How Virtual Can Your Company Go?

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-08-03

A recent study from Forrester on becoming a completely office-less company says that it's very possible to accomplish.

PerkettPR, a public relations company based in the cloud, has been virtual for 10 years. Perkett has a large technology and venture capital client base, and so it makes a lot of sense that it markets itself as being virtual and boasts about how they pass on the savings of being virtual to its clients.

A recent post on ZDNet talks about the Forrester study and sheds light on what needs to happen to go totally virtual:

- Creating a standard for computing and mobile device configuration is critical, especially when, as with users, all IT support is remote.

- Centralized administrative functions are also key; despite the lack of a physical office, an operations staff can help with streamlining processes as simple as ordering office supplies, which can stymie a virtual workforce and sap valuable time.

For all of the standardization, Perkett is not merely a virtual organization, but a profitable and productive model of one as well, the company has found:

- Virtual workers are more productive; time savings from not commuting -- coupled with flexible working hours -- leads PerkettPR staff to be 50% - 75% more productive based on analysis compared to traditional, commuting office workers.

- Virtual workers are greener; the company has calculated its CO2 savings at 4.4 tons of Carbon Dioxide per year, the equivalent of running 33 laptops 24×7x365!

What isn't clear is how many employees PerkettPR has in total, and whether the nature of what they do--promoting technology companies--is something that easily lends itself to being virtual.

Could you say the same for a biotech firm that requires a lab for testing and experimenting? I doubt it. They need physical space.

While many companies can benefit from having a more virtual infrastructure, what the blog post doesn't point out is that there is a whole lot more to becoming fully virtual, like the size of your company, the products you sell and the services you provide. It may require having an office and place to meet, develop teams and create a motivated social environment for work to prosper.

You can create the right communication environment to do many of the daily tasks virtually, but it can be very difficult to replicate the in-person, physical workplace.

Having flexibility with commuting and saving energy are concerns for companies, but they will depend on the culture your leadership wants to promote and the needs of your business.

Many managers want to have their key talent close by for efficiency sake, and in these tighter economic times, being visible is key. If there are sunk monthly costs for office space, you can guarantee that the Chief Financial Officer is going to want to see people in chairs.

But if you have a more agile company that has more readily adopted online collaboration tools and is looking to offer more employee flexibility and get out from costly office and technology infrastructure overhead, the PerkettPR study is worth a closer look.

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