about the alleged sweet deals their virtual colleagues enjoy.

So, what can be done to truly capture the gains promised by virtual offices? Here are "Seven Shortcuts to Success"—everything (almost) managers and workers need to know about working in a virtual workplace.

These tips are culled from "The Virtual Workplace," a 64-page handbook that describes the proven tools, techniques, and strategies for making working "virtually" as productive, satisfying and empowering as those in any traditional work setting—if not more so.

The handbook covers these topics in more detail, but the following master list of tips summarize what it takes to be successful in a virtual work environment. These seven tips apply equally to staff and managers, though Tips 4 and 5 are more directly relevant to staff.

  1. Good (electronic) communication MUST replace informal contacts and "eyeball management" when your team is dispersed.
    A remote team thrives on voice mail, e-mail, conference calls, faxes, and live phone calls. Learn to use each the right way for the right purposes. Also, all the electronic communication tools in the world are useless if you don't return calls, answer pages, respond to e-mail, and arrange to join conference calls. So, be reliable.
  2. Planning and scheduling MUST replace relying on chance encounters in the office.
    You can no longer rely on "bumping into someone" in the office—odds are, you and they won't be there at the same time. If you need to see someone, plan to make it happen. Remember, the office isn't the only place to meet.
  3. Individual accountability is the key—your results count, so keep doing what you do well and get better at all the rest.
    Regrettably, people are sometimes over-rewarded just for showing up or putting in long hours—regardless of how productive they are. Working away from the office means working to deliver results, not to register "face time" in the office. Virtual workers need to know they will be rewarded if they develop individual skills and the results follow.
  4. For sales reps, more selling happens in front of the customer than anywhere else; spend your time accordingly and keep getting better in customer contacts.
    If you work in sales, you should be spending more time with customers than anywhere else, and your weekly calendar should reflect that goal. Telephone followup, proposal development, and other deskwork still counts, but not as much as being where the business is.
  5. Work FROM home, not AT home—and get organized and disciplined to do so effectively.
    If you have an office at home, use it as a high-performance workplace or to support your activities elsewhere. Get it set up so it's efficient, and work out the rules and roles with others at home so you can do what you have to do.
  6. Staff and managers have to develop and improve their work relationship and support each other.
    Coaching, counseling, and skill development are more important now than before. Managers and staff must be partners in the skill-development process. Make it happen as an ongoing, informal way of doing business.
  7. The work team needs to invest some time and effort to build the team as a team—including having the opportunity to relax and socialize together occasionally.
    "All work and no play," as the saying goes, just isn't enough. One down side of having less time together in the office is the lack of opportunity for the important social contacts that are essential to team-building. Sometimes these can occur as part of a business meeting, and sometimes it's as simple as getting the team together for pizza after work.

© Work/Family Directions, Inc. and Gil Gordon Associates.

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