Virtual Workplace Provides Options
Road warriors, once tethered to a home office for all of their documents and lines of communication, are now free to roam their domain armed with devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants and laptops.
That freedom comes with various decisions a building service contractor must make to assure a productive virtual workplace for its employees. A virtual workplace typically means that a business does not have one central office location, but rather employees are working from multiple locations — either at home offices, client sites or from the road.
“The virtual workplace is becoming the norm for many businesses that want to avoid the high overhead of traditional office space,” says Praful Shah, vice president for RingCentral, Redwood City, Calif., a computing-based business phone service.
In the building service contracting industry, virtual workplaces have been in place for years since many employees and much of the work is done away from the home office. Technology has added a layer of intrigue to the discussion, as the cost of hardware and software continues to decline and becomes easier to deploy and use.
A virtual workplace could amount to just a Web site that allows the employee to log in and see a dashboard view of events, tasks and communications with the home office.
It could also be a telephone service in which the employee could get the same phone service from any location that they would in the office. This may include voice mail, call waiting, call transferring and access to the company’s phone. Costs and services range drastically and, as a result, it is strongly recommended that BSCs check with their service providers for pricing and package details.
“A virtual workplace allows me the freedom to respond quickly to our clients,” says Rick Macher, director of development at T&M Environmental Services Inc. in Pompano Beach, Fla. “I can accomplish more in a given day by communicating via cell phone and using text messages and e-mail from the field.”
Another layer of a virtual workplace may include instant or text messaging in which employees and clients can write messages to each other on their computers or phones in real time.
When planning for a virtual workplace components, BSCs have plenty of potential decisions to make, including whether to build some of these software components in-house or with an outside vendor. Hardware also has to be considered in terms of whether to purchase laptops or desktops for virtual employees and whether to purchase designated servers for virtual documentation and communications. Contractorss could use Web-based documentation tools that allow users to log into their documents from any Web browser on any computer.
Others might want their virtual employees to be directly tapped into the business operations through a Virtual Private Network, which allows them to view their desktop as if they were sitting in the office.
One of the great benefits to building a virtual workplace is the reduction of overhead costs that come along with providing a physical workspace for employees. Those employees can plan more efficiently throughout the course of the day if they are not tethered to a central location. This can result in quicker response time and lower gasoline and vehicle upkeep costs.
“It’s not just about the savings, it’s really about the opportunities,” Macher says. “I can respond more quickly to a client request for service, quotes and rapidly de-escalate a potentially critical situation by being more available to our clients. Greater customer satisfaction — that is priceless.”
Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wis.
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