Working from home has become essential during the pandemic as a means of stopping the virus spreading. When the pandemic is over, many companies will likely return to their offices. However, other companies have already announced that they will be giving up their physical offices in favour of a virtual office.
There are many clear benefits to no longer working from an office. These include:
- Not having to pay the expenses of running an office: Companies can save huge amounts of money by giving up their office space as they no longer have to pay office rent, energy bills, property insurance, cleaning bills, maintenance bills and various other costs.
- Eliminating the need to commute: This not only frees up time for current employees but allows companies to hire new employees from anywhere in the world instead of having to hire locally.
- Reducing sick days: Studies show that virtual employees take less sick days. This is because a) illnesses aren’t able to spread throughout the office b) employees may still be able to work from home while ill.
- Less distractions: Some may argue that working from home is more distracting. However, the majority of us are actually more productive when working from home – chatty colleagues can be a major disruption.
While all of this may suggest that you should give up your office right now, it’s important to note that there are challenges to giving up an office. Below are some of these challenges to consider and ways in which you may be able to overcome them.
When does the lease run out?
Office leases can range from a year to over 100 years. The average is about 6 years. In most cases, you’ll have agreed to a fixed term – exiting early may require you to pay a large fee. You need to consider whether it’s worth paying this fee or waiting to finish your lease.
If you’ve still got quite a few years to go, any exit fee is likely to be high and you may find that you’re better off waiting before going office-less. If you’re nearing the end of your lease, then giving up your office may be more of an immediate option.
It all depends on what you can negotiate with your leaseholder. Some may be willing to let you leave early without paying anything. Others may be more eager for you to stay given the current shortage of new tenants looking for offices.
How will you encourage teamwork and camaraderie?
An office allows staff members to easily collaborate and get to know each other. When operating virtually, you can’t invite your team out to lunch to get to know them on more personal terms or host a speedy brainstorming session.
Digital communication creates limitations. However, there are still ways to work collaboratively online in an effective way. On top of group video calls, many companies have embraced tools like WhatsApp to help manage group conversations. Encouraging employees to talk about their weekend, allowing jokes and even playing virtual games can also help to build camaraderie – people are more open when they don’t have to act formal all the time, which can be vital for encouraging collaboration.
How will you keep staff motivated and loyal?
In an office, it can be easier to spot when employees are demotivated. It’s also easier to find ways of rewarding employees.
What about in a virtual office? How do you motivate a virtual workforce? These virtual employee engagement ideas show that there are still plenty of ways to spur on staff. You can still play games, brainstorm and encourage innovation – you just have to do it via video calls and instant messaging. Just like in a standard office, you also need to regularly check in on employees on a one-on-one basis. Helping employees to set goals and praising them for achievements can go a long way.
What if clients want to meet in person?
Offices can sometimes provide the perfect space for meeting clients in person. It could be a chance to introduce customers to the team in person, which could help to build trust. Alternatively, it may provide private space for consultations where people may feel more at ease than communicating online or over the phone.
It depends very much on the nature of your work and how regularly clients need to talk in person. You may be able to still find solutions without an office such as meeting in a coffee shop or even hiring out office space. Some customers may view you as less credible for not having an office of your own, however the majority are likely to be understanding – Covid-19 has helped normalise the idea of working from home.
What if you still need to receive physical mail?
Some businesses may still need to receive physical mail. A physical office can give you somewhere to receive this mail. What do you do if you don’t have an office?
As company owner, you may be able to simply direct to your home address. If you don’t want to give out your home address to clients, another solution could be to look into virtual addresses. These are mailing addresses that you rent out – your mail is delivered to this address and you can choose to view it online or have it redirected to your home address from here. It saves you having to give out your home address to clients, while still allowing you to offer a mailing address to customers.
What about privacy and security concerns?
Sharing potentially sensitive information online with employees is one of the biggest concerns of many companies. In an office, it’s possible to keep information such as passwords offline so that it cannot be hacked. It’s also possible to ensure that all computers have the same level of digital security installed. You can also more easily monitor workers to see what they’re getting up to.
Maintaining privacy and security in a virtual office requires taking extra steps. Setting up a VPN (virtual private network) can reduce the risk of your company being targeted by hackers if an employee is using a public network. Regularly updating passwords can meanwhile help to keep your company protected if a password is leaked. Passwords can also be set up for accessing certain information in emails and the likes of Zoom allows only people with passwords to enter video calls so that you aren’t intruded by strangers. Finally, there’s the option of providing every employee with a company-owned laptop and installing monitoring software (with your employees’ knowledge) – this allows to monitor work and ensure that employee computers all have the right software installed.
You should decide whether it’s worth taking these extra measures or whether you’d find it easier to work from an office. It’s important to remember that while you may be able to more easily monitor and safeguard employees in a physical office, there are added security risks that a physical office can create such as the risk of burglary.
How do your current employees feel about the idea?
Your employees should be as involved in the decision as you are. If you choose to abandon your office and your employees would much prefer to go back to the office, you could end up pushing them away. Talk to your employees about the decision to determine whether they would prefer to go back to the office or continue working virtually. Offer your opinion first and encourage them to provide their honest opinion in return. It could be worth going through many of the pros and cons listed above with your employees.