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How to Engage Virtual Office Employees

NEW YORK--Do you have virtual office employees? Are you a virtual office employee? Either way, listen up. There are some interesting insights from a new study about engaging virtual office employees that you don’t want to miss.

The Forum: Business Results Through People just released a study called “Engaging Virtual Employees—Innovative Approaches to Fostering Community.” The study categorizes current patterns in virtual office employees, assesses some of the tools and technologies virtual office employees use, and identifies strategies that contribute to successfully engaging virtual office employees.

"With off-site workers now representing up to 40 percent of the U.S. workforce in companies with 5,000 or more employees and 43 percent of recently surveyed companies anticipating growth in their virtual work forces, we felt it was important to examine current methods that are helping employers better engage their remote employees," says The Forum President Patty Saari, who is also vice president, product and strategy, business loyalty at Aimia, incorporating Carlson Marketing.

Here are some of the most interesting findings from the virtual office employee study:

  • Engaging remote employees must be part of a bigger virtual office employee management strategy supported by top management.

  • Engaging virtual office employees requires technology platforms that enable people-oriented aspects of work.

  • Some face-to-face contact with virtual office employees is necessary.

  • The quality of talent supersedes virtual office employee location.

  • Smaller companies struggle more with engaging virtual office employees than larger ones.

  • Virtual office employee engagement should be integrated with internal branding and organizational culture.


"In the end, we found that the boom in virtual employment that is taking place due to advances in technology and other economic factors puts many organizations in the difficult situation of trying to manage and engage employees in ways with which they have little expertise because their legacy has routinely been to manage workers at a given location," said Saari. "We hope The Forum's findings provide leaders with tangible ideas to better engage an increasingly virtual workforce and maximize the success of this growing reality."

Check out this YouTube video for some general tips on employee engagement:

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Time Magazine Talks About Rise of Remote Worker

NEW YORK-Time magazine is talking about the rise of the remote worker. Guest columnist Dan Schwabel's article, in fact is entitled, “The Rise of the Remote Worker, or How to Work from Home Without Getting Fired.” You gotta love that!

Schwabel points to a Cisco study that reveals 70 percent of college students and young professionals don’t find it necessary to head into the office anymore. That suggests that a new age is dawning in the world of work.

“Telecommuting, working from home, working remotely: they all essentially mean the same thing (working somewhere other than in an office). And this form of work is growing,” he writes. “The Atlantic reported that there are now more than 34 million people who work from home occasionally. A new study by the software company Wrike, meanwhile, shows that 83% of employees work remotely at least part of the day. Presumably, reading and answering e-mails while commuting, or perhaps just before bedtime, counts, as it should.”

So how do you work from a virtual office without getting fired? Schwabel has some suggestions for virtual office workers:

  1. Get organized

  2. Check in with your manager frequently

  3. Push yourself to network

  4. Take breaks and get fresh air

  5. Work in productive space

  6. Use collaboration tools

  7. Respond to e-mails quickly


All good tips for the virtual office worker. The truth is, you can be more productive from a virtual office. That doesn’t necessary do away with in-person meetings from time to time. And working from a virtual office doesn’t mean being an island unto yourself.

The key is to show your productivity to coworkers and managers. You can do that through tools like WorkSimple’s Social Goals Personal Edition. (It's a great tool for career management.) There are lots of collaboration and productivity and networking tools on the market that aim at virtual office users. A word to the wise: Use them.
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Avoiding Virtual Office Space Pitfalls, Part 2

LOS ANGELES—Yesterday I shared with you five of the top 10 telecommuting pitfalls in an article I read on the Mother Nature Network. As one who works from a virtual office, I debunked most of them. In other words, yes, there are pitfalls to working remotely—but you don’t have to fall into them if you can see them clearly.

In part two of this series, I’m going to share with you the last five telecommuting pitfalls from the Mother Nature Network article and offer you my thoughts on how I avoid them—and how you can too.

Communication problems: The premise of this pitfall is that there’s more to communication than just reading typed words. It’s true that I miss out on body language and other important cues as I sit in my virtual office. That’s why you have to be extra careful to have a great attitude and make sure people understand you are on their side.

Data security: There’s been lot written about data security and the mobile workforce. The same holds true for the virtual office workforce. Virtual office users should keep their anti-virus software and other security mechanisms up to date—and just use some good old-fashioned common sense while surfing the web.

Limited equipment: Virtual office users often depend on their own equipment. This has never been a problem for me. If you need something that you don’t have in order to get the job done, your employer should provide it.

Inability to separate work and home life: Do the lines between work and home blur for virtual office users? I’m not sure. It probably depends on your level of self-discipline. For me, it’s not an issue. But this is a caveat to watch out for. The key is to separate yourself in a place that’s business only during work hours.

Dealing with distrustful employees: This is one I’ve never had to deal with, but I admit that it could be an issue for some virtual office workers. The key here is to be able to show that you are productive. If you are cranking out the work, no one is going to question when you do it or how you get it done. Meet your deadlines and goals and you’ll win the trust of your employer.
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Avoiding Virtual Office Space Pitfalls, Part 1

LOS ANGELES—I often talk about the benefits of virtual office space. But there are certain pitfalls associated with telecommuting. The good news is, you don’t have to fall into them if you know what they are.

I was reading an article on the Mother Nature Network that does a fine job of laying out the telecommuting pitfalls to avoid as you work from the quiet serenity of your virtual office space. I’m going to outline them here, and then offer my comments as one who also works from a virtual office.

Distractions: I limit distractions in my virtual office by shutting off the phone while I am heads down on a serious project, closing my door so others in the house are signaled that I am working, and otherwise refraining from mindless Internet surfing during office hours.

Lack of a routine: Just because you work from a virtual office doesn’t mean you have to lack a routine. My day starts at 5 a.m. and I workshift, answering some emails and writing few blog posts from the quiet of my virtual office before taking my daughter to school, then leaving my virtual office later in the afternoon to pick her up and make her a snack.

Increased workload: OK, so I haven’t quite figured out how to combat this one yet, but this pitfall is not due to virtual offices. In other words, you can hardly blame your virtual office set up for the increased workload. If anything, virtual offices help you work more productively by cutting out all the commute time.

Isolation: Some say telecommuting can lead to isolation. I suppose that’s true. But I have plenty of socialization in my virtual office through Skype, e-mail, telephone calls and the occasional lunch meeting.

Out of sight, out of mind: This point suggests that if you are no longer interacting with your higher-ups on a regular basis, you may be overlooked. I avoid this virtual office pitfall by staying in regular communication with people. It’s just that easy.

Stay tuned for part two in tomorrow’s blog.
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Virtual Office Options Considered Top Perk

NEW YORK—I saw a pretty snappy infographic on the rise of telecommuting from Wrike, which makes project management software that enables, among others, virtual office users.

Wrike contends that today, people don’t have to clock in at the office every weekday—jobs go where the talents are. It seems Wrike isn't just whistling dixie. Wrike surveyed 1,074 people. Eighty-three percent said they work remotely at least part of the day.

Wrike also took a look at the past and future of remote collaboration (which would include some number of virtual office users). Wrike found that 43 percent of respondents worked remotely less often two to three years ago than they do today. And 66 percent believe their office might go fully virtual in one to five years.

Wow! What a testament to the virtual office. Wrike also found that the higher the position in the company, the more time the person spends working outside the office. Managers spend 10 hours working remotely compared to executives who spend 20 hours and business owners who spend 30 hours working remotely in setups such as virtual offices.

How much are people ready to “pay” for the opportunity to work from a virtual office or some other remote location?

  • 78% would forgo free meals

  • 54% would forgo employer-paid cellphone plans

  • 31% would accept reduction in paid vacation

  • 25% would accept reduction in salary


What’s more, 89 percent of respondents consider the opportunity to work remotely, say from a virtual office, as one of three main perks: remote work, salary and reputation. When asked about the benefits of remote work, 41 percent cited saving time, 29 percent cited increased productivity and 10 percent said they could focus on work, not office policies.

Finally, and this is the payoff for Wrike, 90 percent of respondents consider collaboration software mission critical or important to virtual teams. So whether you work in a virtual office now or you are heading in that direction in the future, Wrike wants you to consider how its software can help. (I checked it out, btw, and it’s top notch!)

Check out this video on what Wrike can do for your firm:

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