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The New Rules Of Work

How A Company Works When 100% Of The Staff Is Virtual

We already do a lot of our work away from our cubicles, so a totally virtual office isn't that far of a stretch.

[Photo: Flickr user philhearing]

If you want your employees to get more done, you don’t need to bribe them with raises, vacation time, or Ping-Pong tables in the break room. Instead, let them choose when and where they work, and you could see an increase in productivity and revenue, finds a study by Regus, an office and meeting space provider.

Employees want flexibility, and more companies are delivering this benefit by integrating remote work options into their on-site work environments.

"It’s predicted that half the workforce will be working remotely by 2020, but I believe it’s already happening informally," says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a website that advertises telecommuting positions. "Ninety-nine percent of professionals check email and take phone calls wherever they are, and the previous disconnect that existed between work and home is no longer there."

Businesses that want to take it a step further and enter formal remote working arrangements can learn a lot from the small but growing group of companies that operate 100% virtually, says Sutton Fell. In a recent study, FlexJobs identified 76 companies from a variety of industries that have all or almost all of their employees working from home. Their structure was analyzed to discover how a distributed workforce benefits the company’s strategy and culture, revealing that many utilize best practices to help make the arrangement successful, says Sutton Fell.

Pick The Right Professions

A wide variety of professional roles can be performed remotely, and half of American employees hold a job that's compatible with telework, says Sutton Fell. The most popular virtual positions are creative director, UI developer, visual design engineer, accountant, and marketing manager, according to the FlexJobs study.

"Telecommuting job opportunities in general extend from entry-level to c-level executive, can be part-time or full-time, and are available across most every career field," says Sutton Fell. "The only common thread is that the work can be done independently by phone, email, or other computer applications."

Hire The Right Employees

The most important factor when hiring a remote worker is finding someone who’s trustworthy, and Sutton Fell says companies must do a lot of due diligence before hiring. "Listen to your gut on conversations with candidates," she says. "Keep a keen ear for those who show passion for your company."

Also conduct multiple rounds of interviews through your hiring process. Be clear and communicative about goals and roles, says Sutton Fell.

Millennials who are already accustomed to working remote might also be a good fit for virtual jobs. "When they were in college, they didn’t need to run across campus to go to the library," says Sutton Fell. "They researched, wrote, and turned in term papers from their dorm rooms. This generation hasn’t had geographic parameters to tell them how to work. Location and time is arbitrary, which means they adapt well to working outside of an office setting."

Be Proactive About Communication

Companies that are successful with remote structure conduct regularly scheduled meetings, says Sutton Fell. Frequent check-ins via email with individual employees can also be helpful.

You should also pick up the phone or take advantage of video chatting, such as Google Hangouts. Sutton Fell has virtual coffee breaks with employees. "I do it intentionally and rotate through the company," she says. "It helps us stay in sync."

Be Flexible About Hours

With the exception of employees who handle client services, 90% of Sutton Fell’s team sets their own schedules. "It’s very fluid," she says. "For the amount of time and stress companies spend in management and HR dealing with time-off requests, flexible hours reduces friction and saves us money."

Time zones can present a problem when you have employees scattered all over the country. Sutton Fell says employees need to pay attention and respect other employees’ time. For meetings, a mutually convenient time is chosen.

Take Advantage Of Technology

Employers often worry about what an employee is doing because they’re not visible, but this is often based on the historical stigma of telecommuting, says Sutton Fell. Today there are plenty of ways to track employees without them physically being in the office.

Cloud-based team management services are evolving and are critical to virtual working arrangements. FlexJobs uses Sococo, a virtual office software that creates a picture of an office that allows coworkers to see who’s available.

"You knock on their door by clicking on it," says Sutton Fell. "It’s as if you’re popping your head into someone’s office. Software gives employees a sense of team. When you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind, but technology brings you together virtually."

Find A Way To Get Face Time

Successful virtual companies find ways to meet in person, says Sutton Fell. Many conduct annual in-person meetings to bring together the team and develop relationships, but you should look for other opportunities as well.

When Sutton Fell travels, she tries to meet with employees who live in the area, and she encourages others in her company to do the same. "If they’re traveling near anyone else on team, they can have lunch or dinner on the company," she says.

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