You Need a "Third Place" Policy to Make Virtual Work A Success

Last Updated May 20, 2011 12:36 PM EDT

The rise of virtual work has also meant an increase in what experts call a "third place" to work (the first two being the regular workplace or a home office). These places can be coffee shops, shared office spaces or even an empty desk in our company's satellite office. Does it work? That may depend on whether we have a policy in place or we just let habits develop on their own.

In an earlier post, we talked about how the flexibility to work remotely in these third places can make people happier. We also offered the following qualifier: "if it's done correctly". What, exactly, qualifies as a policy that works?

Regus offices (not coincidentally the world's largest provider of temporary and flexible workspace) recently released a report called "VWork: Measuring the Benefits of Agility At Work".(You can download a copy here). But what separates those organizations that are successful making this work from those that don't? Happiness is a lovely goal, but if you can't work securely and productively that happy glow will be short-lived.

Philip Ross is the CEO of Cordless Group and Unwork.com is an author who looks into the future of work. Bob Gaudreau's an Executive VP at Regus,
When looking at a "Third Place Policy" there's a lot more to consider than simply can people connect:
  • Connectivity and security - is the data secure? Will wifi hotspots work easily with the remote tools people are asked to use? Can people actually get anything done if the VPN keeps dropping? What if you're using your own smartphone to answer that critical email? Can you get tech support if you drop it in your latte?
  • HR issues- When are people actually working? If you're answering email between faceoffs at your kid's hockey game are you still on the clock? Are you getting paid for being available 24-7 or does it just kind of work out that way?
  • Productivity metrics- How do we know that people are actually working if they don't show up at the office? Is the amount of email answered the same thing as being productive? If someone doesn't answer their email in an acceptable amount of time, does that mean they're not working? Can people find you when they need you?
The fact is, IT, Human Resources and Finance all need to work together to have a coherent plan. Among the solutions some companies are implementing:
  1. Purchase your own equipment plans. Want to work on a Mac? Want a lighter laptop?Fine. Here's your budget including tech support. Buy what you want, but make it work.
  2. Contracts with flexible or shared office space. Among the advantages is that if the company has a contract with a provider like Regus, the network can be configured once and then anytime you log on, you're able to meet your company's security needs. No more worrying about logging onto the VPN from Starbucks.
  3. Changing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)- When someone's in the office , they're working, right? Managing through physical presence is not the same as actually measuring how much work someone is grinding out, how good it is, or if they are adding value to the team by being responsive and responsible. Remote teams have to have both flexibility to get the work done wherever and however they must, while having the accountability and responsibility the organization requires.
Unless we as managers and organizations lay out a plan and processes for people to work flexibly, there will be a lot of false starts, lost productivity (at least at the beginning) hurt feelings and lessons learned the hard way.

Read more:
photo by flickr user Donna Grayson CC 2.0