The traditional office is avoidable in today’s modern business environment. With the emergence of advanced mobile technology, professionals can now work from anywhere including on the go—on the road, at home, at their favourite joint or any place with good internet connection.

Since the first Coronavirus case in China, Wuhan late last year, the month of March has been crazy with total madness as the disease caught up with the rest of the world. This madness is nothing like never before—when employees have the discretion to determine where, when and how to work. 

Besides the total lock downs, dipping stock markets and effects on global economy, COVID-19 pandemic has also put the world at rest in their homes—away from the hustle and bustle in their offices.

Whether you like virtual working for its cost cutting ability or its way to get people to spend more time with their families, foregoing the office comes with priceless opportunities if only we can get things right.

The traditional office is avoidable in today’s modern business environment. With the emergence of advanced mobile technology, professionals can now work from anywhere including on the go—on the road, at home, at their favourite joint or any place with good internet connection. 

The autonomy brings a myriad of benefits to forward-looking companies that are already utilising virtual workforce to gain a competitive edge, attract and retain the most competent talents and become the most preferred employer, while improving productivity and reducing overhead costs. 

But hey, effective management of a virtual workforce is no walk in the park and requires a completely fresh management approach. Conventionally, a manager’s role is to direct, supervise and interact one-on-one with workers.

Managers accustomed to this philosophy find it easy, with employees under their control from nine to five, and pop in anytime to check on work’s progress. But these managers must be asking, “How can we ensure a solid oversight while giving our workers the freedom to work virtually?”
That’s a timely question and one that can only be answered after doing proper planning, training and top-to-bottom understanding of how to integrate, implement and manage a virtual workforce in a bid to address the emerging issues in the rapidly evolving business environment of the 21st century. 

Our Business Background

Storm Assist started in Brisbane, QLD in 2014. Working closely with a range of industry professionals from within the construction, insurance, and government sectors, Storm Assist acts as a translator or storm coms ambassador on the forefront safety and security during storms. Our model has been somewhat challenged over the past twelve months as a result of devastating fire storms, catastrophic hail storms in Canberra, Sydney and the Sunshine Coast not to mention the 2019 Queensland Flooding.

So yeah.. Our team are built for disasters and relief.

Australian insurance companies are an important part of Storm Assist business, and through this period we have to closely monitor their activity and business decisions. These global corporations worth billions of dollars are not COVID-19 proof. They do have the resources and responsibility to adopt a similar method to us, meaning that they can operate under the virtual workplace model.

“We expect motor and home insurers not to reject claims because of a consumer’s understandable temporary change in how they use their vehicle and their home address, in response to government advice and the emerging Coronavirus situation,” the FCA says whist addressing insurers how to behave in a crisis.

Below are the four steps that Storm Assist implemented in our transition to an effective virtual workforce that will drive our business to the next level.

STEP 1: Assessment

Businesses differ in one way or another and there can never be a one-size-fits-all virtual team for you to drag and drop into action. Some businesses can work well with virtual workforce while others simply can’t. Our management team have taken the time to carefully assess the existing model and capability with the aim of identifying a strategic fit. Here are some of the questions I asked myself:

  • How will our virtual workforce enhance our competitive advantage? I thought about how a mobile workforce could outpace our competitors by delivering on-location service to our clients and prospective customers.
  • What impact could our virtual workforce have on our market position? Without the need to incur overhead costs to maintain our bricks-and-mortar office, we could offer discounts to our highly esteemed clients or provide service at a lower cost.
  • Can a virtual workforce enable us to enter new markets? Stationing teams around the nation or globe who operate at different time zones could open up multiple opportunities to expand the business beyond boundaries to tap the potential in new markets.
  • What strategies are our competitors implementing? If they are or plan to work virtually, our business could be at risk if we don’t follow suit.

STEP 2: Evaluate

Virtual teams present a range of unique benefits but at the expense of investing in key aspects to ensure efficiency. Just like other business decisions, we had to evaluate the potential benefits against the expected expenditure to determine whether a virtual workforce is best for our business. 

Here’s what we considered as part of our preparation:

POTENTIAL BENEFITS

  • Reduced employee commuting time enhances flexibility and work–life balance. This ultimately cuts in staff attrition and related recruitment and training costs.
  • Minimised in-office interruptions improve employee productivity while boosting motivation and engagement.
  • Slashed overhead costs provide the opportunity to re-evaluate your pricing structure and earn you a competitive edge.
  • Can improve customer relationships through face-to-face visits by employees stationed nearby.

POTENTIAL COSTS

  • Investment in advanced software and hardware technology that supports the virtual model.
  • Initial management training to transition to virtual workforce management techniques and practices.
  • Support and training overheads needed to assist workers to transition to the new technology and work philosophy. 
  • Resources for buy-in up and down the management chain to avoid resistance.

The collective of experts including our advisory board and partnered professionals had already planned for technology, change management and a saleable business model so this transition has been somewhat seamless. It is now up to the general public, our customers, suppliers and friends to contribute through participation and feedback. A necessity widely welcomed by Storm Assist.

STEP 3: Implementation

After completing the process of assessment and evaluation, we implemented. Initiating a pilot program offers our teams a positive pathway to transition one section of the business into a virtual workforce without affecting the rest of the operations.

More importantly, we need to empower the different departments to take full ownership and ensure a successful transition by fast understanding both the risks and opportunities with a virtual workforce. In addition to this, our key managers will have to be trained and motivated to enable them rise up to the occasion and take up the new challenges of successfully managing their virtual workforce.

Running an effective pilot project requires:

  • Approval of hardware and software selected and applied across all company’s units
  • Sales and IT teams working closely with management to identify the most effective ways of managing software, hardware and support infrastructure
  • Each business unit requires clear written policies that can easily be shared with our virtual employees.

When running the pilot program, checking for gaps that require training of new staff both internally and externally is the norm. Advanced infrastructure or technology also—to support our virtual workforce. Mapping the model and creating the scope, timing, tasks, costs, resourcing and acceptance criteria (let this serve as a guideline for ongoing management processes) to make the transition seamless was essential.  After this, and upon acceptance, sticking to the plan despite the challenges we face along the way and after a given period (at least one complete business cycle – In our case, 1 week) we measured your end results against our set goals. This will allow our teams to develop a more effective project plan that provides solutions to gaps present in the initial cycle. This gap can be bridged by outsourcing relevant expertise from outside.

STEP 4: Launch!

Our pilot project should help make things easier as we get the much-needed support for implementing the virtual model across the entire organisation. And after assessing, evaluating and planning for the virtual workforce, we could choose an ideal date to launch the model since the best way to know if it will work or fail is by launching it.

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