Renting commercial office space is often a difficult, time-consuming and stressful process – not to mention, it can be incredibly expensive. That's why many businesses are going fully virtual. These teams are located anywhere and everywhere, and work together via digital communication and processes, without a physical office.
Aside from the obvious elimination of overhead office expenses like rent, furniture and supplies, operating as a fully remote company has other advantages, too:
Recruiting remotely provides access to a much broader talent pool, especially when you're looking for a specific skill set.
"Opening the opportunity up to candidates around the country or even globe means you're getting the best of the best, rather than just limiting the options narrowly to candidates in proximity," said Michael Pryor, Atlassian's head of product for Trello.
"A fully virtual team allows us to pool more candidates without any regional barriers, effectively upping the available talent pool for specialized positions," added Barbie Graver, chief culture officer at Gitlab. "Costs associated with a headquarters can be funneled back into product development, employee satisfaction and salaries."
In a traditional office, there may be times when employees need to work from home, such as poor weather conditions, caring for sick family members, doctor's appointments, etc. With fully remote teams, this becomes less of an issue.
"Remote work sets employees up for success so that they can adapt without any drop in productivity level – or hours lost on the road," Pryor said. "Giving your employees the flexibility to adapt their work lives to their home lives rather than the other way around means happier and more productive employees."
Graver added that having time back in the day is a big benefit. Virtual employees no longer spend hours commuting each day and instead use that as discretionary time for family, friends, etc.
Environmental and work style control
The option to work virtually gives the employee a lot more control over how they work, and in what environment.
"Some team members are significantly more productive working from home than in an office," explained Pryor. "Being in an office can be very distracting, especially with the rise of open office plans."
If a remote employee finds working from home distracting, they have the option of heading to a coffee shop or co-working space – the choice is theirs.
The owner of a virtual also has more control over how to virtually run typical in-office activities.
"Within our nearly 2,000-page handbook, we've outlined team call structures, guidelines for Secret Santa participation, best practices for congratulating good work – and that's only a small sampling," Graver told Business News Daily.
Companies who start fully virtual, or who plan to move completely into a virtual workforce, can see major cost savings, according to Bryan Miles, CEO of Belay.
"Companies moving to a fully remote workplace will not only reap the benefits of cost savings on overhead and expenses. Employees can save personally on things like transportation, meals, professional attire, etc.," Miles said.
The challenges of a fully remote team
Finding the right people
Running a virtual business isn't without its challenges, and one of the biggest is selecting the right people. Working remotely isn't right for everyone, and those who need close supervision may not be successful, said Jeff Kupietzky, CEO of PowerInbox
"It boils down to maturity," he said. "Has the employee shown prior success in either working remotely or without a lot of close supervision? Does the employee show a strong work ethic and ability to self-manage? Do they appear to need a lot of positive reinforcement?"
Building a culture
Building a workplace culture can be difficult when your team is all over the place and in different time zones. Finding times when you can all hop on a video chat together can seem almost impossible, but culture is so important for a successful business.
"At Trello, we've found it beneficial to create activities like online trivia nights and coffee meetings. We also try to recreate those casual 'water cooler moments' you experience in a physical office with our team chat and video conferencing tools," Pryor said. "We've also created multiple social channels for employees to share their hobbies, fitness goals or silly pictures of their kids. Especially in virtual teams, you need these opportunities to connect on a human level."
Graver also does "virtual coffee breaks" with the team at GitLab through video calls to mimic chance office encounters.
Another challenge virtual business owners might run into is communication issues. The tone and body language you get during in-person conversations are absent from chat messages, texts and email, so it's easier to take things the wrong way or out of context.
Pryor advised encouraging team members to assume positive intent.
"Even when things aren't going smoothly, each person should assume that their 'challenger' is coming from a good place and is trying to act in the best interest of the team," he added.
Transitioning to a fully remote team is tough too, said Graver.
"It's important that all team members are on board as well as willing to contribute and constantly iterate processes for the greater good," she explained. "At Gitlab, this mindset is our very fabric. Responsibilities are clear from onboarding and there's an inherent expectation that GitLabbers voice their opinions and help to refine our approach."
Succeeding as a virtual workforce
A fully remote workforce can seem a little daunting, but there are ways to make it successful. Miles's foremost recommendation is to build a trust-first mentality.
"When any gaps exist between the work being done and what's being communicated, fill those gaps with trust," said Miles. "Never assume the worst is happening – that assumption builds a negative environment where team members don't feel empowered or comfortable speaking up."
Kupietzky echoed this sentiment, saying it's important to assess integrity early in the interview process because there is a high amount of trust placed upon individual employees.
"If you can control that, you will benefit from a highly-motivated, productive team that requires less oversight than other people recruited to work in an office environment," he added.