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Virtual Workplaces and Going to the Cloud

Posted May 16, 2013 01:45 PM
Thanks to cloud based technology, offices and the constraints of office hours are now optional. In a time when online polling has replaced phone tag, here are a few reasons why nonprofits should embrace telework and virtual workplaces.
Virtual Workplaces and Going to the Cloud

Photo by Bruce Clay

This blog post is based on our recent presentation at the Washington State Nonprofit Conference.

Let’s roll the clock back 20 years. Work was someplace you had to go. All of the information you needed for work was gathered in your office. Work depended upon mailed and distributed documents and information exchanged in one to one phone call or at face to face meetings.

Information was communicated through carefully crafted memos and letters created by secretaries or word processing staff.  Meetings were set up by calling everyone...generally several times. When you were not sure about a fact, you had to find a book, wander the halls and find someone to ask, or call the library’s information line.

If you weren’t inside the office, there was very little work you could do. Offices and the constraints of office hours were unavoidable.

Now they are optional.

Cloud-based email, instant messaging, databases and other program can now be accessed through any computer, and often, our phones. The cycle time for a communications among a group of people is minutes, not weeks.

We share information in short bulleted paragraphs, not in multi-page memos. If there is something we do not know, we can get an answer in seconds. Doodle polls have replaced telephone tag.

So why are so many of us still going to work each day? As nonprofits we’re supposed to be healing the world. Virtual offices are one way to do that.

Technology makes it easier for us to offer family friendly workplaces where a parent can pick up a child after school or go on a field trip. Where a person with a chronic illness can take breaks that allow them to better manage their health. Where people with colds stay home and don’t hang out among others.

Telework can care for both our people and the environment by avoiding hours of rush hour traffic. Just why do we ask people to drive for two hours each way to come to the office by 8:30, 5 days a week and then add another two hours to their day in the evening? Flexing hours or allowing for one or two work-from-home days can make a difference to staff satisfaction, productivity and Mother Earth.

So let’s throw off the past. The office is not the only place where work can happen. Offices are expensive…What if we laid off our office space instead of our staff when dollars are tight?

Research on telework, including a meta-analysis of many studies that covered nearly 20,000 employees has found that there are many benefits to employees and to employers of telecommuting:

  • Better work-life balance
  • Less stressed, happier employees
  • Higher staff morale
  • Higher productivity
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Lower office/overhead costs

There are some cultural factors to consider.

  • Staff who are for some reason required to be in the office may be jealous of  those allowed to telecommute regularly or occasionally
  • Additional communications and high value time together are needed to keep telecommuters connected

Some organizations worry about productivity. The question “How do we know ‘they’ are working when at home or working off site?” can be countered with “How do you know they are working when they are in the office?” In fact studies have found that people are generally more productive when working off site.

There are also some legal considerations.

Procedures need to be in place to guard against unauthorized overtime for nonexempt employees. Employees are covered under worker’s compensation when working at home so any conditions that could increase the risk of injury should be addressed. Privacy and confidentiality requirements need to be addressed as computers are often less secure in homes.

Cloud based technology is a key factor in making telework accessible to more people and more successful as an organizational strategy. Software and equipment costs are lower and collaboration and communication are much easier. Do you need a travel guide to the cloud? Give us a call, we can help you evaluate options for cloud based office technology, databases and collaboration.