Best practice for managing teams in virtual offices

During 2020, many workplaces have become virtual offices with little time or chance to achieve a smooth transition in working practices – and in many cases, literally overnight in response to COVID-19 lockdowns.

However, these working practices are nothing new. In addition to our serviced offices and meeting rooms, we have been offering virtual offices in London and Manchester for years already.

Virtual offices are a ‘best of both worlds’ solution for sole traders and small businesses, who benefit from a professional postal address and access to our on-site meeting rooms in Manchester and London, with minimal overheads.

But in response to COVID-19, organisations of all sizes are moving teams over to virtual methods of working – so what are the best ways to manage those teams remotely?

Trust and flexibility

The LSE Business Review recommends ‘devolving’ leadership and putting more trust in middle management and team leaders in order to maintain positive relationships despite being unable to meet face to face.

“This shift requires us all to consciously discuss progress, as well as share both good and bad news equally and openly,” writes business school instructor Francis Norman on the LSE Business Review blog.

He adds that companies may want to allow more flexible working hours in recognition that the employee’s home might not be a conducive working environment during normal office hours.

Instead, employers could learn to value this flexibility, with some employees working at “unusual hours” as long as targets are reached and deadlines are met.

‘Don’t be everywhere’

The article notes that successful leadership across virtual offices means managers must not attempt to be everywhere at once – and should not rely on video calls as a direct substitute for face-to-face contact.

“Internal business communications must become more organic and responsive,” Mr Norman writes, “choosing the appropriate medium for each activity.” Examples include voice calls and emails, both of which should not be forgotten in this era of video conferencing.

“Effective leaders of these distributed teams have also realised they cannot be everywhere at once and, consequently, are unable to make informed decisions.” Instead, some decisions may be made at a lower level by employees who are “closest to the action”.

Targets, not time sheets

During this turbulent time, virtual offices in Manchester and London allow organisations in some of the UK’s busiest business districts to maintain operations while adopting remote, socially distanced working practices.

Virtual offices have many benefits for businesses of all sizes, cutting overheads, eliminating problems arising from transport interruptions and commute delays, and allowing employees to work comfortably – and safely – from their own home office.

In return, managers and team leaders need to be ready to put some trust in teams to get the job done, and to be flexible on topics like working hours and constant video contact if it means targets and deadlines are more likely to be met.

The changes we have seen in 2020 are unlikely to be fully reversed in the years to come – and with many benefits to be gained from increased use of virtual offices, this is a real opportunity for forward-thinking organisations to gain a competitive edge during the upcoming economic recovery.

Engaging employees in office redesigns

This year has seen widespread office redesigns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, whether you own or rent premises, or work from our serviced offices in Manchester and London.

We have worked closely with our tenants to provide COVID-secure serviced offices in London and Manchester, which comply with the regulations and guidelines on aspects of social distancing, cleanliness and hygiene.

But how can you engage employees in office redesigns, in order to ensure that your workforce are as happy as possible with the new office layout once it is complete?

Engagement from the outset

An article in the journal Strategic Direction earlier this year looked at office redesign projects undertaken by accounting firms in the UK, Ireland and Canada, and identified four distinct stages in the process:

  • Imagining
  • Testing
  • Stabilising
  • Reifying

These cover the design process from initial concept through to making the design a reality or ‘reifying’ it.

According to the paper’s author, acceptance by employees is greatest when they are included in the design process from the outset.

“The results revealed that the consultation element of such projects is a key vehicle for engaging employees to such an extent that they accept the new space and inherent working practices,” the article states.

“Supported by design professionals, office redesign projects are therefore a usefully influential, scalable mindset-shifting tool for achieving organisational change.”

Redesign for a COVID-secure office

The ever-changing nature of the pandemic makes it difficult to undertake a permanent office redesign in order to create a COVID-secure workplace, but there are some measures that are likely to remain helpful throughout the foreseeable future.

Some examples might include:

  • Allowing small teams to form a ‘bubble’ if it is not feasible for them to work in a socially distanced way.
  • Maintaining a minimum distance of one metre – and ideally two metres – between individuals and different bubbles.
  • Limiting the duration of face-to-face contact to less than 15 minutes (and ideally as brief as possible).

By consulting with employees before making changes, you can take their views into account, not only on the way you redesign your office space, but also on the changes you make to their working practices.

For example, you might find some employees would prefer to work from home if it is feasible to do so, whereas others might not have a suitable space to work at home, or may just prefer to come into the office.

Even if you cannot accommodate everyone’s wishes, you can potentially find a compromise that shows you have listened, and ensure the support of your staff.

Making changes together

We have always allowed tenants of our serviced offices in Manchester and London to make changes to the design and decoration – we want you to feel at home in your workspace, for maximum comfort and productivity.

If you would like to redesign your office space in light of the current situation, or you are looking for serviced offices in London and Manchester that would allow you to create a COVID-secure branch office, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.