The coronavirus will certainly become a delineation for most businesses and communities. Things will be described as “pre-COVID” or “post-COVID” when explanations are given. If you’ve thought about a virtual chamber office option in the past, it may be time to revisit that idea.
One of the reasons for that is because the virus has changed how we do business. In the early weeks of the shutdowns, most of us talked about “returning to normal” but now it’s becoming clearer that our “normal” is being redefined.
A while ago on this blog, we examined the benefits of moving to a virtual office. At the time, it was considered an innovative, cost-savings. But as COVID progresses, it’s likely to become the new standard for business.
Here are a few reasons opening a virtual office can make a lot of sense for the chamber and many of your members:
Benefits of a Virtual Chamber Office
- No rent. If you’re currently paying rent for your location, you can cut a large line item out of your budget.
- Additional revenue. If you own your property, you may be able to rent it out to other businesses or create a collaborative space for additional revenue. There are many businesses that are–and will be–going virtual in the future. Occasionally these businesses may need meeting space. If you own your building, you can help members meet their needs and bring in additional revenue. You may also be able to use it as an event space for small gatherings in the future.
- Increased productivity. Multiple companies like JD Edwards and American Express that have instituted work from home arrangements have experienced more productivity out of telecommuting employees than those in the office. (At least once the kids go back to school.)
- Increased employee satisfaction. Chambers don’t always have the funds to give large pay increases each year. But establishing a work from home benefit has been found to increase employee satisfaction for some people more than a raise. This type of flexibility means a lot to Gen Y as well. They rated working from home as an 8 out of 10 for its impact on overall job satisfaction.
- Reduced turnover. Chambers lose employees to members all the time. While it may be difficult to compete with corporate America’s salaries, opening a virtual office and allowing for work from home opportunities help make the chamber competitive. Keep in mind that post-COVID many companies will offer work from home options. If the chamber doesn’t, you may be at a disadvantage when hiring.
Those reasons applied before COVID so let’s get into our new world and why a virtual chamber office may be a solid choice for some chambers.
- People have gotten a taste for telecommuting. We are slowly moving away from the days of working from home being a perk to working from home as the way we do business now. Employees are enjoying the casual atmosphere. Commute times are nonexistent for those working from home and it has given them extra time in their day.
- Customers and members are trained. If you had moved your chamber office from brick and mortar to virtual even six months ago, you would have had to take some time to get people used to the idea. Now it’s the new normal. If you’re considering it, it would be a painless transition to remain virtual after COVID concerns pass.
- Your members are doing it. Sadly, by the time the health risks are mitigated, many businesses will have closed. But those that haven’t will have likely changed the way they do business. The internet has been shaping the retail industry for over a decade and we’re going to see more of that as we continue to open up. Some businesses will rely solely on a virtual office. As the voice of business, a virtual chamber will simply be an indicator of change.
Things to Consider Before Opening a Virtual Chamber Office
There are a lot of benefits with a virtual chamber office but there are also a few things to consider such as:
- You needn’t go from one extreme to another. You can offer limited in-office hours and operate as a hybrid. But keep in mind if you select this option, your cost savings are minimal unless you can arrange an office share for the time your staff is virtual.
- Analyze your walk-in traffic. Pre-COVID did you have a lot of foot traffic from members or visitors requiring assistance? Before you decide against a virtual office because you think people want to “see” you in the community, know that you can accomplish that in other ways by setting up a moving office at your members. For instance, create office hours at the local coffee shop or bistro. Do this on a rotating schedule. As a bonus, your new mobile location may bring additional revenue to the member’s location you’re working from.
- If you’re a chamber that has a lot of walk-in traffic or one that doubles as a CVB, exercise options. Use a virtual chat function to ensure people get the answers they need on their schedule. But keep in mind, now is the most painless transition to a virtual chamber office because people have already found ways to work with you without walking into your office.
- Figure your space usage. If you’re out in the community and not in the office anyway, why pay for something you’re not using? How much of your current space is just used for storage?
- Examine tech needs. By now, you’re probably ace at the technology you’ve had to put in place to work virtually. Your files are in the cloud and you have some sort of membership management system in place. If you decide to remain virtual and you have not done so already, consider assignment/task-flow software such as Slack or Trello so everyone knows the status of all projects.
- Continue engaging the community online. One benefit of this virus has been the push it’s given us to stay in contact with people we can’t see face-to-face. You’ve already laid the foundation for a virtual office.
- Decide how you will handle paying for office equipment. Will you pay for a portion of cellphone use if you go virtual? Will you issue laptops or require everyone to use their own? How will tech issues and cybersecurity be handled?
- Start thinking about how a virtual chamber could lead the way for virtual memberships. What would that look like? Is there a social media tier you could create to help members leverage your high levels of engagement you’ve cultivated in the time of the virus.
- Imagine future options. If you choose to have a virtual chamber office, consider ways in which the new office arrangement can be more efficient/ such as combining your efforts with other local chambers to create an area consortium.
Selling the Idea of a Virtual Chamber Office
Again, because of this virus and the forced shutdowns and stay at home orders, your community has been trained to work virtually. The hard part of moving to a virtual office has largely been smoothed over. A lot of naysayers, who never thought their business could operate virtually have been forced to find a way to do just that.
But there are still a few things to keep in mind when making the announcement that your chamber is going virtual.
Don’t Make it About Money
There are two reasons you want to stay away from this quagmire even if it is the main driver behind your decision. You are a business leader. To say you’re going virtual to cut costs can draw attention to your own struggles. It’s probably best to not look insolvent to members.
The second reason to make it about something other than money is that your members are dealing with their own money concerns. They won’t be wowed by your decision to cut costs. There’s nothing in it for them.
Frame It in Innovation
When “selling” the idea of a virtual chamber office, present it as an innovative business decision. You are a leader and voice of business. You are leading the way with a virtual office.
It also gives you more time in the community. As mentioned earlier, you can establish a moveable office. Visit members and set up shop each day at a new location.
Be sure to communicate what’s in it for your members and community. These things might include easier access, more social media exposure as you go live more frequently around town, board meetings hosted at member businesses, etc.
Your chamber space may also be repurposed into something wonderful in your town. Chambers often have an ideal location in the center of everything.
While continuing your virtual office set up post-COVID may appear to be a life-saving measure for your chamber if you’re struggling financially, there are other reasons to embrace a virtual office. Many businesses are moving in this direction. As a leader of business, it makes sense you’d be considering it too.