Security measures are available to minimize this effect, in fact an entire industry has emerged to address these needs, but control will never be the same as when the employees are under one roof and subject to scrutinizing eyes and ears and computers and cell phones are free from potential hackers.
To put virtual office security into perspective think about all the security measures that are taken in traditional offices to ensure the safety of a business' equipment and information (Lombardi, 1994). Closed circuit surveillance systems are installed, alarm systems, security guards are utilized to protect the physical plant while extensive firewalls, networking passwords, and layered access systems are used to protect the business information (Rodriguez, 1996).
A distributed workforce can cause problems relative to collaboration. Many work projects require the coordination of different skills and with the workforce being distributed this may be difficult. Specialization of knowledge-based work, falling communication costs, and globalization have increased the need for more collaboration in most businesses and the move toward virtual offices acerbates this need. Through the use of sophisticated video conferencing equipment, wireless communication devices, specialized collaboration software, and coordination of servers some of the problems related to collaboration can be eliminated but the advantages of face-to-face contact will still be lost.
Businesses that operate out of an office have a body of employees who can easily communicate one-on-one or in informal groups. Often times, these chance meetings lead to the exchange or initiation of new ideas that may benefit the business. A group think type of mentality can be beneficial to the success of a business and a large measure of this is lost when the business operation is divided into many individual units where the only contact is through the use of the internet, email or cell phone (Whyte, 1989).
The lack of a physical presence in the form of a building can have a chilling effect on the prestige level of the business (Liparulo, 1998). Customers and clients still place a premium on their business contacts having a building in which to meet their attorney, accountant or insurance salesman and being asked to meet in a neutral site or their own home may make them uncomfortable. Some virtual office practitioners choose to avoid this problem by utilizing temporary office services that provide meeting facilities but these services have not met with universal approval.
Having employees under one roof and under the watchful eyes of supervisory personnel affords the business owner the satisfaction of knowing that time is not beings spent wastefully. Human nature can lead workers to waste time occasionally but an experienced and wise supervisor can avoid such idleness causing the business problems (Johnson, 2001).
Utilizing a virtual office may mean having employees who are not answerable to anyone. For many employees this is not a problem but for a great many others the lack of proper supervision may lead to work not being done in a timely manner, work not being done according to standards, and, in the worst case scenario, work not getting done at all (Gillis, 2003). Some employees with the lack of someone supervising their activities may be tempted to surf the web, play with the kids, doing housework, or simply watch television. It takes self-discipline to sit at one's desk and work on projects in which there is little interest when faced with other options that are likely more appealing.
Distractions and a lack of discipline are a problem in themselves but there is the additional problem of priorities. When employees are at work in an office building they feel isolated from the rest of their lives to some extent. They are insulated from calls from the children, the spouse, and the family. Calls to the doctor, the repairman, and the laundry are done by someone else. Working from a virtual office which is most often at one's home opens one up to all these distractions. Suddenly the employee is faced with prioritizing his activities and the temptation will be great for the employee to think that work can wait, it can be done later. This other matters need immediate attention. Similar to the undisciplined employee, the distracted employee must learn that work is the priority and to set aside dedicated time to finish the job.
Another problem with virtual offices is that they are subject to technological snafus. Over the last several years internet connections, internal computer operations, and signal speeds have improved and become more stable but problems still develop from time to time (Nimsky, 2004). A downed computer is the end of work from the virtual office while being in an office presented with the same difficulty would enable one to undertake other business related tasks.
The advantages of the virtual office concept have attracted many business owners to adopt it as part of their business plan prematurely. The cost savings, the flexibility, and ease of operation make it hard to disregard as an option. However, the system is fraught with potential problems that are not initially considered and the prudent business owner will reflect on the concept and apply it to his particular business before adopting it wholesale. As promising as the virtual office may be in theory there remain problems that must be addressed and solved before it becomes the standard in operating a business. For the present, the traditional office setup remains the standard and likely remains so for some time.
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