Growing Trends and Changing Face of the Virtual Workplace: New Reality for Organizations– Working Remote, Manage, Teams, Culture…

Virtual workers, when compared to their office-bound colleagues, tend to be more productive and stay with a company longer… It is not a slam dunk… it involves a shift in the way you manage. ~Ann Bamesberger.

The workplace, as we know it, is rapidly changing. The 9-to-5 grind spent in the ‘office’ is giving way to the  ‘virtual workplace’ environment. As Andrew Laing describes it;  the ‘at-my-desk-by-8:59’ is becoming  the ‘on-my-Blackberry 24/7’, and the Starbucks coffee break has become the Starbucks ‘home’ office. The virtual or mobile office is the workplace of the future; it enables individuals to work from anywhere, anytime and without regard to geographic boundaries.

The successful virtual workplace organizations have a formal framework and the management leadership that addresses the unique needs of the virtual or mobile workers. The ‘2010 U.S. Remote Working Research Survey’ reported that more than half of the respondents stated that their company does not have a formal policy enabling employees to work remotely. 

In an analyst report by Forrester Research, they predict that the U.S. telecommuting ranks will swell from 34 million in 2009 to 63 million by 2016; fueled by broadband adoption, better collaboration tools, and growing management experience. With ‘remote access solutions’ as the backbone of virtual workplaces, employees are always connected to their corporate networks while visiting customers, business partners, home… The ability to securely, economically, and reliably access enterprise resources from diverse platforms is an important competitive advantage.

In the article Managing a Virtual Workforce: How to Cope With This Growing Trend by Lance Haun writes:  Anecdotal evidence and stories are one thing, seeing the virtual workforce having actual growth is quite another, and here are a few of the numbers to show it:

  • 61% believe their companies will allow more telecommuting over the next three years.
  • 56% believe telecommuting makes their employees more productive.
  • 62% allow employees to work remotely on either a part-time or full-time basis.
  • Median age of a teleworker is 40, more likely to be male with a college education.

In the articleBuilding Community in the Virtual Workplace by Jennifer L. Carpenter writes: Companies continue to manage telecommuters in the same way that they manage employees located in their physical offices– with an emphasis on ‘real space’ interaction; so that today’s telecommuters merely experience a distant and detached version of traditional office relationships. If telecommuting is to flourish, companies must develop ‘on-line chat-rooms’ and ‘virtual water coolers’, so that telecommuters can engage in the types of casual discourse that usually take place in the office lunchroom.

They must establish virtual project teams, so that telecommuters can engage in collaborative work, instead of being relegated to the social isolation of individual work. Finally, they must train their managers to effectively supervise employees; on-line, and to recognize and reward telecommuters for their contributions. A successful telecommuting program must provide an on-line social network for telecommuters within the company. The work-related social opportunities are important aspects of the social experience of working, and all too often, they bypass telecommuters completely.

Critics of telecommuting believe that Internet communication will never truly replace face-to-face contact, and to some degree, they’re right.  But many of the social benefits of face-to-face interaction can easily be replicated in cyberspace if employers simply learn to utilize Internet technology to their advantage. Companies must adapt their business strategies to create opportunities for casual social interaction among employees, to establish interactive work opportunities for employees (including ‘virtual teams’), and to develop better on-line supervision and mentoring relationships.

Critics of telecommuting should recognize that on-line employment has the potential to eradicate some very significant drawbacks of face-to-face contact in the workplace. The remote worker is judged and promoted based on his or her work product, not on physical attributes. Telecommuting has long been praised for its non-social advantages; such as, increased worker productivity and improved work/life balance. By altering organization strategies and communication methods companies can maximize, both the business and social benefits of telecommuting in the Internet ‘virtual space’.

In the article What Will the Future Workplace Look Like? by Andrew Laing writes:  Businesses can capitalize on the evolving nature of the office by striking a balance that combines virtual and physical work and space. This ultimately increase productivity and lower costs without sacrificing company culture or individual motivation. Information technology has turned the assumptions of where work happens and the role of buildings, inside out.

Innovative corporate leaders have already recognized that technology allows their employees to be mobile. To work with colleagues remotely and across time zones in a variety of settings, more effectively, both inside and outside of the traditional office. These businesses have saved money, increased work flexibility, and made the best use of their real estate.

These new flexible workplaces are providing significant gains in worker productivity. We know that open environments can inhibit work. We also know that they can promote interaction and knowledge sharing. By combining the two work environments into a ‘hybrid’ workplace, employees have the option of working individually in a quiet space or working with their colleagues in open, collaborative team areas or rooms. The hybrid workplace takes advantage of technology that combines face-to-face and virtual collaboration — both within the office and remotely.

The assumption that virtual communication and remote work environments will entirely replace the need to physically gather people together is flawed. The richness of face-to-face communication allows for fast paced and ad hoc interactions, which help to speed up decision-making and information flow in ways that have not yet been fully matched by purely virtual work environments.

At the same time, traditional work environments are becoming increasingly unproductive and will soon be outmoded among many leading corporations… The ‘hybrid’ workplace is the future and it will be essential for businesses looking to have a competitive edge.

In the “The World of Virtual Work– Facts and Statistics” reports: The survey found that mobile workers spend 10 hours per week, on average, or more away from their main place of work, e.g. business trips, traveling, customers’ premises, home… Some facts and statistics:

  • 15% of the European Union (EU) workforce can be described as ‘mobile workers’ and 4% as ‘mobile teleworkers’.
  • Central and Eastern Europe countries lag somewhat behind in telework penetration (average 5.5%). However, there are comparatively high numbers in Estonia (12%) as well as in Lithuania (9%), Slovenia (9%) and Poland (8%).
  • In a survey of 178 U.S. businesses with between 20 and 99 employees, the ‘Yankee Group’ found that 79% had mobile workers, with an average of 11 ‘mobile workers’ per company and 54% had telecommuters, with an average of eight telecommuters per company.

In the article Out of Sight, Top of Mind” by Jason Fried writes: My dilemma was keeping my business on track when its top performers are scattered across the map. I never planned on building a company like this; it just sort of turned out that way. Our willingness to hire remote workers gives us some key advantages; and has led to surprising revelations about what it means to work together when you aren’t together in the traditional sense.

One upside to having a company spread across many locations is that you typically get more work coverage during the day. More important, by not getting hung up on geography, we can hire the best people we can find, anywhere. Why limit yourself? Great people are better than close people. Great and close, of course, are ideal, but ideal is tough to find these days.

Not everyone does their best while working from home, co-working space, or café: As a result, we usually try to hire people who’ve had experience working away from the mother ship. Another issue is culture. Can you create a cohesive, healthy company when staff members rarely see one another face to face? I think so. The key is not to let two cultures emerge. You can’t treat the locals and remote workers differently.

Everyone has to play by the same rules and communicate the same way– no matter how far away people’s desks are. You will need a place where everyone, regardless of location, can talk and shares work, and discusses ideas. It could be a cloud-based chat room, a project-management tool, a teleconferencing system, or a wiki. The key is to find a way to make your virtual workspace the place where everyone communicates, not just the people you can’t see. At our office, even people who sit next to one another communicate using our collaboration tools…

There’s one question I hear from entrepreneurs all the time: “How do you know work is getting done if you can’t see people doing it?” My response? Observing work taking place is not the same as seeing work get done. In fact, I have found that it’s easier to know if people are getting work done when they’re remote. That’s because their work has to speak for itself. When you don’t have the physical office to hide behind, then it becomes all about the work...

Developing virtual workplace models requires the full engagement of all company leaders, and its complete alignment with the business strategies and objectives. A successful virtual workplace organization must be very deliberate in addressing some of the downsides of working in a virtual environment (i.e., home or remote office); such as, feelings of isolation and being disconnected from the business, feelings of being undervalued…

Challenges can be overcome by recognizing the basic issues, and most important by having the full commitment and involvement of management. Effective workplace leadership is the foundation for success in virtual workplaces, and within virtual teams.  The virtual workplace model is not a panacea, and although it can be very productive for many organizations; it may not appropriate for others…

The virtual workplace represents an estimated $700 billion in savings for the American business economy.  Give the estimate a threshold of +/- $300 billion and the move is still a no-brainer. ~ ComCenter