The Virtual Office Concept
The largest majority of contractors in all trades started out as mom-and-pop businesses, where Pop did all of the estimating and paperwork at home and Mom kept the financial books up-to-date. As the business became successful, they hired office personnel and moved the business functions out of their home.
Mom now has to get up early, get dressed and drive to the office:
- This requires a second automobile and travel expenses.
- She needs proper clothes for the office.
- She may not be able to dress the kids for school or take them and/or pick them up from classes or from after-school activities and sports, or may not be home to meet them after school.
- She needs to hire a babysitter for small children or if she has a sick child home from school.
- She has very limited time now to prepare dinners, clean the home and keep up with the laundry.
- She may need someone to take care of the family pets.
- She must now juggle grocery shopping, other shopping, any doctor and dental appointments, etc., to fit into her already busy schedule.
IBM is one of the major businesses in the United States that has successfully adopted the “stay-home-and-get-paid” philosophy. In addition to the tremendous recruiting and retention benefits, it is saving millions of dollars in costly office space. However, it has enhanced the image with the fancy name of virtual office. (My Webster’s dictionary does not define virtual office, but the word virtual means: “Being so in effect or essence although not in actual fact or name.” In construction language, that means: “It’s your office, even though it is actually your home.”)
Depending on the size of your business and the number of office employees you use, this savings on office space may not be a major concern. You simply need to offer this virtual office opportunity to each member of your office staff to appreciate why all of those major corporations are paying their employees to stay home. They call them their mobile team.
Pros And ConsThis transition to the virtual office is feasible because of today’s electronic communication and recordkeeping equipment. Cell phone cameras, e-mail and Web sites (including Intranet sites) are effective regardless of where the employee is located.
We will look at some of the techniques for eliminating any doubts or questions of why this would not work with your office staff. But first let’s look at the positives:
1. Top of the list is travel time and expense. Most of our contractors have not even adopted flex time to eliminate sitting in frustrating morning and late aftemoon rush hour traffic jams. Depending on where your employees live, saving 10 trips per week travel time would be a blessing.
And let’s not forget that today’s horrendous gasoline prices have seriously increased already high auto expenses. As you know, travel to and from your job is not a tax-deductible expense. It’s easy to understand why eliminating this travel time and expense would attract new employees as well as pleasing your present staff.
2. The virtual office provides the opportunity to hire handicapped or light-duty workers’ comp employees or an unlicensed driver.
3. An expectant mother could stay home during her pregnancy, after childbirth and for child care.
4. Babysitting and chauffeuring children to and from school would no longer be a problem, and home schooling could be scheduled.
5. The virtual office is extremely convenient for families with two working spouses.
6. Service contractors can provide a live voice for customers throughout the entire week, rather than just traditional office hours.
7. You can imagine employees’ bragging rights with relatives, friends and neighbors.
Since the stay-home-and-get-paid concept is so positive for employees, why aren’t more contractors offering it as a benefit? Let’s look at some of their questions and doubts:
1. Top of this list is getting work done on time. If an employee is home doing whatever he or she likes to do, how can you be sure he or she will be doing what you are paying him or her to do?
You should also do a time study for each task that you assign to be certain each employee has a fair and equitable bargain. You should be using our AAA-SSS delegating guidelines:
- __ Assign your task and a time for
__ Act, which means your employee did it.
__ Ask, which means something did not get accomplished.
__ Surprise; you find out it wasn’t done.
__ Struggle; whatever it takes to resolve the problem.
__ Slide; take away that responsibility and delegate it to a responsible employee.
You also need a checklist to ensure that critical tasks and responsibilities are fulfilled on time. Fortunately, computer calendars provide daily reminders.
2. The next question regards paperwork such as contracts, shop drawings, samples and submittals that must be handled at your office.
3. Your receptionist probably sees 10 to 15 visitors at your office each day. How could she work at home?
This very same virtual office situation occurs with a contractor who has retail sales located in his office.
4. The estimator and the purchasing manager must have a drafting table to layout blueprints.
5. Our last negative question concerns compensation: Should you reduce those employees’ salaries if they are realizing all those savings?
You will soon discover how much you benefit from your employees’ attitudes and efficiency, as well as office expense and recruiting/retention power.
The virtual office concept and flex-time options are the most appreciated contributions you can give your employees, even though they make you more money rather than costing you.
The only remaining question is, “Why aren’t you offering this to your employees?”