Talk with a franchisee who works from a “virtual office,” and you might think it’s the same as “work from home.” In some ways it can be, but there are definite differences.
- A virtual office centers around the software being used. It might involve virtual filing, virtual meetings, virtual project management, and virtual messaging that keeps coworkers constantly available to one another.
- People who use a virtual office might work in a public co-working space, a coffee house, or a favorite spot on the beach. They may not even have a physical home office.
- People who work from home often do so in order to have flexible work hours or more time with kids or elderly parents. A virtual office might be much more structured, with regular hours and scheduled meetings.
The virtual office is becoming much more common in businesses in general, but there are some special concerns for people who want a virtual office for a franchise business.
First, is it against the rules?
Many franchises require franchisees to be present on the premises. While a franchisee who is always available to the on-premises team via Skype may be as accessible as one who is always in the back office, the franchisor might not see it that way.
Next, think about management software.
Many franchises have special proprietary software which might include a point of sale system, inventory management, lead management, bookings, accounting, customer relationship management, and more. This software might be set up for ease of use on a smartphone or tablet — or you may not be allowed to use it except on a single computer in a physical space housing your franchise office.
The software you’re provided might be perfect as the foundation of a virtual office, or it might have none of the functionality you need. And as a franchisee, you might be required to use it and forbidden to integrate it with any other software.
But the idea of a virtual office is still pretty new, so it’s worth talking with your franchisor up front about other kinds of software you want to be able to use.
Finally, be realistic.
If you’ve worked from a virtual office for a while, it’s second nature to you. People working in a physical office are often less productive than those who work from another location. But when team members show up the building where you work and hang around gossiping, you know that’s what they’re doing. A virtual office can make it easy for employees to be slackers.
It’s also easy for them to be confused. You might set up a virtual office and send out teams of technicians to do jobs at residences. Chances are, some of the staff will have trouble checking in, checking out, keeping notes where they should be, and letting the right people know that they need supplies. Even checking to see which building they should be cleaning or which patient is their responsibility for home care can be confusing for workers who aren’t comfortable with computers.
There are also businesses that don’t work as well in virtual space as in physical space. The franchisee might be important as a supervisor, a salesperson, or a quality control person. Without the franchisee in place, the franchise might not do as well as it should.
Talk it out with the franchisor if you think the franchise you’re considering could be run from a virtual office instead of a physical one. Find out more about the Top 100 Franchises