Will a virtual office work for project managers?

Roger La Salle
November 7, 2012

Any reader familiar with the TV series hit ‘The Office’ (UK version) would notice people crouched over computer screens doing who knows what, but all very engaged.

In fact, if you walk into almost any office today, the places where city commuters most often work, you will find precisely the same scene. People privately engaged in their work while crouched over a computer. Indeed so prevalent is this activity that we are being warned about the perils of continuous close focused vision, keyboard RSI and lack of exercise just to mention a few.

Given this is working life for so many these days, let’s turn that into an opportunity.

  • Productivity improvement
  • Easing traffic congestion and reducing the expense of new road infrastructure
  • A real use for the National Broadband Network (NBN) – more than just home movies
  • Green house emission reductions
  • Cost of living in travel time and money

Can you foresee these huge gains if most people did not have to travel to an office everyday to do their jobs? Do we need to have staff present?

Social interaction in the workplace has huge benefits, both for the well being of workers, the cross pollination of ideas and the building of a team environment. However, in most cases there is absolutely no need for people to attend an office every day. Perhaps one day per week would be sufficient to allow for social interaction and general catch-up.

Numerous studies have been undertaken on the subject of home workers, or so called ‘telecommuters’ and most show the cost benefits in productivity and reduced cost of employment in many ways, including office space, energy, consumables and many other almost hidden on-costs. For the worker there are also huge benefits.

According to a study conducted by the Dieringer Research Group in the USA, the total number of US telecommuters (one day per month at home) grew from some 17 million in 2001 to almost 30 million by 2008. It is clear that there is a growing trend towards this sensible alternative to full office based work.

For sceptics that think this may not work, just image a computer with a screen that showed every member of your team as a screen shot, perhaps an overhead view of the office environment. To meet or speak with any member simply click on the image, to engage with a group, simply click on the people required and all come to each other as virtual 3D interactive images with high quality audio; a virtual office.

In such a high definition virtual environment there is little difference from having staff physically present. In fact to meet or speak with a team member in such an environment would be easier and faster than getting up from your desk and walking to their office based workstation.

What is required to achieve this utopia?

  • An acceptance of the worker to take on the liability of providing their own safe workplace
  • High-speed two-way internet connectivity
  • Suitable KPIs that can be used to measure the performance of home workers
  • IT infrastructure at the office and workers home
  • Trust from management for workers to be accountable

The benefits are huge and can lead to much higher productivity and reduced worker stress in travel to and from work. Indeed, when surveyed many workers in the USA cited the stress of travelling to and from work as their biggest concern.

Perhaps it may even be possible to ask staff to put in an extra 30 to 60 minutes a day if you remove the normal one to two hours commuting time, not to mention the cost.

Perhaps now is the time with traffic snarls on the increase to the point of frustration, public transport running at capacity and real productivity falling? Embrace this new paradigm and reap the benefits. Start off slowly and track the results.

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Roger La Salle
Roger La Salle is the creator of the Matrix Thinking technique. He specialises in innovation, opportunity and business development, and speaks at international events on those topics. He is the author of four books, director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australian and overseas.
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One thought on “Will a virtual office work for project managers?

  1. We went ‘virtual’ around a year ago and have had very few problems. A few little snags in the early stages but overall a great success. Staff are happier and productivity has not been effective. One word of advice would be to ensure you make time for regular staff meetings, Skype, phone or face to face. More communication can be needed to compensate for the loss of meeting face to face everyday.

    Mel

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