shutterstock_152959928I have been working in a virtual office environment on and off for several years, and I love it. My company has dabbled in having a physical office at times, but it never really worked out for us, for various reasons – ultimately the extra expense just wasn’t worth it to us.

We have four people on our core team – myself, my partner, our go-to multimedia developer guy, and our business development and social media maven. We have a lot of other people that we bring in on various projects as needed. All of us work independently in our own home offices, and get together in person when we need to.

The virtual office environment isn’t for everyone, but we’ve realized it’s what works well for us. If you’re starting a new venture or even considering downsizing your current office environment, here are a few tips to help you decide if moving to a virtual office is for you.

Do you trust your team?

The absolute key to a successful virtual team is trust. You must trust your team wholeheartedly. When people are asked to work independently, they need to be able to do just that. Nobody is watching over their shoulder, making sure that work is getting done. There has to be trust and reassurance that the team is doing the work it needs to do. If you need to babysit your team members, it’s simply not going to work.

Does your team have the tools they need?

If you’re going to work virtually, you have to be mobile. That means the people on your team need to have the software they need to do their jobs , and the hardware too – tablets, iPhones, computers, and so on. They should be able to work from wherever they happen to be and have access to the tools they need. That means you may need to budget for software and hardware – but it’s still cheaper than renting an office!

Do you have a central meeting spot?

When you do need to meet face to face, have a few spots picked out that work. We will often meet at my business partner’s house, as it has the space we need for a team meeting. But a coffee shop or pub with wifi often works too! If you do need a quiet space to get the team together, consider booking a meeting room at co-working space. These spaces are available on an as-needed basis and are generally fairly cost-effective.

Does your team collaborate well?

There are lots of team collaboration tools out there and I’ve tried a number of them. But our team has found that what works best for us is a simple combination of email, text, Dropbox and Google Docs. We can get pretty much anything done virtually using these four tools. Email and text are great for individual or group requests and conversations, Dropbox is our go-to file-sharing tool, and Google Docs is great for collaborating on creative briefs, proposals, and other deliverables. But more important than the tools themselves, your team needs to have a spirit of communication and collaboration. Get in the habit of checking in regularly as a team, and letting others know what’s happening. You’ll avoid confusion and have way fewer fires to put out.

Working as a virtual team is not only cost effective, it’s also productive. Without the distractions of an office environment, people are free and flexible to work as they are comfortable. And in my experience this has made for better results and happier clients.

Have you tried working in a virtual team? Share your experiences in the comments!