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Why you mustn’t ignore the virtual workplace

Rising employee turnover remains a significant challenge for Australian businesses. Every time a resignation letter lands on your desk, it will cost you up to 150% of the vacant position’s annual salary to restaff the role. That comes in the form of recruitment and advertising expenses, as well as training costs and lost productivity as your new employee finds their feet.

But this is an issue that runs much deeper than your balance sheet. After eight years of operation, my company has retained a remarkable 61% of our original staff. This is one of my proudest achievements, and I believe it’s a significant contributing factor to our success.

Our high staff retention rate gives our business a strong foundation of stability. Employees who are here for long haul are able to build long-term relationships with our clients, and each other. This ensures that we can not only deliver a consistently high level of client service, but has also has allowed us to build strong internal teams and work processes that keep us on track and performing across every level of the organisation.

So what keeps our employees sticking around for so long? Without a doubt, it’s our virtual workforce model that offers our team the flexibility they simply can’t find in a traditional bricks-and-mortar office environment. But that’s not the whole story. There must also be a focused effort to ensure all employees feel included and supported. With the right processes in place, the virtual workplace can be more human than a physical office.

Finding flexibility

Imagine no commute to work. No traffic. No public transport. No sweaty, sneezy crowds. You can live wherever you want. You can work from wherever you want. You have the freedom to work to live, not live to work. This is the flexibility of the virtual model, and one reason why our employee satisfaction levels and staff retention rate remain so high.

But it’s more than that. Our employees don’t begin their day stressed. They work from professional workspaces of their own creation, and feel more comfortable in their own environment.

This is becoming more attractive to an increasing number of workers – particularly as the technology that drives a virtual workplace such as video conferencing and instant messaging becomes more widely used and accepted in our personal lives through every-day applications like Skype and Facebook.

More employees are also valuing the flexibility of a virtual workplace over and above money. This makes us a very powerful competitor when it comes to attracting the top talent who are looking for more than a traditional bricks-and-mortar work experience.

Enabling inclusion

However, a virtual workplace model doesn’t manage itself. Off-site workers are at risk of feeling isolated and forgotten by the larger organisation. They may feel that they are not on a formalised career path and missing out on training and development opportunities.

That’s why it’s vital to recognise that your virtual employees are human beings and need to feel connected to a team and to the greater goals of the organisation.

Inclusion means that people who are working away from the central office are included in all the communication that goes on throughout the company. In my company, we use digital classrooms to ensure our people are connected to each other. Every morning we begin with a virtual coffee catch up that brings a social element to our daily routine, and gives us the opportunity to connect as human beings and co-workers.

Our digital classrooms also provide a platform for collaboration between team members, and ensure our agents can easily access support from team leaders whenever they need it.

Driving diversity

The benefits of diversity in the workplace are obvious. Drawing from a range of backgrounds, expertise and experience creates much richer teams and allows us to approach the diverse marketplace with a high level of cultural sensitivity.

But diversity happens naturally in a virtual workplace model. Our focus is completely on performance – the age, gender, sexuality, religion and ethnicity of our employees plays no role in that.

I believe that embracing the virtual model is vital for Australian businesses – both large and small – as we seek to conquer the challenges of the future. It provides the flexibility required to attract and retain the top talent, can be used as a powerful tool for formalising inclusion throughout the organisation, and naturally drives diversity with a sole focus on supporting the performance of the individual throughout a rewarding career.

About the author 

Ruth MacKay is the founder and managing director of OURTEL Solutions where she manages a 100 per cent virtual workforce. She is passionate about helping businesses gain a competitive advantage, improve profits and retain top talent through leveraging proven virtual workforce models. Ruth is also the author of the new book, The 21st Century Workforce. 

Ruth MacKay

Ruth MacKay

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