The COVID-19 crisis has forced many organizations to move to a virtual office on a temporary or indefinite basis. These organizations have leveraged digital workplace tools to get work completed, communicate, and collaborate all from outside of a physical office. During that time, surveys have indicated employees feel more productive working from home. As the rent bills continue to come due each month, some organizations may be asking themselves: Why don’t we make this move to a virtual office permanent? It’s a reasonable question and it’s one being asked by major corporations. For example, REI made the decision to sell its brand-new campus without ever moving in. Like many decisions these days, technology will play a critical role in whether your virtual office succeeds or creates new problems for your organization. What follows are some key technology considerations before you make the leap.
Digitization is Key to Success
If your organization still relies on paper to complete critical business processes, you need to focus your technology project portfolio on digitization. As described by Jeanne Ross, an expert in digital transformation from MIT, "digitization involves standardizing business processes and is associated with cost cutting and operational excellence." Digitization is not only an important precursor to taking your office virtual, it’s also a critical first step on your organization’s digital transformation journey. If your office has moved temporarily to a virtual office, you’ll want to pay close attention to any business processes that still require someone to be at your office. Some organizations may require paper documentation for certain types of certification applications, while other organizations may require a finance manager’s signature on paper checks. Whatever these paper processes may be for your organization, you need to spend time digitizing them before you are ready to take the leap to a fully virtual office.
Choose Your Technology Infrastructure Wisely
Your virtual office won’t have a server room, so you’ll want to make sure your application infrastructure is hosted in a public or private cloud. If you’ve made the switch to software-as-a-service, make sure your partners have enough capacity to avoid outages and that your data is backed up in the event of a failure.
With employees accessing data from home internet connections, security is a critical responsibility for all your staff. Offering a VPN for access to private cloud systems may be critical, while multi-factor authentication, URL filtering, and enterprise security agents are essential to maintaining secure remote computing. Your employees may be more reluctant to mention a suspicious email when the IT staff aren’t available next door. Make sure you have a security policy and security awareness training program in place, so your staff are prepared when something suspicious hits their inbox.
With a virtual office, you'll save money on network infrastructure, but you’ll want to invest those savings in high quality laptops, docking stations, and dual monitors for all your employees. You may also want to consider internet subsidies so that your employees can purchase high bandwidth broadband internet access.
After making the switch to a fully virtual office, a traditional office phone system may not be able to provide necessary services to remote workers and may no longer be needed. Some organizations may make the switch to issuing all staff mobile phones, while others may leverage a cloud-based phone system to handle inbound calls.
Strategy, Policy, and Standards Are Your Friend
The best technology in the world won’t help you without the appropriate strategy, policies and standards. Standardization and documentation become even more important when employees are working outside of a traditional office. Where will you store files? How will you communicate? What are expectations for being available? It’s important that you take some time to document your digital workplace strategy and standards since you’ll be dependent on it for your success. Be prepared for it to evolve as technology changes and new staff come on board.
Don't Forget About Maintaining Culture
Technology will play an important role in your organization’s culture after you make the move to a virtual office. Without the proverbial “water cooler” to stand around, you’ll want to create virtual spaces for employees to interact and socialize. You may want to create a social channel for sharing birthday wishes and vacation photos. A virtual water cooler web meeting in the mornings might help keep staff connected and an occasional virtual BYOB happy hour may be a nice way to end a busy month. And when the pandemic does wane, you can plan an occasional in-person meeting to augment your virtual get-togethers.
While it may seem difficult to make the leap to a fully virtual office, careful planning can contribute to it being a success. In addition to the financial benefits of no longer paying to maintain a physical workplace, you will expand your potential talent pool to a much greater geographic area. Your next star employee may be working for your organization from a state or country far from your current office!
Whether you want to move to a new physical office or take your workplace completely virtual, DelCor is here to help.
Tom was a guest on DelCor's Reboot IT podcast, Episode 6: Defining Digital Transformation.