Working in a virtual office

Graphic by Jen Goertzen

Telework, or remote working, is a steadily increasing trend in the workplace, with a 26 per cent increase in telework job postings in the U.S. for 2014 over the previous year.

Thanks to cloud sharing platforms, various communication channels, and ubiquitous Internet access, the office can now be wherever you take your laptop with you. Meetings can be held virtually online, documents can be shared live on the cloud, tasks can be managed through a variety of management applications, and work can be completed from home, or even on the beach if one wishes (as long as there is a Wi-Fi connection).

For employers, the appeals of telework and hiring remotely are numerous. It can reduce the cost of rent for office space for employees if not all of them need to come in to an office to work. It also enables employers to expand their pool of potential talent, since they now have the option of hiring outside of their immediate vicinity. This could also make hard-to-find skills easier to obtain for a company. Additionally, work can be completed around the clock if employees are hired globally.

For employees, telework gives them the flexibility to work where they want and when they want. Most telework jobs are task-based, meaning that employees don’t have to commit to the typical nine-to-five workday. It also eliminates commuting time and cost, reducing the amount of time in rush hour. More options can also be available since geographical location is no longer a limiting factor in a job search.

In a study lead by Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor from Stanford University, employees who teleworked tended to work 9.4 per cent longer, and were 13 per cent more productive than their in-office peers. The rate of quitting also went down by half, which Bloom took as an indicator that employees were happier.

Unfortunately, the study also found that employees who worked from home were passed over for promotion more often, and some felt isolated from their peers. It was suggested that some in-office work would help balance these factors.

Some companies have found it valuable to ensure they continue to interact with their employees face to face by having regularly scheduled video meetings., a tech startup, starts each day with a 15-minute video conference call on Google Hangouts. David Bloom, CEO of, said he found this to be an effective way to keep everyone communicating and ensure that everyone feels accountable when they have to report their status on a daily basis.

Other companies have reportedly used GoToMeeting, Skype, and Campfire for virtual meetings.

For task management Trello, Slack, Google Calendar, Asana, and Basecamp are popular options.

For file sharing Google Drive, DropBox, and GitHub have all been popular options as well.

All of these platforms and services either come at a very low cost for businesses or are free.

One of the most successful examples of companies which primarily operate remotely is Automattic, the creator of WordPress. The company has 190 employees from 28 countries in 141 cities around the world. Only 10 of those employees report regularly to the main office.

The culture of Automattic is inspired by the open source community, where individuals from around the globe can freely contribute to software projects.

Automattic promotes inclusiveness by keep all channels of communication open for all employees. Anyone who works for them can join in on a Google Hangouts video call or chat room meetings.

The money saved from not having to rent a large office space is also dedicated to a travel budget for employees, who can use it to arrange meetings with their co-workers anywhere in the world. The company also organizes an annual grand meeting where all employees are flown in.

The company also benefits from having work being completed around the clock, with an estimate of 100 updates being pushed onto WordPress daily.

Telework hasn’t completely replaced the traditional office workplace, but for talented, self-motivated individuals, it can be a great option for finding flexible and rewarding work.