We are about to see an unprecedented business experiment unfold as companies embrace a virtual workforce. Leaders are facing the blossoming realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and are making the difficult decision to temporarily close offices and have employees work from home – avoiding transmission of the coronavirus in the workplace. For many companies that have been experimenting with communal workspace layouts over the past few years, leaders are now rethinking the wisdom of open workspace entirely and entertaining the idea of moving away from traditional offices and fully embracing the concept of a virtual workforce.
Leaders who are apprehensive are about to get a taste of what that could look like, perhaps leading to the bold decision not to bring their employees back to the office when the current situation resolves. Here are five benefits to a virtual workforce that leaders should consider as they re-evaluate the way companies think about the future of their business and workforce.
There is a lot of productive time that is wasted every day by employees in the office. In-person meetings start late, rarely finish early and often run over their allotted time, causing people to be late to their next meeting. In-person meetings don’t lend well to multi-tasking (even though most meetings are “informational” to many of the attendees). Closed office doors and employees wearing headphones in open workspaces are perceived as “do not disturb” signs and impede real-time decision making. Employees eating lunch in a cafeteria typically consume the entire lunch hour while employees working from home often work through lunch. Employees working in offices often also have a 9-5 mentality while remote workers are more flexible with their schedules.
A virtual workforce does not mean that your employees never meet face to face. Relationship building and co-location to work on a project are helpful tools to drive productivity. By having a virtual workforce be your primary business model, the time that employees do come together is more focused, more productive, and drives greater value for your company.
Lower Facility Costs
Fewer people in the office means lower facility costs. Office buildings, rented office space, furniture, IT infrastructure like networks, housekeeping, mail service, receptionists, break rooms, and cafeterias are some of the examples of facility overhead costs that get added to the salary, benefits, and taxes you pay for each employee. These aren’t small costs either. Most large companies in commercial office space are paying nearly 35% of the total cost of each employee for these overhead activities. Put a different way… if you weren’t paying for the overhead of office space, you could pay your people more, hire more workers or increase your profit margin.
Access to a Broader Candidate Pool
If you expect your employees to be physically present in an office, the candidate pool for filling open positions is limited to those people with the skills you are seeking that either live within commuting distance or are willing to relocate. You are also subject to local labor rates in your area. If you embrace a virtual workforce, you can access a nationwide labor pool. That means more qualified candidates and access to lower-cost resources in other locations.
Increased Employee Morale
Virtual work arrangements can be a big boost to employee morale. Working from home can help employees achieve better work-life balance and avoid everyday workplace stressors. Remote employees understand that they are given the opportunity to work remotely because the company trusts them and values their contributions. One of the most significant morale boosts for employees comes from not having to commute to the office every day. A 45 min commute each way five days a week is 7.5hrs / week that the employee can reclaim as personal time – pursuing hobbies, going to the gym, or spending time with family. This often means they are more engaged on the job, less likely to take sick days, and are more flexible to take on new work assignments.
Reduced Risk Exposure to Disease and Natural Disasters
COVID-19 isn’t the only risk that companies face having employees co-located in an office environment. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes are regional events with localized impacts. If your office is in the zone of impact, your whole business is impacted. It is like “having all your eggs in one basket.” Disease and health issues are a recurring problem for companies. Office environments are great incubation grounds for bacteria and viruses due to the high concentration of people touching things like door handles, telephones, and conference tables. Embracing a virtual workforce can be an effective tool to minimize your exposure to localized risks.
Is a Virtual Workforce a Sustainable Model Long Term?
Why not? Companies are competing in a global marketplace and have learned to interact with customers using technology. If you can do that successfully, there is no reason why you can’t make a virtual workforce model successful too. A significant barrier to adoption over the past few years has been the availability and cost of reliable high-speed internet service to home offices. Many cities now have fiber networks bringing gigabit service to the home, and the rollout of 5G mobile networks couldn’t be coming at a better time. Collaboration technologies have significantly improved, and many employees are using video conferencing and screen sharing to have meetings even when all the participants are in the same office building.
There is an argument that managers have made for decades that if they can’t see their employees, they can’t manage them. If an employee is working from home, how do you know they are really working? You don’t… but if an employee is going to be lazy and not do the job expected of them, being in the office isn’t going to make the situation any better. If your managers are worried about how many hours an employee is sitting in their chair with a keyboard in front of them, the manager is focusing on the wrong things. Good managers and competent employees can be just as effective virtually as they can in an office environment.
A virtual workforce isn’t right for all businesses or all job roles. There are many roles across your company that could likely benefit from a virtual workforce. If you learn to embrace this model, you are likely to achieve increased results, lower facility costs, and higher employee morale. Before you assume the best plan is to bring everyone back to work when the current COVID-19 crisis is resolved, it’s worth considering whether there is another option that can be better for everyone.
5 Reasons Why Companies Should Embrace a Virtual Workforce
1. Increased productivity. 2. Lower Facility Costs. 3. Access to a Broader Candidate Pool. 4. Increased Employee Morale. 5. Reduced Risk Exposure to Disease and Natural Disasters. A virtual workforce isn’t right for all businesses or all job roles. There are many roles across your company that could likely benefit from a virtual workforce. If you learn to embrace this model, you are likely to achieve increased results, lower facility costs, and higher employee morale. Before you assume the best plan is to bring everyone back to work when the current COVID-19 crisis is resolved, it’s worth considering whether there is another option that can be better for everyone.
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