What is a Virtual Workplace?
Virtual workplaces are changing the face of operations as we know them, but are most organizations even aware of what a virtual workplace actually is, or what it stands to offer the business bottom line?
The past year has seen an entire dictionary of new vocabulary entering circulation, with PPE, isolation, and elbow bumps becoming phrases we used daily. While we can only hope that some of the less catchy pandemic-themed buzzwords (“covidiot,” anyone?) fade as quickly as they arose, some look set to last longer than others.
As much a poster child for the pandemic as self-isolation, the virtual workplace is a trend that experts predict might have slightly longer-lasting implications. In fact, with estimates predicting that 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a week by 2025 , the pandemic was really just the beginning of a trend that’s most definitely driving a tech-led future.
This is fantastic news for the 97% of employees who actively report not wanting to return to the office , many of whom are already all too familiar with the virtual workplace and what it represents. However, for employers and employees who have yet to embrace virtual working, or for those who haven’t considered its place outside of the pandemic, this lasting switch can seem daunting. To demystify the change and ensure competitive advantage in an age where big-name companies are already looking at the long-term virtual workplace, we’re going to consider what exactly it is, and what it stands to offer organizations overall.
The virtual workplace in simple terms
Founded on remote work and the software that makes it possible, virtual workplaces (also known as teleworking) typically operate without any in-person presence, depending instead on internet connectivity, video conferencing, and telephone communications that enable distributed employees to operate as a cohesive whole.
In existence since the development of computers and internet connections, virtual workplaces saw over four million people working from home at least once a week in the early stages of the 21st century . In light of the pandemic, that figure has extended to account for over half of the population, and with the vast majority of employers planning to expand at least some teleworking benefits past social restrictions, many would argue that the age of the fully realized virtual workplace is upon us.
Why virtual workplaces are flourishing
Recent switches towards virtual workplaces have been borne more out of necessity than desire, but through adjusting to this safer working setup, countless managers have realized the benefits it stands to offer, including
- Reduced overheads
- Increased productivity
- Happier workforces
- Simplified scalability
- Global talent pools
- Safer working arrangements
- (and more)
Money is an especially prevalent priority for making this switch as standard, with savings as high as $11,000 per employee  possible from removing the expense of physical operations alone. Added to that, the opportunity to retain top talent alongside higher outputs means that, where virtual workplaces are concerned, enterprise-wide budgets and initiatives are guaranteed to benefit.
Do virtual workplaces pose any potential problems?
As many managers discovered at the start of the pandemic, the benefits discussed are unfortunately open to a range of setbacks. To begin with, these often took the form of poor connections or inefficient home working setups. Even now, a range of potential risks continue to prevail. Where remote teams are concerned, managers especially express concerns such as 
- Reduced team cohesiveness
- Overworked employees
- Loss of focus
- Struggles maintaining company culture
- And more
While entirely virtual workplaces are becoming more prevalent, many managers also still hold concerns surrounding reputational risks, with some clients even now failing to trust or utilize businesses that don’t offer a ‘professional’ physical presence.
What a good virtual workplace looks like
Aside from pyjama-clad employees and flexi hours, getting virtual workplaces right relies on significant internal shifts and focuses. For managers looking to implement successful and lasting virtual workplaces, priorities should especially revolve around
A lack of cohesion is a pressing virtual workplace challenge, and it typically arises out of insufficient communications across lacklustre tech applications. By instead focusing on tools and technology that enable flawless, real-time communications that are easy to begin, access, and review, managers are far better able to inject the benefits of in-house communications across expansive virtual networks. Collaboration tools  that condense communications in one accessible dashboard are especially crucial for this purpose, streamlining accessibility and ease regardless of location.
- Project management
Giving employees autonomy is, in large part, the reason why virtual workplaces incite productivity increases. That said, too much space to tackle projects can lead to a lack of support and, ultimately, a lack of direction that drives productivity off a cliff. As such, the ability to continue managing projects, preferably through software that enables simplified check-ins, is a far better way to manage and oversee operations company-wide.
- Trusting relationships
Trust is a key player in efficient virtual workplaces, enabling managers to respect their teams enough to complete delegated tasks, and ensuring that in-house collaborations run smoothly. Informed employee acquisitions with the backing of video interviews and references play a part in this respect, but developing trust across a virtual office floor also relies on the ability to set clear individual and business-wide expectations, and follow-up on projects to make sure that key players are maintaining those standards.
- Continuing to prioritize progression
Taking workforces out of the office too often means letting training fall by the wayside, but this is by no means the right way to a reliably staffed and flourishing virtual workplace. Instead, managers need to continue offering training that ensures employee advancement and the satisfaction it can bring along with it. In keeping with virtual arrangements, online training courses that employees can access and utilize as they wish ensure these benefits. Following up with employees at regular intervals can also ensure recognition of any necessary future training focuses.
To fully grasp the concept of the virtual workplace, organizations need to consider both what virtual workplaces stand to offer, and how those benefits can be brought within easy reach. One thing’s for sure – at a time when virtual workplaces are about to become far more prevalent, future success really rests upon getting to grips with these concepts sooner rather than later.
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