Do You Have a Virtual Workspace That Works?

By Tara Powers

Your virtual work environment can look different depending on the project you’re working on, your role, your remote working agreement, your company policies, and your living situation. You have several options when working virtually (at home, in a coffee shop, hoteling with your employer, and more).

Every environment offers pros and cons and can influence what you’ll consider, what you’ll propose to your boss, or what the next type of virtual opportunity you’ll pursue.

Home office needs for virtual team workers

Many virtual workers chose to work from home. If this option is for you, you have several home office needs to consider. Think about where can you carve out a space that is private and quiet when needed and doesn’t interfere with what your roommates or family is doing. Arranging your home office can be tricky, but with a little creative thinking, you can usually make it work.

Here are several essentials and a few nonessentials to make room for when scoping out a workspace in your home:

  • Work desk: Your can work on a kitchen table or a makeshift table as long as you can limit distractions and it’s comfortable to sit at for six to eight hours per day. Seventeen years ago, my first desk was a piece of wood, propped up by two crates in the corner of my bedroom. I sat cross-legged on the floor to work. Of course, I don’t recommend doing this, but I was determined to work from home and did whatever was necessary to make it work. (Waking up at 6 a.m. and checking emails did create issues with my husband.)
  • Computer desk: If you need a larger workspace for writing, drawing, or design work, you may need a separate computer desk or a standing desk.
  • Computer or laptop: Your employer usually supplies your computer or you need to purchase your own as a freelancer. Depending on the type of work you do, you may need an additional larger screen so you can always have more than one window open at a time.
  • Phone: You need a cell phone that gets good service. Furthermore, having a separate work phone and dedicated work number may be helpful. Depending on where you live, you may need to consider getting a backup mode of communication, such as a landline to ensure uninterrupted service, particularly for your conference calls, particularly if voiceover Internet protocol (VOIP) doesn’t work.
  • Internet service: Reliable Internet is one of the most important things you need to work from home and can be a deal breaker if it’s not effective. You may need to upgrade your Internet service to ensure you have the fastest and most reliable speeds available. Frequent videoconferencing may require that you connect to your modem using an Ethernet cord so you don’t lose video connection. Be sure to check what is offered in your area.
  • Printer/scanner: Most likely you need a printer available when working from home as well as a scanner to scan important documents to your company, clients, manager, or teammates.
  • Filing cabinets: If you’re not storing everyone on the cloud, you most likely need filing cabinets that are fireproof or that you can lock up to keep important documents.
  • Office chairs: If clients ever meet at your home office, you need somewhere for them to sit.
  • Bookshelves: Keep in mind that you’ll need to have somewhere to store your work or you’ll eventually be living with piles all around you. Keep your workspace tidy and efficient by using files and bookshelves to organize materials.
  • Lighting: Make sure that the lighting in your office makes the workspace feel inviting and allows you to see your entire workspace clearly. Workspace lighting should include natural light, overhead, and task lighting. Natural light during the day is best and helps with your mindset. However, most virtual workers I know also work in the evenings, so having lighting that illuminates your workspace properly is important to steer clear of eye strain and headaches that can keep you awake.

If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated office space in your home, keep in mind that it should make a good impression about the company and you. For example, a dreary basement office isn’t conducive to creative thinking or warm and welcoming for clients. If your office is in a busy area of your home, consider investing in some noise-cancelling headphones to reduce any unwanted sounds.

Furthermore, when working from home, having good organizational skills is a must or you’ll quickly discover your work is spread out all over your house. Keep your space organized, have a place for supplies that is easily accessible, and institute a good filing system to keep track of your top priorities and projects. A messy desk makes focusing difficult. Each week, take time to organize your desk and manage filing. On a quarterly basis, go through magazines, articles, and other must-read items you have. If you can find the same information online whenever you actually need it, toss it. Annually, plan to clean your files, bookshelves, and office supplies and get rid of anything that you don’t use frequently enough.

How hoteling works for virtual team members

Hoteling has been a rising trend to cut office expenses and improve collaboration among coworkers and teams. Hoteling provides temporary workspace in the office, such as a cubicle, conference room, or open collaboration areas that employees or teams reserve for a short period of time. Studies show that traditional office space is only 50 percent utilized on average due to sick time, vacation days, and travel; hoteling works effectively for companies that already have people working virtually one to three days a week.

Hoteling requires you to use an online reservation system to search and reserve a space in the office for the day, and you never have the same dedicated office space. This trend has helped to improve collaboration between virtual coworkers, save cost, and allow companies to spend money on other important investments like technology, software, or hiring. If you’re considering virtual work and your company offers hoteling as an option, give it a try.

Upsides to hoteling

Hoteling can be a great fit if you want to work virtually part time and with others in the office part time. It offers several benefits to both companies and employees as long as you approach hoteling with clear goals, expectations, and an open mind. Some pros associated with hoteling include the following:

  • Cost savings: Companies benefit from significant cost savings due to space utilization, which, as a result, allows them to grow without renting or purchasing more office space. It also permits them to invest in more important things like people, technology, and research.
  • Project collaboration: Hoteling can be perfect for collaboration on specific projects because you get to choose where you sit and what team members you sit by. Project teams can reserve an area together, such as a conference room to bang out a project or to solve an issue on a development initiative.
  • Team building: Teams can hotel on the same day by reserving an open collaboration area and work side by side for the day. It allows team members to know each other personally when most of the team works remotely and engage with each other on a more personal level.
  • Quiet time/privacy: If you’re in the office and need focused work time, you can move if you need to and find a more quiet or private space to work.

Downsides to hoteling

Here are some cons associated with hoteling:

  • Difficulty locating people: Depending on the size of your company, finding people can be difficult. Because each space is assigned a number, you could roam the halls searching for someone’s hotel space and waste a lot of time in the process.
  • Lack of cleanliness: People can be dirty. Leftover food, wrappers, and even dirty dishes in a hotel space are common complaints.
  • Loss of belonging and personal space: When hoteling, you don’t get a space to call your own that you decorate with pictures of your kids, hobbies, and favorite vacations. It can seem impersonal and lonely.
  • Issues with having a mobile office: Be prepared to lug around your work because you don’t have a desk or drawers. Packing and unpacking can be time consuming and it’s easy to lose something. However, some offices provide employees with a locker so they don’t continually have to bring work back and forth from home.
  • Security concerns: There’s a greater risk of security violations or information getting into the wrong hands when employees are regularly moving sensitive documents from one place to another.

How to be a successful hoteler: What to do

If your company offers hoteling or you’re considering working for someone that does, here are a few things to keep in mind to be a successful hoteler:

  • Be proactive. Plan to hotel strategically and in a way that supports your goals. With what team member do you need to build a better relationship? What project do you need more involvement? What space supports you in doing your best work? What space provides you with natural light next to a window? Set reminders to book your space in advance, depending on your goals.
  • Promote team building. If you’re located in the same city, encourage your team members to book a common area or conference room on the same day each month and use those opportunities to do a little team building. Suggest that out-of-town team members fly in quarterly to hotel onsite with the team.
  • Build cross-functional relationships. Thoughtfully reserve space next to someone in another department that you should know better. Offer to go to lunch together to discuss insights about a recent project or idea that the company is launching. Break down cultural barriers.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Clean up after yourself and think of the person who will sit there after you. Encourage your company to provide cleaning supplies for each hotel space.
  • Zen out. Occasionally, you’ll end up in a hotel space that’s double booked. Work together with your space mate to come up with a plan or look for other options. Treat people with respect and kindness. Mistakes happen.

Virtual workspaces around the world

You may have the opportunity to work all anywhere in the world as a virtual team member. Keep in mind that not all coffee shops, libraries, or other places where you can set up shop may be conducive to getting your work done efficiently and on time. You need to scope out a workspace wherever you plan to live that has strong and consistent Internet.

If you’ll be on team calls and occasional meetings, assess the noise levels or if you have access to a private room or area where you can have a productive conversation. Research these considerations ahead of time so that you’ll have a workspace where you can set you up for success as a virtual worker.