By Basil Springer

While the advantages of working from a home/virtual office may seem obvious to you -- more freedom, more flexibility, the opportunity to be at home with your kids -- there are probably even more benefits that you haven't thought of Excerpt from "How Virtual Offices Work" by Lee Ann Obringer

Obringer lists a number of other benefits such as: Environmental benefits from not driving a motor vehicle in slow-moving traffic and polluting the air; Reduction in traffic congestion; Reduction in stress levels from not having to drive in congested traffic to and from work; Time saved not commuting to an office; Monetary benefits from savings in gas, wear and tear on your car, business clothing, and lunches out; Benefits from being able to manage your time more effectively; Productivity benefits from being able to work when you are most productive; Health benefits of being able to eat a better diet that includes less fast food; Opportunities to get physical exercise when needed mentally; Reduced stress benefits;  Benefit of living a more balanced life; A more relaxing work environment; More opportunities to hire part-time or contract workers; and A larger pool of employee applicants because location isn't as important.

She also points out a number of disadvantages such as: Lack of face-to-face communication increasing chances of miscommunications or misunderstandings; Technical difficulties hindering communications or work progress; Feelings of separation or disassociation among employees; Less camaraderie among workers meaning possibilities for less cohesive work teams; Problems separating your free time from your work time because your work is always "there"; Less convenient to run errands at lunch time; Feelings of isolation if you are always home alone; and Lack of support - both administrative and managerial.   Obringer advocates that the challenge is to identify the disadvantages that apply to your business and turn them into advantages and concludes that through good planning, communication, and outside technical support when needed, your virtual office can succeed and help foster future virtual businesses.

I have operated at home in a virtual office environment for over three years and can certainly recommend it in terms of quality of life and increased productivity.  Some people have the impression that I am retired because I do not go to the office'.  I can assure you that my output is much greater and at much higher levels of productivity than when I did go the office, especially when I include all the community service activities.

I can attest to all of the advantages listed above.  I start work normally at about 2 a.m. when there are no telephone disturbances.  My secretary, also in virtual office mode, is often up at 5 a.m.  We each have the latest in headphone/microphone technology that frees up our hands.  I shuffle through papers or search for information in my digital environment and she types as I dictate.  She then emails me the result for editing and the document is ready for hard copy or digital dissemination.

I go to the Heart Foundation gym in Ladymeade Gardens off Jemmotts Lane three mornings a week for 7 a.m. Even though it is normally only a ten-minute drive, the traffic build up, now even at that hour, doubles the length of the journey.  On my return home about 8.45 a.m. I get a thrill going against long lines of very slow moving traffic trying to wend its way to a Bridgetown destination and, to boot, I have done over half a day''s work already at high levels of productivity.  

I have addressed the disadvantages listed above. Face-to-face communication, association and camaraderie with colleagues can take place by appointment at mutually convenient times outside of the rush hour traffic. I use up-to-date information and communications technology to expedite communications and work progress, although I must admit that I have not yet yielded to the temptation of having a mobile telephone intrude into my quality of life.  Cell phones can be very useful, but so many people seem to be slaves to the instrument.  I personally have not yet been embarrassed by not having one.  I am always close to a landline, including a call box, if I need to make a call while on the road and my home office voice mail system works wonderfully.

I have no problems separating my free time from my work time and often go to the beach in the middle of the day.  No wonder some people think I am retired. I run errands in the afternoon after I have put in an effective day's work and quite enjoy the sociological experience.  I experience a feeling of freedom in the virtual office environment. 

There was a report in the press last week about traffic congestion in Barbados.  I gathered that the authorities are considering park and ride, overpass and water transportation solutions.  May I suggest that the concept of the virtual office be studied, adapted and promoted as a partial solution to the problem of traffic congestion for those who are amenable to the change.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) -