The virtual workplace is growing, and companies are taking notice. Currently, 34 million Americans work remotely at least partially, and this number is expected to grow to 63 million by 2016.

The benefits of a virtual work environment for employees are fairly obvious. It presents the opportunity for a better work-life balance, eliminates commuting and helps talented workers schedule productivity around their personal schedules.

Virtual work is also a good idea for companies looking to cut costs while retaining the best people. A study by Stanford University showed that companies can save as much as $2,000 per employee just by letting them work from home.

And numerous studies, including one from Brigham Young University, show that virtual workers actually log more work hours. According to the BYU study, virtual workers put in as many as 19 additional hours of work each week.

Yet building a virtual company is no easy feat, especially for organizations looking to build company culture and a robust employer brand.

Many telecommute options

Implementing a telecommuting option means sitting down and understanding the balance between office work and virtual work for your employees. This should be worked out before a new hire ever steps foot into your office, or signs into their workstation from afar. Here are just a few telecommuting options you might want to consider, based on the needs of the position:

  • Full-time telecommuting. This can be a great option for small businesses and startup companies because full-time telecommuters will keep costs and overhead low. If you decide to go with a full-time model, look into instant messaging systems and internal message boards to keep in touch with employees, keep them in the loop, and create a great company culture even from afar.
  • Occasional office visits. If you want the best of both worlds, you can have your staff mostly telecommute full-time, with occasional trips into the office or get-togethers for team-building. Instead of being 100 percent remote, these group meetings will allow co-workers to get to know each other on a more personal level, and spur creativity and teamwork. If your employees are spread far and wide, you’ll want to limit these get togethers to only a few times per year, to save on travel.
  • Flexible scheduling. By embracing telecommuting, you can allow your workers to have a more flexible schedule while still getting work accomplished. If a worker has to pick up a sick child from school or get blood work done, they can now come into the office and then work the rest of the day from home. Allowing for flexible scheduling is a huge perk, and will make your company more attractive to the top talent you want to employ.
  • Telecommute days. If your company needs employees to spend most of their time in the office, you can still offer telecommuting as a perk. Instead of having workers log in full-time from their home offices, give them one day a week when they can work in their pajamas instead of business casual attire.
  • Hiring the best telecommuters

    Great people are the foundation of a successful company. Hiring virtual workers, however, can be a different experience from hiring talent into your local office branch.

    You need to look for candidates who are motivated, passionate, top-notch communicators, and extremely independent and self-directed. You can’t hire someone who needs their hand to be held at every step of the process, because mentorship will be significantly harder in a virtual setting.

    Use new technology in order to find the best virtual candidates and connect with them personally before bringing them aboard. Social media and video interviews, for example, can help you better connect with candidates, so you can ensure you hire the best virtual talent.

    What are your thoughts? What do you think are the most important aspects of a virtual company? Share in the comments!

    Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video interview solution used by more than 2,000 companies internationally. Reach him @AllThingsBiz.



2 comments
mhteas
mhteas

 So the word "telecommute" brings me back to the 80's and 90's.  It's not nearly the same thing as a real distributed workforce.


And "remote workers" mean that there's a central office somewhere that's more important.  The way to do this is to have a distributed workforce.  Perhaps some are in an office, but many work where they live.  People in the office aren't more important than people not in the office.


I run a 12-person team and two of us are in the office.  Sometimes.  The rest are distributed across three states and four countries.  We don't telecommute and we're not remote workers.  We have a job on our team.  Just most of us do that job at home instead of in a company-run office.  We see each other and talk daily.


If we're telecommuting, then we're doing so on the inter-tubes.

bobsulli
bobsulli

A virtual company should already know or quickly get that the positive impacts of telecommuting extend beyond their worker to his family. I'm interested in how that lesson gets learned at "hybrid" companies that allow some telecommuting, but what's clear is non-virtual companies have taken a stance that is not worker friendly and those companies will be at a disadvantage as the economy rebounds.

The Stanford study was for a Chinese company, so is this US $2,000 savings that an American company would experience or merely a currency translation of the savings the Chinese company experienced? 

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