Organizations in a More Virtual World
Workplaces across the world have rocketed into a virtual future this past year. Ezra considers the pros and cons of that switch, and how managers can stem the tide to ensure productive, competitive business solutions moving forward.
When we were amid original lockdowns, it felt like end of days remembrances of empty streets and even emptier toilet roll aisles would be the lasting legacy of a pandemic that hit faster than Tyson Fury. But, as those dark originating days already fade into memory, it’s evident that the long-lasting impact of pandemic life might not rest in these temporary adjustments after all. Rather, generations to come are likely to remember the 2020 pandemic in terms of the lasting implications it had on society overall, and what fits that description better than a virtual reality where Zoom calls and remote working became about the only social relief that any of us could rely on?
Masks aside, pandemic life drastically sped an almost complete remote switch that would otherwise have been at least ten years in the making. Even as society gets back into the swing of itself, many of us find that we’re defaulting back to the computer screens that became such companions in those dark, isolated days. In workplaces, especially, this newly virtual world doesn’t look set to go anywhere, with 74% of professionals now expecting remote work to become standard, while 97% of employees report that they would prefer the switch to stay .
Unfortunately, sometimes overnight remote switches and an almost never-ending stream of operational challenges alongside them, have left many business leaders entirely unable to consider what this virtual world means for the future of business in general. As the bug battle lines recede at least a little, it’s therefore vital to take a step back to consider the following pros and cons of the virtual workplace, and how business owners can create immunity against these waves that will inevitably keep on coming.
The plus points
There are obvious reasons why 80% of companies  want to make remote work permanent, and they include:
- Lower overheads: The ability to cut commercial rentals, utilities and office furniture means that managers can save an average $11,000 per employee  just by allowing them to work from home even just half of the time.
- Increased productivity: Working remotely increases employee productivity by as much as 77% , with 70% of employees also more likely to work weekends  when their home is their office.
- Attracting top talent: The ability to dip into global talent pools with a tempting virtual package also drastically increases a company’s access to the best possible talent. As well as expanding in-house knowledge pools for competitive advantage, this makes the increasing trend of globalisation far easier to tap into.
- Simplified scalability: Work in the virtual world also drastically simplifies scalability, saving the need for relocation or the costs that come with it. Scaling a virtual business can be as simple as expanding remote teams and doubling down on digital marketing efforts.
The not so good stuff
Unfortunately, the speed with which the virtual world has taken precedence means that some managers have learnt the hard way how all that shines is not gold. Specifically, potential setbacks of virtual working include –
- Lack of cohesion: Studies show that working from separate locations can create a lack of trust and generally enhanced levels of inner-team conflict , a fact that sees as many as 75% of managers concerned about reductions in team cohesion  fuelled by insufficient communication software, poor virtual meeting processes, and more.
- Social isolation: More than half of employees  report loneliness directly linked to remote working setups. This has facilitated increased rates of dissatisfaction, as well as escalating issues like depression, that not only prevent productivity but also drastically increase employee turnover.
- Reputational risks: 85,000 entirely virtual businesses launched during lockdowns , but entirely virtual offices still face some reputational risk of clients overlooking them or failing to trust their professionalism.
- Leaving security wide open: The FBI saw a 400% increase in reports of cybercrime during 2020 , many of which stemmed from businesses suddenly storing all their data in the cloud while competing against personal devices and cybercriminal intelligence that targeted real-time weaknesses.
What’s the solution?
The benefits of a virtual world and workplace speak for themselves, but many managers currently face a dichotomy where disadvantages take precedent. Far from letting this put a stop to the virtual switch that is inevitably set to become a competitive prerequisite, solutions should be implemented to fill those gaps. With remote work continuing to flourish, many solutions are still bubbling under the surface meaning that innovation is truly the best path to success here. As it stands, the best possible way to utilise virtual workplaces away from those downsides include:
- Sound software solutions: Employed by up to 80% of businesses , collaboration tools like Slack and Trello allow for in-office ease with the benefit of one-source dashboards, project-specific conversational threads, and simplified video conferencing capabilities among other plus points. All with the addition of end-to-end networks that keep information transfers secure.
- Continued focus on teambuilding: Just because teams aren’t sitting next to each other doesn’t mean they can’t still bond. Continuing to arrange entire-office meetings can be one step towards bringing everyone together, but further efforts including fun video conferencing activities and buddy schemes are also invaluable.
- Employee oversight: By continuing to prioritize one-to-one employee check-ins, either through text or video, managers are better able to recognize struggles and bring them to the fore, either through working adjustments or the implementation of virtual counselling/medical assistance.
- Ongoing delegation: Employee autonomy is the primary remote perk driving productivity increases, but focusing that productivity still requires delegation of some description. By continuing to implement and upload weekly work schedules, preferably within intuitive collaboration platforms, managers ensure that productivity is driven and that much-needed recognition is still possible to keep teams on the straight and narrow.
We virtually perfected a virtual world during the pandemic, but we aren’t quite there. Now that our lives are almost out of immediate peril, it’s time to turn our attention to these ways that we can use that virtual switch to our advantage both now and into the future.
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