Laptop with wifi symbol at the coast

The concept of virtual offices certainly sounds great on paper, offering businesses the opportunity to operate without a permanent office premises and therefore dramatically lowering their operating costs, boosting profit margins. However there are a couple of challenges: you’ve got to create a team spirit with employees working remotely and also ensure that they stay motivated enough to put in 100% whilst working independently. Below, a number of experts give us insight into whether or not the concept of working remotely has been a success and where problems have arisen.

Scott Ostaffy, CEO of Zugun, which offers technical support solutions and work almost entirely remotely, states that the decision to work remotely was the “best we ever made”, yet he doesn’t deny that there can be major drawbacks.

Ostaffy believes that working remotely can make training more difficult and highlights the lack of hands-on time as the reason for this, yet he believes that “that this has forced us to create a much more streamline approach to training” and he utilises online training areas for this. He also highlights the need for an initial investment in “some pretty slick new technology to keep tabs of your remote based employees” as a potential con, as this may be “daunting for smaller companies”.

However Ostaffy is enthusiastic about the benefits of working remotely, once business owners come to terms with having less control. He states that “the money you will save can be tremendous” as you save money on “leases for your physical location, lower staffing costs and management costs too”.

A huge perceived risk is that employees will be easily distracted when working remotely, yet Ostaffy highlights that  “giving employees a little trust goes a long way and we have found that remote staff are actually much more productive, and not to mention happier in their jobs”. He notes that this has also had a positive effect on staff turnover rates and remote employees are more committed for the long haul!

Another benefit that Ostaffy highlights is the option of “increasing the talent pool” for recruiting new employees, which is reinforced by AnnMarie McIlwain, Founder and CEO of CareerFuel. McIlwain states that “My firm is in central New Jersey and finding the best talent is rarely something we can do locally. By allowing my employees to work remotely, the quality of the candidates I can consider increases dramatically.”

Yet McIlwain does highlight the need to regularly meet with employees in person, as “creativity and strategy discussions never spark in the same way over the phone” and she feels that this is due to the way that employees react to each other in physical encounters.

Ron Nawrocki, CEO of Productivity Partners LLC, highlights the benefits of requiring less office space and also states that staff are more content and productive in such an arrangement. Nawrocki feels that being flexible with working hours is a great motivator for staff who “can work very flexible hours. As long as we have 1 person available to handle incoming phone calls from 6 AM – 9 PM. The rest of our employees can choose to work during the day, evening, or weekends to complete their assignments.” This enables them to organise their private and professional lives in the most beneficial way for them.

Yet Productivity Partners LLC’s remote staff are required to have a separate working space and high speed internet connection, as well as antivirus/firewall programs in place. This is an excellent way of protecting important files and ensuring that distractions are kept to a minimum during working hours.

Liza Roberts, Customer Service Manager at virtual office provider W1 Office, supports these points and states that “customers are often surprised by the levels of productivity that they see in staff that are given the opportunity to work remotely”. Which will certainly be music to the ears of any small businesses considering making the transition to using virtual offices.