Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Etiquette in the Virtual Office Environment

The office is a constantly evolving environment. In fact, the tech boom has given rise to a brand new work environment unlike the world has ever seen. Globalization and the internet have transformed the way we do business, altering the landscape and changing the way workers, united under the banner of a common vocational purpose, interact and see a project to completion.

Online office environments, like oDesk and Elance, have become an increasingly common way to infuse expertise into small businesses by outsourcing skills and aspects of a project that may not fall within the core competencies of its key constituents. In fact, it is now possible to see a project from acorn to oak by building a workforce of contractors from around the world operating in a virtual office environment which tracks their time and progress.

Operating through the soft barrier and anonymity that is the internet, it’s easier than ever to be detached from some of the more mundane aspects of the job. In their infancy, virtual office environments were a breeding ground for employers looking to get something for nothing by offering the promise of work to desperate contractors. Thankfully, the market has found a way to regulate itself and, though the problem does still persist, it is no longer the norm. Employers will be keen to protect themselves from contractors looking to make a quick buck and leaving them in the lurch with poorly executed, or incomplete, work. On the other hand, most contractors will be inclined to protect themselves, and usually only want to be compensated fairly for their time and their expertise. It’s important to remember that there is an element of give and take that is essential to making the relationship function optimally.  

As tempting as it might be for an employer to contract the data entry services of someone working for $1 per hour in a distant country, there’s no guarantee that what is needed will be communicated effectively or that the work will be done correctly. One might even be persuaded to convince several prospective contractors to complete samples in order to prove that they are capable of completing the work and then running off with the aggregate without compensating a single contractor for their work.

When dealing with any contractor in an online environment the key is to first give them the benefit of the doubt. Knowing that they are capable of what they say they are is important and most will be able to provide a track record of successfully completed work. Inherent in the system of most E-offices is a feedback system and, although abuses are not unheard of, there is also some legitimacy to them and should be another factor to consider before making a hire. Lastly, reach out – a virtual office relationship is still a relationship and a quick Skype call can go a long way to establishing trust between contractor and employer. Employers demonstrate that they are the real deal, with honest money to pay for an honest service, and this informal interview process is usually enough to unveil the wizard behind the curtain.

No matter who you hire for what service, keeping the lines of communication open is essential and a “set it and forget it” mentality is never a recommended approach. As your business grows, so will your relationships and it’s important to nurture them and keep in mind that sacrificing some early returns can, with the right amount of patience, generate greater stability over the long haul.