Virtual offices offer the flexibility of the cloud and telecommuting. However, you and your business can not be as intangible as the cloud. People want to meet you and shake your hand to do business, even if they want to get acquainted on Facebook first.
Telecommuting is great, the cloud is great and a virtual office is the best way to get the most out of both worlds. However, just because your business can run efficiently in a virtual environment, it does not mean that you, as a human, can.
For the telecommuting professional, finding the right online to offline balance can be a serious issue, mainly because it can quickly get out of control. If you are too distracted by family duties at home and don’t get any work done, you’ll be fired or your business will go under. If you never meet with real people because you spend all of your time online working and interacting, you (and your business) will suffer.
What’s the magic ratio? It truly is up to you. That said, there are some key points to consider and the following are but a few:
People are different offline
For most of us, it’s clear why real interactions are important in every aspect of life. However, with the ease of technology and the time it takes to keep up with the many media channels you want to interact with, plus those you are bombarded with, it’s all too easy to get caught in the trap of doing everything online.
One major drawback to moving your life wholly online is that people are not the same in a virtual world. In some people, their temperment changes. In other’s, perhaps because of the dominance of text-based interactions, they are shy and uncomfortable, even though, in-person, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
This personality shift becomes very important when you consider hiring. If the person is in a more people-based role, but report to you virtually, you may not get an accurate feel for the person’s abilities.
Also, because of the illusion of anonymity, people don’t tend to be as diplomatic as they are in person. We’ve all seen the comment stream that goes off on a tangent that is totally unrelated to the original topic. Just as likely, we’ve seen a comment thread that included someone like the character in the Dilbert cartoon below.
The traits you gather online will affect your next in-person meeting. It’s best to do everything you can to make sure those new habits are good ones.
You are social, (not to be confused with social media), by nature
Online interactions are really set up to be informational exchanges, not relationships. You can interact with your customers on Facebook but you can’t truly get to know them. In other words, you’ll never know what you feel from them, only what they are willing to share with the world.
How many times has a hunch led you in a new and fantastic business direction simply because you could truly connect with someone? Perhaps it’s old fashioned, but friends will always be the people you have lunch with. Good prospects will always be those you shake hands with.
You can’t impress someone with your web presence alone
Impressions, as everyone knows, are extremely important. For a business, there is nothing like meeting in a real board room when it comes time to wow your clients or command the respect of your employees.
Equally important is the tone that comes with the setting. There will never be an app or online service that can replace the intangible (and invaluable) connections your team makes with each other when they meet in the same room.
Even at the most virtual of companies, yearly meetings are mandatory for all team members and the meetings are a lot more frequent the higher up you go. Also, these all-virtual companies do a lot of instant interaction throughout the work week, like using cloud-based document/applications to foster a team environment, phone calls/skype and instant messaging to name a few.
People appreciate people
People appreciate familiarity. Traditions are certainly familiar. As nice as it is to share the information we share online, in many ways, it is more fruitful to enjoy a cup of coffee and a bagel with someone.
It’s well known that visual cues, such as body language, greatly impact our communication with each other. Things that go unsaid because of these visual cues, can lead to ideas that would have never been thought of in an all-virtual interaction.
Traditional interactions don’t detract from the wonders of a virtual office, rather, when properly blended they make for the strongest business imaginable. Recent history proves this. Why else would virtual companies go to trade shows, even if their product is only available in the cloud?
At the end of the day, people do business with people, not the tools we do business with.
The internet is full of people that want to interact like we always have. For proof, check out “10 things your grandmother can teach you about social media” by Eric Fulwiler.
Whatever your virtual office needs, from advice to facilitation, ComCenter is here to help. Give us a call, follow us on Facebook or LinkedIn. Or drop us a comment below. Any way we can help you, we’d be glad to.