In 2008, 41.4 million corporate employees globally will spend at least one day a week teleworking, but there is still resistance to this trend from those preferring face-to-face interaction, according to Gartner. Enterprises must create formal plans for establishing and sustaining virtual office arrangements to make this arrangement successful.
Although virtual offices vary in format, the most typical kind of teleworking involves an individual who works from home at least one day a week and has work space available at a corporate office for the remaining days.
"Once a company decides to transition from a traditional physical office environment to a virtual one, a business case should be prepared that presents potential benefits for both the enterprise and its employees," said Andrew Walker, research director for Gartner CIO Research Group. "Most enterprises don't have a formal plan for virtual office environments and usually support the concept on an ad hoc basis, mostly at manager discretion. Such informal arrangements don't realize the advantages of recruitment branding and a well-planned transition. A more formal approach demonstrates to new recruits that the enterprise is willing to make a long-term commitment to work/life balance, which is key to employee satisfaction and retention."
To formalize the process of transitioning to the virtual office, the business case ensures that the proposal is fully thought out and well supported. The case should include the impact on productivity and the expected cost reductions. When conducted effectively, virtual working becomes a source of productivity benefits that can be passed along as returns to shareholders. More work gets done and savings occur because of reductions in office accommodation costs and other expenditures.
In transitional environments where virtual working is a novel concept, it helps to allay loss-of-control fears by starting with a pilot program. The implementation plan for the pilot can be included in the business case so that the pilot gets approved along with the proposition. A formal teleworking policy should clarify expectations regarding conduct of teleworkers and the support that will be made available to them.
A successful pilot typically follows these steps:
Step 1: Decide the criteria for success of the pilot and how to measure, report and review them.
Step 2: Find a supportive environment that is not too large in order to get started.
Step 3: Establish a steering committee of key decision makers and a project team to plan the initiative.
Step 4: Ask for volunteers to participate in the pilot.
Step 5: Educate employees on the initiative, focusing on process changes and changes in roles.
Step 6: Launch the pilot.
"The pilot helps reduce resistance to the virtual office. If the outcomes are positive, and there is no need to extend the pilot to prove the point further, the benefits can be shown to resistors in other parts of the enterprise," said Walker. "The end of the pilot and confirmation of the first stage of the virtual office plants the seed that the virtual office concept is here to stay. Thus, the virtual office concept can spread even under the most challenging circumstances."