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The Virtual Workforce: What You Need to Know

QUICK SUMMARY

Many small- to mid-sized business owners enjoying rapid growth face a challenge—how to quickly scale their operations without dramatically increasing overhead expenses.

One way to meet this challenge is to establish a virtual workforce. Under this organizational structure, employees, many of whom might be located across the country, or even around the world, work from home. This eliminates the need for you to lease more office space and constantly move into larger offices as your business grows.

A virtual workforce can lower your costs and even increase productivity by keeping your overhead expenses low.

A study from Stanford University found that companies could save an average of $2,000 per employee by letting them work from home. And that same study showed that those who worked from home were more productive than those who regularly worked from a company’s office.

A virtual workforce was once difficult to manage. In the last few years, however, new technologies, such as video conferencing, scheduling tools, and project management solutions, now make managing a virtual workforce far more practical and much easier to manage.

Your field sales team and field service team probably already work largely on a remote basis. Hiring other types of employees to extend your virtual team opens up the possibility for hiring more experienced and talented individuals.

What’s more, employees are rapidly choosing to work virtually if they can—so much so that a 2012 survey from project management company Wrike found that 31 percent of respondents would accept less paid vacation and 25 percent would accept a reduction in salary if allowed to work remotely.

As Wrike points out, "now the jobs go where the talents are." And that’s a good reason to consider a virtual workforce for your company.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Virtual Workforce

Although a virtual workforce can keep your overhead expenses low, you do give up daily face-to-face contact with your employees. You need to think carefully about your decision because it will change the nature and culture of your organization. Although it’s possible, it’s not easy to change your mind and return to a traditional workforce once you’ve decided to “go virtual.”

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How to Manage an Off-Site Virtual Workforce

If you’re running a growing business, you likely already have the management skills and experience to run a traditional business organization. With a virtual workforce, however, you will need to adjust your management style, plus adapt to new techniques for communication, collaboration, and tracking progress against goals.

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How to Outsource Key Business Functions

Not everyone in your virtual workforce needs to work full time. Some of your business functions may be best suited for freelance contractors. If, for example, you need a new website, it typically makes more sense to work with a contractor instead of hiring an employee. Even day-to-day business functions, such as bookkeeping and billing may be better accomplished by freelance contractors.

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How to Use Offshore Resources

While you might assign many of your business functions to freelancers and contractors in the United States, some businesses use “offshore” resources. This means hiring companies or contractors in countries in Asia such as India, China, and the Philippines—or in Eastern Europe where costs are lower. But time zone differences plus language and cultural barriers can create obstacles in getting projects completed.

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What You Need to Know About Virtual Workforce Technology

No virtual workforce can function very well without the right technologies. You’ll need tools to help you communicate effectively, hold virtual meetings, manage projects, monitor progress, share knowledge, enable collaboration, and schedule tasks. Fortunately, there are plenty of low-cost, or even free, technologies that can help your virtual workforce succeed.

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