Technology has allowed for the unyielding array of products and services that we know enjoy. In just a few seconds anyone can be connected to anyone, anywhere around the world. Technology has brought people closer together, allowed for the transportation of goods and services across borders and reduced the time for many transactions. Many companies, such as Procter & Gamble, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, and Compaq have partially or fully eliminated traditional offices for field sales and customer service. Other companies have eliminated offices for workers including researchers, real estate managers, and accountants. For these businesses, work is becoming something you do, not a place where you go. Smaller firms have also taken advantage of technology in order to increase productivity, reduce costs and achieve other strategic goals. Most recently, companies have been redefining the traditional meaning of office and begun to seek cost effective and efficient methods to conduct their business. Virtual offices, which falls under the umbrella of telecommuting, replaces offices with technology; portable computers, cellular phones, and fax machines all enable remote or mobile work. As with many things that technology has spawned, virtual offices has its advantages, disadvantages as well as a new set of management issues surrounding this new method of working, such will be the focus of this paper.
It is important to establish the difference between virtual offices and telecommuting. Telecommuting is an umbrella term covering a host of alternatives to the traditional office routine. Telecommuters sometimes use virtual offices, which allow anyone anywhere to work wherever in the world they choose. The most common scenario is working at home when special projects demand uninterrupted time, but the concept includes everything from occasional at-home work to formal programs with established guidelines involving people working out of the office two or three days a week. Some companies have even done away with office space altogether and have a staff that works entirely from remote locations. With a virtual office, people work from their homes, customer sites, in airports and hotels (when traveling), or in neighborhood telework centers. When they need to come to the office, they check in with a concierge who assigns them a desk and makes sure they get their calls at that location. Many people are working from the comfort of their own home, while on travel overseas or anywhere their laptop, cell phone and fax machine is located. The beauty of a virtual office is that clients and customers have no idea that they could be very well calling someone to discuss their new marketing project who is sitting in their home office wearing their pajama's. Telecommuters who have flexible work arrangements that allow them to work from home on certain days of the week use virtual offices often. According to International Data Corp., a Framingham, Massachusetts-based market research firm, estimates that, in 1998, in 9.9 million households, at least one person worked at home for their employer three days a month during normal business hours and is expected to grow at an 8.8% rate annually over the next few years.
For many, virtual offices are a great use of technology and resources. Companies are attracted to the idea because of the economic turndown, as they search for ways to become more cost-effective without sacrificing efficiency. Employees have recognized that they do not have to sacrifice their family life in order to build a solid career. More women as well as men want to spend more time with their families and make time for more activities outside of work. Telecommuting allows for these desires to become a reality. Ideally, it's a win-win situation for both the employee and the employer. Two surveys conducted by Telecommute America! found that most executives from companies with telecommuting programs said their organizations benefit from the practice. Three quarters of telecommuters surveyed said they believe they're more efficient working from home, primarily due to the lack of distractions. Other advantages of telecommuting include flexible time, reduced expenditures on gas, tolls and parking, gainful employment to housebound people and people can be hired to perform a specific function without physical being present in the office which may interrupt business operations. Often, telecommuting or virtual offices are not a choice;…