In recent years, broadband internet access has become commonplace both nationwide and around the world, with the vast majority of highly skilled workers being able to access online resources using a lightning-fast cable, fiber optic, or DSL connection. Advances in broadband technology and propagation have caused many small business owners to consider the benefits of going all-digital for daily operations.
Typically, going completely digital, otherwise known as operating a “virtual business,” does come with some indisputable perks. First and foremost, the business saves on the cost of renting office space. This can put as much as several thousand dollars back into the company’s budget for bigger and better things. Workers also get to work from home, where they’re more comfortable and likely to be more productive. The all-digital focus of the business also allows for flexible work hours and round-the-clock productivity that can actually benefit the company’s clients in a major way. Even so, there are some considerations and preparations to be made before this big transition can be attempted by even the smallest and most flexible businesses.
Consider the Impact of Virtualization on All Aspects of the Business
The prospect of saving money on office space and working from home can be tantalizing to any business owner. In fact, even a company the size of Yahoo! maintained an active “work from home” policy for many of its workers for several years. Studies have shown that workers who utilize their home offices for company operations are more comfortable, more confident, happier, and more productive. Consider these effects on workers, but don’t forget to consider how a move to virtual operations will affect the company’s clients.
If the business is one that regularly meets with clients in person using an office environment, it might be worth discussing the change with clients who value face-to-face conversation. Let them know that the business is considering a virtual transition, and let them know how that might affect, or might not affect, how they’ll work with company representatives and professionals.
In most cases, the company’s clients will be receptive to the change. They’re not immune from the forces of technology, either, and most clients will be happy to negotiate video conferences, phone calls, or occasional “coffee shop catch-ups” that will keep them in the loop regarding their place in the company and their satisfaction with recent work.
Start Thinking About Ways to Replicate In-Office Sharing and Discussion
One of the most valuable reasons for maintaining a company office is that the space enables quick and effortless collaboration between individuals and departments. This can, at times, be absolutely essential when wooing new clients, developing new products, or creating a bold marketing message that will benefit the company’s long-term success in its niche. It can be hard to replicate this kind of collaboration, but all is not lost when making the move to a virtual working environment.
There are plenty of tools currently on the market that blend collaboration with cloud-based services, making it easy for everyone to be on the same page and to offer the same type of encouragement and constructive feedback that they would in the office. Among the list of valuable tools:
– Google Apps for Business: With cloud-based productivity applications, calendars, contacts, and even an instant messaging service, getting the whole company signed up for company email and Google applications is a smart move during the transition.
– Basecamp: Cloud-based project management software allows for the distribution of to-do lists, deadlines, schedules, ideas, and crucial feedback. Think of Basecamp as the replacement for an office manager or a department head.
– Dropbox or Cloud Storage: Storing all of the company’s files in a highly secure, cloud-based way, will allow for easy access to ideas, services, and product information, across departments. It’s like walking to someone’s cubicle and dropping off the day’s work. Without the walking, of course.
Be Prepared to Enable New Avenues of Face-to-Face Communication
The lack of an office means that most everyone employed by he company will be spending a lot more time at home, apart from each other, and needing to communicate in new ways. While a text message, email, or phone call might do the trick in some cases, there are really no great substitutes for face-to-face communication. Luckily, 21st century life is full of ways to communicate face-to-face, even from a distance.
The company should adopt an official videoconferencing or video chatting policy. Decide on a platform, like Skype or WebEx or FaceTime, and stick with it. Perhaps even create designated videoconferencing times for the entire company so that everyone can be on the same page. This will replicate an office in a way that is adaptable and appropriately flexible to meet any schedule.
Great Ways to Go Virtual Without Losing Sleep or Clients
With careful planning and the right high-tech tools, today’s small business owners can save on the expenses of a traditional office and transition to a cloud-based, all-virtual existence. It is sure to be good for company progress and morale, and it’s a bold step into the 21st century way of getting things done.