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Setting Up a Virtual Office for Remote Teams

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Key Takeaways

  • Psychological adaptation of managers is essential for the productive work of remote employees/teams
  • A remote work culture benefits from team bonding and in-person interaction just like any other. Facilitate team building through special events.
  • There are no such things as "small details" when it comes to setting up an employee's virtual office. For both parties, asking questions before the transition will prevent hassle later on.
  • Provide the same technology stack, project management tools, cybersecurity, and communication software for all employees regardless of working location
  • Defining the long-term goals of remote work will help both managers and remote employees respect their responsibilities

Mention ‘remote work’ to fellow managers, and you’ll likely break your colleagues into two camps: the believers and the skeptics. Even in a field as forward-thinking as IT, supervisors are cautious about making remote teams the rule, not the exception to their workplace culture.

The transition to virtual  offices seems like a big shift away from the office cubicle, yet companies willing to embrace the virtual office model are seeing outstanding results. With advocates  ranging from Zapier to Dell, the virtual office is becoming the answer to the global demand for mobility.

For companies, adopting the virtual office model eliminates the need to invest in or upgrade hardware and cuts office expenses. Studies show the average company saves $11,000 annually on each employee who works remotely at least part-time. For employees, a virtual office is proven to increase company loyalty, diversify the talent pool, and considerably close the gender gap in tech industries, among other benefits.

Whatever the size of your team, business, or company, there’s a way to benefit from adopting the virtual office model.

Embracing the psychology of remote work

Most managers agree that the trouble with remote work is psychological, not technological. As a team lead or project manager, how do you know if an employee can self-manage their time? How do you ensure timely product delivery when developers are dozens to hundreds of miles away from each other?

According to Fortune 500 company executives, fears regarding remote team productivity are mostly ungrounded. This is backed by Kenan-Flagler Business School research, showing a 10%-43% increase in productivity for virtual teams (based on organization effectiveness). A Stanford study also shows that company attrition rates decreased by 50% with remote workers. As we can see, both practical experience and research imply that managers should be enthusiastic, not wary, about hiring remote workers.

Sara Perry, Ph.D., assistant professor of management at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business says that predicting remote workers’ productivity is something any manager can do. Her simple but effective method suggests evaluating "employee behaviors, rather than…personality traits" to ensure that they’re fit for remote work. "If someone does not handle stress well in the office, they are not likely to handle it well at home either," Perry says. Likewise, she notes that when an employee "reacts in big ways to requests or issues in the office" you can be positive that they’re "less well-positioned to work remotely and handle that responsibility and stress".

Sticking to this common-sense evaluation method, managers can accomplish the multiple feats of meeting their best employee’s needs, motivating other team members, and benefiting the company at large.

Key elements of setting up a virtual office

To set up a virtual office, all remote employees should be supplied with basic hardware necessities as well as project collaboration software and digital tools.

Using cloud software to stay connected with the office team and each other, remote employees are then able to work on individual or shared projects from any location (their ‘virtual office’).  

Before going into detail on the essentials and more advanced collaboration tools your team will use, it’s highly recommended that managers or company owners understand the specific requirements of their remote developers or teams. Ask yourself these questions for starters:

  • Are all the remote workers part of a single team or department?
  • How flexible am I about employees’ working hours?
  • Will in-office employees use the same digital software (including project management tools) as remote employees?
  • How often will I need to communicate with remote employees?
  • How will I encourage initiative and creativity in remote employees?
  • What regular events/activities will forge communication and bonding between in-office and remote employees? Will these be office events or informal get-togethers?

Answers to these questions should make it clear whether you’re ready to transition to a virtual office right away or need more time to close any open-ended issues  .

Virtual office basics and hardware

 A virtual office starts with the basics mandatory for efficient work. Before getting into the more complicated tech aspects, talk through these essentials with your remote employees:

  • Primary virtual office location — a home-based virtual office may be perfect for one employee, but another may prefer a co-working space or the flexibility of several locations. Ask remote employees questions about their workspace habits and working environment. Together, discuss any particular needs and decide on a primary virtual office location.
  • Basic expenses — these are usually the responsibility of the employee. Confirm that your remote employees have a comfortable working space, secure high-speed internet connection (not Wi-Fi), a reliable laptop/desktop computer, printer/scanner with essential supplies, and fast mobile device internet. While these sound like the basics, a good deal of work is delayed because of simple glitches. Avoid those issues beforehand.
  • Other expenses — expenses such as digital products and software (discussed below) are usually provided by the company. In such case, you’ll need to set aside the budget for your remote employees’ needs in advance and instruct them on the usage details.

Digital tools for your team’s virtual office

Once you’re ready to go virtual, one of the best ways to ensure flawless collaboration between office and remote workers is having all employees use the same technology stack and digital tools. This will eliminate the merry-go-round of apps and software for individual developers, teams, and their managers.

At MightyCall, we have an open culture regarding remote work, allowing our developers, product designers, and other employees to work from their virtual office whenever they need to. Regardless of the specific tech niche your company serves, we found there are several components to creating a productive environment for remote teams.

Technology stack — This is the tech stack essential for a given category of remote employees, for example: web developers, mobile developers, UX designers, tech support, etc. The exact stack will depend on your company and team preferences. As a manager, be sure to compile this list for your remote workers in advance, so everyone’s on the same page regarding technology.

Project tracking/management tools — In any industry, remote teams will need a reliable project management tool to stay connected to each other and office employees (if applicable). Project management tools like Monday.com, Trello, and others visualize tasks and make it enjoyable to get projects done from any location. Your go-to features for remote teams include task management, time-tracking, collaborative editing, and role-based access.

Security — Cybersecurity is a vital aspect for both in-office and remote teams. Research says that using cloud tools and encrypting 100% of your cloud data is a reliable way to safeguard your company against hacker attacks. Keep in mind that using a handful of cloud tools means committing to memory unique passwords for each account. To avoid weakened security or access problems due to memory lapses, encourage the use of password management tools. They encrypt passwords on cloud servers, have autofill and password generator options.

Setting up communication

Corporate communication extends far beyond the basics of passing on information. Fast communication boosts productivity by around 25%, lowers turnover rates, and keeps projects delivered on schedule.

While remote workers may feel off the grid when it comes to live chats, studies show they communicate with managers more and better than office workers. According to the survey "What Leaders Need To Know About Remote Workers", 52% of remote employees communicate with supervisors from "once per day" to "multiple times a day".

To meet the increased mobility demand of your virtual office workers, decide on your communication tools ahead of time. These are the ones we use at MightyCall.

Communication with customers — If your company (or specific department/team) does a lot of communication with customers, it may seem like the office is the only option for employees answering incoming calls. To avoid this, we use MightyCall’s virtual phone system (VoIP) to route client calls to any internet-powered device like laptops, mobile phones, and iPads/tablets. VoIP allows independent developers and other IT specialists to keep connected with clients and managers. Even tech support teams and call center employees can use it to work from their virtual office.

Intrateam communication — Fast communication between remote employees, managers, and in-office workers is essential. There’s a great number of corporate messengers and video conferencing tools, from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams and Slack. The rule of the thumb here is to use a single messenger for the whole company. Our own team has a knack for simplicity and instant access. With Skype downloaded to every phone by default, we use it to communicate urgent messages and connect each other to meetings even when things change on short notice. For non-urgent communication, email is still the classic tool.

Team availability — Remote teams are often distributed across the globe. Even if yours is US-based, that’s six time-zones to consider. After planning out the working hours (including overlap) for the whole team, you may use virtual office software like Sococo to show availability and connect in real time. This will facilitate project discussions and team rapport. As a simpler alternative, request all employees (regardless of location) to update their status (available, busy, DND) on Slack/Skype throughout the workday. Understanding how your team defines "busy" and "DND" statuses won’t hurt either.

Defining long-term goals

Building a proactive remote working environment today is key to seeing your company thrive in the future. According to expert reports, by 2028 an overwhelming 73% of teams will have remote workers. This will result not only in greater workplace autonomy but demographically diverse and more inclusive hiring.

While technology plays an essential role in birthing the idea of virtual offices, the success of the remote work experiment for each team depends on the human factor. From the open-mindedness of leaders at all levels  to employee reliability and integrity, a virtual office environment can benefit both sides. To do so, it needs to be grounded in mutual respect and a far-sighted vision of individual and company goals.

For companies, the long-term goals of embracing remote work may include:

  • Attracting a diverse talent pool
  • Decreasing employee sick-leaves and time off
  • Cutting back on costs without layoffs or talent loss
  • Gradually transitioning to a 100% digital business model

On their part, individuals and teams working remotely will benefit from:

  • The ability to work from home, especially helpful for employees with home-based responsibilities such as parents and people taking care of elderly/sick relatives
  • The flexibility to work from any location, from home office to co-working space
  • Cost savings on the daily commute, clothing, take-out food, and other work-related expenses
  • Better physical and mental health

While continuous connectivity and technology ensure that your team gets things done wherever they’re located, common goals will give your team a sense of togetherness and purpose. Taken together, the factors complement each other and lead to brighter ideas, better productivity, and an overall sense of happiness that no amount of money can buy.

About the Author

Angela Yurchenko is Content Manager at MightyCall, a virtual phone system that helps entrepreneurs and teams do business from any location. An experienced remote worker herself, Angela advises business leaders and teams on next-generation collaboration strategies. She writes about digital transformation, B2B marketing, and personal development for entrepreneurs.

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