190 Billion Reasons to Explore a Virtual Workplace

The cover story written by Max Chafkin in the April, 2010 issue of Inc. magazine is titled “Inside the Virtual Company, How Smart Entrepreneurs are Finding Money and Happiness in an Office-Free Life.”  Now I’m all for finding happiness and money (in that order), so I began to explore how that would work for those us in the mid-market.  What if you already have a physical location, what if everyone commutes to the office, what if you already have the infrastructure required to run a mid-market company.

According to Inc. (courtesy of Telework Research Network), if  everyone in the U.S. could work from home, U.S. businesses would save $190B from reduced real estate expenses, electricity bills, absenteeism and employee turnover.  They claim $200B in productivity gains, 100 hours saved a year by each commuter and 276 million barrels of oil saved.

So are these numbers real?  Who knows!  That’s not the point.

The point is this.  What can you do to rethink your business model?  What changes can you make to your workplace, supplier chain, infrastructure, company practices and procedures that will take advantage of the technology, culture and willingness of the marketplace to do things just a little different!

Here are a just a few suggestions I’ve seen implemented over the last year or so.

 1. Conducting Meetings – conduct virtually, all the time.  I’ve been on a weekly call lately and it’s as simple as read-ahead Word document and a conference call.

 2. Using free back office software – Gmail and Google Docs work and are free.

3. Building an online repository for corporate documents – there are a number of services that allow you to rent hard drive space that you can access from anyplace in the world.  Your IT team should not be bigger than your leadership team!

 4. Building a supplier chain that allows you to leverage the best resources in the world – make it easy for people to do business with you.  Leverage collaborative tools so stakeholders can communicate on the big ideas.  I published a book last year and never actually met half the people on my publication team.

5. Revisiting your policy on office hours – virtual companies have learned to trust employees to get the work done.  A two-hour commute will make anyone cranky (and unproductive) as they anticipate the long ride home.

Let me know if you have more.  Consider all elements of your business fair game for this new virtual reality.

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