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Dispelling the Disconnected Telecommuter Myth, Part 1

MILWAUKEE, WISC.—There’s a lot of assumptions, call them myths, around virtual office users. One of them sounds like this: People who telecommute regularly feel less attached to the organization they work for; they feel isolated and disconnected. But that’s a myth, according to a new study out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Indeed, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study explored how teleworkers' (which include employees who work from virtual offices) usage of various forms of communication is related to their feelings of closeness to coworkers, as well as to feelings of stress from interruptions. The study also tested how these communication outcomes were associated with teleworkers’ sense of identity as part of their organization.

The overarching result: More communication does not equal more organizational identification for teleworkers. In fact, the opposite was true, says Kathryn Fonner, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee assistant professor of communication.

“It is often assumed that teleworkers need a lot of communication and contact with the organization in order to diminish their sense of distance and to develop a sense of belonging,” says Fonner. “But we found that the more teleworkers communicated with others, the more stressed they felt due to interruptions, and this was negatively associated with their identification with the organization.”

Although feeling a sense of closeness with others during workplace interactions was associated with positive organizational identification, the study found that the negative relationship between stress from interruptions and organizational identification was stronger. As a virtual office user, I can relate. Part of the benefit of working from a virtual office is boosting productivity by not being involved in so much chitchat. When the chitchat rises, the virtual office productivity declines.

Fonner has her own theory—and it actually matches mine. She says one possible reason for teleworkers to feel more stressed by more communication is that they consider fewer interruptions as being one of the perks of their remote work arrangement: “When teleworkers feel they are constantly interrupted, this may decrease the value of organizational membership for them, and diminish their attachment to the organization.”
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Most Millennials Appreciate Virtual Office Work

NEW YORK—Every wondered which flexible jobs arrangements are most in demand? FlexHourJobs.com, a job search site that targets Baby Boomers and stay-at-home moms that want to re-enter the workforce, is offering some insight with a list of the most searched categories for flexible work options.

The list includes flexible start and end times; the ability to work from home, some or all of the time; the ability to take time off during the workday occasionally for family duties; return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption; career breaks or caregiving leave of absences and the ability to move from full-time to part-time and then back again later without a loss of status or pay. Virtual offices fit into the work from home some of the time or all of the time category.

"President Obama recently voiced the concern for women, that they may be finding the job market too hostile when looking for work—while trying to maintain their childcare and elder care duties—and they could decide not to look anymore," says Jacqueline Sloboda, founder of FlexHourJobs.com. "He is right on in that the problem is that women constitute more than half of the population. For this reason, many employers are willing to go the extra mile in order to keep and retain good talent."

Indeed, studies show that employers are beginning to increase options for managing when and where employees work—as well as reducing some options that affect how they work—as the economy recovers. In a move to attract and retain top talent, employers are using non-financial rewards like telecommuting from a virtual office.

And it could work. Most people want some degree of flexibility in the way they work and a virtual office is a convenient, low-cost solution. According to FlexHourJobs, 87 percent of Baby Boomers say they want some say in when and where they work. Almost 79 percent of Gen X'ers and 89 percent of Millennials are also joining the ranks interested in the possibility of working some or part of the time remotely from home.
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Is Working From a Virtual Office Safer?

BOSTON—I haven’t seen any specific studies that offer insights into whether or not working in a virtual office is safer than working from a traditional office. But we can draw some conclusions from a new Stables.com survey of small business managers and office workers on office health and safety.

The Staples survey showed gaps in office workers' awareness of companies' safety plans and preparedness. That, the survey concluded, is a situation that could lead to increased accidents and injuries.

For example, 70 percent of managers say their company has an emergency communication plan. But nearly half of office workers are either unsure if a plan exists or say their company doesn't have a plan. In addition, 50 percent of office workers said they participate in safety drills only once every few years or never. Only 19 percent of office workers think their company is prepared for a major medical emergency.

It seems to me that working from a virtual office would eliminate a lot of that confusion. I mean, if you are working at home from a virtual office you know what to do in case of an emergency. There may not be any formal policy, but it’s common sense. Most people have a first aid kit at home and if the emergency is any greater would seek medical attention.

In the case of natural disasters, like flooding, 50 percent of employees in the Staples survey felt their company was adequately prepared. That’s concerning, since the National Weather Service Forecast Office reports that flooding causes more damage in the United States than any other severe weather-related event, costing an average of $4.6 billion a year. Of course, if you are working at home from a virtual office flooding is probably not as great a risk. When flood warnings come, you simply evacuate and shift your virtual office somewhere else.

All in all, virtual offices expose you to fewer safety and health issues—even the common cold. Working from a virtual office doesn’t mean accidents never happen, but when they do there aren’t corporate legal hoops to jump through before you can appropriately respond.
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Could Virtual Offices Help Workers During Olympics?

LONDON—Did you know that more than half of London employers are embracing flexible work strategies as the summer Olympics approaches? So says new data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)/Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning Survey.

“Options such as flexi-time and home working can enable employees in parts of the country likely to face travel disruption as a result of the Olympics to spend their time working rather than stuck in traffic jams or adding to the pressure likely to be faced by our public transport system,” says Rebecca Clake, a research adviser at CIPD.

According to the study, nearly 30 percent of employers say they will try to accommodate requests from employees to work from home. Another 17 percent will extend flexible working opportunities, while 13 percent will actively encourage staff to work from home. That means virtual offices will suddenly be en vogue.

"The Olympics is a golden opportunity for UK businesses to review their flexible working policies to ensure they are supporting their staff,” says Barney Ely, director at Hays Human Resources. “Communication is key to ensure both parties clearly understand and adhere to the guidelines around flexible working. By embracing this exciting time companies will benefit from more engaged employees.”

Virtual offices are already popular in London, but the Olympic games could introduce the concept of virtual offices to a whole new audience of employers and employees who are looking for a way to stay productive during the commuting mayhem. Virtual offices and other flexible working strategies are consistently front and center in corporate talk about the London Summer Olympics.

Check out this inspiring video on the 2012 London Olympic games, which also offers a hint at how commute times will be affected:

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Virtual Offices and the War for Talent

CHICAGO-One in three employers worldwide cannot find qualified talent. So says a new study from ManpowerGroup. Could virtual office space help attract and retain talent?

This year’s data reveals the crisis' deeper impact as 56% of employers now indicate that unfilled positions are expected to have little or no impact on constituents, such as customers and investors, a considerable increase from 36% in 2011.

Why can’t employers fill the roles? The most common reason is a lack of applicants and/or a lack of technical competencies/hard skills. In particular, employers cited the lack of industry-specific qualifications in both professional and skilled trades categories.

Could it be possible that opening up these positions to telecommuters who work from virtual offices in flex time arrangements might attract some best and brightest talent? I think so.

Studies show that young talent appreciates flexibility. All other things being equal, allowing workers to set up shop from a virtual office at least part of the time could help you win their heads and minds.

Virtual office technologies mean employees aren’t out of sight or out of mind. You can keep in touch with virtual office workers via technologies like web conferencing and Skype, which offers presence tools.

In the war for talent as the economy recovers, virtual offices could play a significant role in separating the companies that win competent workers and the ones that don’t.

Check out this video on attracting and retaining talent with work-life balance strategies:

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