Taking the Office Virtual: Standards and Processes
A franchise small-office/home-office environment is more unique than you might think, and it requires certain qualities in a professional to be sustainable.
Working in a virtual office environment is common practice among professional services firms. For small and large organizations alike, there is generally some degree of remote work factor to employees’ schedules. And while we are changing operations and learning how to manage a more virtual workforce, does that change when we are talking about a franchise system? These are business owners, not employees. They are held to a different standard, but the system and the brand still need to be managed, right?
Mom Corps is currently made up of 12 SOHO (small office/home office) based franchises and 10 corporate, virtual team members. Building this type of virtual work environment was always in the plans. But when we launched our franchise program, there weren’t many examples to follow in terms of creating a streamlined, highly functional structure specifically around a team of franchisees working out of their homes and small offices across several states.
We have been franchising since 2009 and learned a lot of best practices and not-so-best practices along the way. There are three keys to success when operating a franchise system composed of virtual owners: What is the professional makeup of an ideal SOHO franchisee? What is involved in franchisee training to prepare them for this environment? What are the conditions for overall system success?
Is a franchisee candidate cut out for virtual work?
Entrepreneurs consider buying into a franchise system for any number of reasons − seeking a career change, like the idea of business ownership, looking for greater work flexibility and autonomy. They want a fit that meets their financial, professional and personal goals and aspirations.
Similarly, when franchisors look to bring new owners into a virtual workplace, they need to address the potential pitfalls for someone transitioning from the traditional daily confines of an office to a completely new method of operating. A franchise SOHO environment is more unique than you might think, and it requires certain qualities in a professional to be sustainable.
A successful virtual company is chock full of self-motivated individuals. Professionals who prosper in this work environment ultimately succeed because they understand accountability and the importance of getting tasks completed as agreed. These are also the traits of entrepreneurs and franchise owners, but adding a virtual element requires a couple other considerations. These business owners must appreciate the need for collaboration. A “lone wolf” typically doesn’t do well as a SOHO franchisee. The best candidates have entrepreneurial experience and understand a small-business ecosystem. They are self-directed, organized, resourceful, tenacious and thrive in an innovative professional setting.
How do you train a virtual franchisee?
Now that you’ve identified a franchise owner with the ideal qualities for a SOHO environment, equipping him with the right tools and information is critical to nurturing the virtual business.
Preferably, franchisee training includes in-person, hands-on interaction at the onset so franchisees can clearly understand the business’s core philosophies, learn how internal systems work, review strategies and protocols. From there, the franchisee maintains active engagement through an integrated and extensive technological infrastructure.
Much of the franchise training at Mom Corps relies on technology. We have integrated web-based sales management, applicant tracking, calendaring technology, as well as “find me” phone technology allowing all owners to work anytime from anywhere. This increases collaboration among franchise offices and between the corporate office and franchisee, and it also allows for an essentially paperless environment where people have access to all documents and pertinent information, as long as they have an Internet connection. This ensures that everyone is pulling from the latest versions of company-wide documents as well.
Beyond training, technological tools and applications are possibly the most important components to running a seamless virtual organization. They help facilitate consistent communication across the business units, which is even more critical in a virtual office environment. The role of the corporate team is to simplify communication and enable franchises to collaborate with each other through their remote locations. This is done through technology such as the applications noted above, and regularly scheduled town halls, best-practices calls and annual in-person conferences.
Where are the requisites to keep the overall system thriving?
A given for any franchise system is an extensive and legally-binding operations manual. Specifically for this type of remote operation, a section of the manual should lay out the guidelines of setting up a virtual office, as well as the expectations and level of professionalism required. Here are a few areas to address:
- A basic office set-up with a desk, filing cabinet and furniture is a requirement − a seat at the kitchen table doesn’t cut it. Franchisees need to run their business outside the core family quarters where they can operate 9-to-5 without interruptions.
- Safety matters are uniquely important in this work environment. Specify procedures for meeting clients and others in a rented workspace or public meeting place versus at the home, even if the space is available.
- While it’s best to have the bulk of business conducted during typical workday hours to meet clients’ needs, acknowledge that a level of flexibility within the day can be productive and constructive. Provide advice on alternative work methods and the parameters around which the company as a whole is expected to operate.
A corporate and company-wide focus on results-oriented work is another factor in play here. The company sets its franchise guidelines, but there isn’t an easy way to monitor operations and “drop-ins” are hardly feasible. The franchisee has to want to be successful and encouraged to reach out proactively if he needs support.
As a concluding note, managing consistency across a franchise system is always a factor and often one of the leading challenges. Adding SOHO environments to the mix increases the critical nature of brand consistency and requires some fundamental modifications to ways an organization measures and rewards outcomes. Company leadership needs to define the structure then communicate those expectations to franchise owners and give them the tools to be effective.
The work-life balance a SOHO franchise offers attracts high-level talent. A franchisor can build a strong foundation for its owners operating in a small-office/home-office environment by recognizing the unique nature of a virtual office and not glossing over the necessary operating standards and processes that specifically address their opportunities and challenges.
Allison O’Kelly is CEO and founder of Mom Corps, a national talent acquisition and career development firm with a focus on flexibility. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org via the directory.