How to Make a Virtual Office Work for You

LOS ANGELES-I was reading an excellent article in MoneyWatch about virtual offices called “5 ways to make telecommuting work for you.” The article tackles real issues virtual office users face, like people who think that just because you telecommute from home means you have time to deal with their drama during business hours.

Then there’s the problem of phone lines or Internet connections going down or the fax machine breaking or computer glitches. When that happens, virtual office users can’t typically just pick up the phone and call IT to the rescue. Recent studies also show that virtual office workers tend to work longer hours, though that’s debatable.

So how can you make a virtual office work for you amid all these challenges? Get real practical and plan ahead. The article suggests five ways to do this. I’ll give the main point from the article and expound on it based on my own virtual office experience.

1. Hire a babysitter: Virtual offices aren’t meant to slash your daycare costs. I have been working from a virtual office for 20 years and I always had daycare or after school care. Otherwise, you’ll be constantly distracted from your work. And it doesn’t help your professional image for clients to call and hear screaming kids in the background. That said, working from a virtual office gives you the freedom to stay home with your child if he’s sick.

2. Set your boundaries: It’s still frustrating for me at times when people don’t get it. Just because I work from a home-based virtual office doesn’t mean I can take long lunches, chat for an hour on the phone, or drive you to the grocery store. On the other hand, I tend not to set boundaries for myself that are healthy, like taking a lunch. I eat behind my desk most days. So find your boundaries. Don’t socialize while you should be working, but take small breaks to keep yourself fresh.

3. Separate personal and professional: I have a business phone line and a personal line. I try not to mix the two. In fact, I’ve got two mobile devices for different purposes, as well as a Google Voice number and a landline. It can be confusing at times, but more often than not it helps me separate my various ventures.

4. Keep in touch: I work from a virtual office, but I am not an island unto myself. I am in constant contact with my clients via phone, IM, e-mail, Skype, Webex and so on.

5. Have back up plans: So far as IT glitches, have a back up plan. I have a digital fax service in case my traditional fax goes down. I’ve got wireless devices in case my hardline goes down. I’ve got a laptop in case my desktop goes down.

Get the picture? You can make a virtual office work for you, but you have to plan for anything and everything and set your systems in place. But it’s worth it.


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