What works best for you?
Your member interaction, current business model, level of comfort and ultimately what you want to achieve will determine what aspects of a virtual environment are important for your association to adopt. Included are some ideas that may expand your thinking about virtual working environments so you can realize how to transition from where you are now, to where you want to be in the future.
There are various virtual business models that could enhance the quality and efficiency of your internal and external delivery systems. Transitioning from a traditional business model to a virtual model might look something like this:
- Brick and mortar office with employees
- Brick and mortar office with employees who can telecommute
- Virtual office with employees working from their own homes or offices
- Virtual office with employees and contractors working from their own homes or offices
You get to create your own virtual hybrid that works best for your association. What’s important is to understand the logistics of preparing to go virtual, which includes change management, technology solutions, organizing systems and policies.
As with any significant organizational change, there will be people who are eager to make the change, people who are curiously cautious and people who are fearful. If you are leading the change, it is great to have the eager people on board. Occasionally, you will want to slow them down just long enough to make sure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.
The curiously cautious will go along with the change and ask many questions to ensure you are keeping critical business processes and interactions in place, which is fabulous. Those who are fearful will want things to stay as they are. Share the vision from the beginning with everyone. Consistently talk with those who are fearful. Address concerns and invite them to experience some of the changes when there is still time to return to the safety of their physical office desk. This will help with the transition.
It’s most important to discuss virtual working options with your team. Some people are comfortable working independently. Others miss the motivation or camaraderie of working in an office. If you are completely virtual, find ways to connect people through occasional in-person meetings and schedule time in conference or video calls for “water cooler” chat. This helps people stay connected and breaks down isolation.
Technology is the key to access when you’re not in the office. Your association management system (AMS) could be accessible through a browser and on mobile devices, which means you and your members have access anywhere there’s an internet connection. You can have a virtual telephone system with individual call forwarding to alternative phone numbers, so your team can be reached wherever they are. Your archives, working documents, business practices and policies can be available in a virtual file folder instead of a cabinet in the office. To connect with your work mates, use conference call numbers or establish virtual meeting rooms.
I recommend focusing on one thing at a time to enhance delivery systems in your virtual environment. Outline where you would get the most benefit, then develop a tactical implementation plan. Take time to do a needs analysis in each of the key technology areas, especially when it comes to your AMS. This will help you make informed decisions. Remember to include the things you can do right now in your analysis along with all the things you wish you could do. As you are implementing new technology, replicate what you are doing now, then roll out the new functionality. This ensures you can continue your established business processes first. As you roll out new features and functionality, communicate to your members how their benefits are being enhanced.
Organize! You’ll want an online filing system in place that you have created with your team. That way they will have buy-in and easily understand the system. You might have functional or departmental file categories like finance, marketing, meetings, publications, governance and corporate documents. Then you’ll have sub-categories. For example, under finance, you might have financial statements, audits and budgets. You will probably want to establish file naming conventions to ensure quick and easy access, especially if more than one person is working on a document. Some documents may be confidential, so be sure you can set permissions within your filing system.
Shift your management focus toward results and dependability to set clear expectations. If you are moving into telecommuting or permanently working virtually, then for most positions it’s less about working from 8 to 5. Instead, it’s more about completing responsibilities according to plan and showing up and being responsive to in-person meetings, emails, instant messages and phone calls. Manage people by what and when they deliver instead of whether they started work at 8 a.m. Part of the beauty of working virtually is that a doctor’s appointment or picking up kids from school doesn’t have to interrupt the work day. Team members can plan their day to accomplish tasks and address personal well-being, which is an important job aspect, particularly for millennials.
Set expectations about virtual work environments. Just like in a traditional office, it is important to have a dedicated space with the required tools for the job, where uninterrupted work can be accomplished. Not everyone has a home environment conducive to accomplishing work. There are companies who rent office space/cubicles, which is an alternative to working from home. You can become a member of these types of companies and have access to meeting and work space nationally. That way, your team can find a work space convenient for them. If you have staff in the same geographical location who are more productive when working with a team mate, they can have office space near each other.
Determine what devices the association is willing to provide and what expenses are reimbursable. Devices might include a computer, printer/fax, software, mouse and headset. You could provide a mobile device or offer a standard monthly reimbursement for using their own device. Reimbursable expenses might include internet access, a telephone line and office supplies purchased locally.
If you are truly virtual and have team members in more than one state, the larger questions involve mail handling, health insurance and, even though the association is virtual, there will still be physical documents that need to be kept or stored. Be sure that wherever the mail is sent, that it can be forwarded if there is a staff or location change. Document storage is similar, ensuring that if there is a staff change, someone still has access. Health insurance will be dependent upon the states involved. A solution might be to provide a standard monthly reimbursement for health insurance that is as fair as possible for everyone.
There are lots of ways to work virtually and resources available for those of you looking to move in that direction. Consider the steps you can take to move toward your virtual reality. Then take one step at a time to create it.