Will the Virtual Office Work for Your Business in the Long Term?

man working remotely

Working from home used to be the dream of many employees. And while the evidence of previous years shows a trend in that direction, the pandemic has fast-forwarded us all into the age of remote work. Sheer necessity has overcome the prior reluctance of many employers.

But is it here to stay? High-profile companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, for instance, have all declared extended periods of remote work for their employees. Yet that might be an easy decision for those in the tech industry. Your business will doubtless have to evaluate a different set of factors.

Before your employees start taking out a loan for the renovation of their home office, it’s only fair to ask: What are your long term plans for remote work?

An experiment with mixed success

Beyond addressing the immediate need to get things done, remote work offers some substantial two-way benefits. Employees don’t just get to skip the daily back-and-forth trip to the office; they save energy, expenses, and time.

All of those resources are suddenly freed up to be allocated as they wish. Usually, it’s towards well-being in some way; they can afford healthier food, or get regular exercise, for instance. Sometimes, they don’t mind funneling the extra time towards work. Either way, your business wins.

Besides the potential for happier and more productive workers, employers also benefit from cost savings. Few (or no) people reporting to the office means less energy consumption. It might even allow you to cut the commercial lease and go all-in on the virtual workplace.

However, as we now have several months of collective experience with working remotely, a few unforeseen issues have risen to prominence. Many have experienced challenges in collaborating and communicating effectively through online channels. The prolonged social isolation can harm mental health.

There are also industry-specific needs that remote work fails to address. The current state of virtual conferencing technology has a long way to go before it can plug the void left by physical events. If your business relies heavily on showcasing its products and services at trade shows or conferences, the existing tools might be inadequate for your needs.

businessman in a call

Taking stock of the situation

Is remote work bringing success to your business, or is it just a stopgap solution? This is a question that relies heavily on measurement but also involves a certain degree of intuition, or gut feel.

Your first instinct will be to look at the numbers over the past few months; what do the metrics say? But a more critical question, perhaps, would be: are your KPIs still appropriate for a remote workforce? Numbers are meaningless without a bespoke analysis. When jobs shifted online, new performance-affecting factors came into play. Old metrics don’t take these into account.

For instance, what is the relation of screen time to employee performance? With the greater flexibility they enjoy working from home, people can choose whether to approach work with zealous intensity, or spread it out across the day while multitasking. Should you be concerned about that? Does it even matter as long as the job gets done? Those questions are impossible to answer if you don’t even have a system that’s tracking screen time and efficiency.

Beyond that, how do your employees feel about working from home? Everyone will have a unique experience under these arrangements. The common challenges mentioned above will have their specific details; new problems might come to light. These insights can only be gained if you regularly check in with everybody one-on-one to find out how they’re doing.

Looking at alternatives

The office of the future might be situated right inside our homes. But that scenario is far from certain. Surveys show that many employees are still willing to spend some time working outside of the house.

Gen Z, which will soon emerge as the youngest and most significant demographic in our labor pool, is significantly in favor of a hybrid workforce model. Perhaps younger people are keenly aware of the need for casual interactions and networking opportunities to take them further in their careers.

As it becomes clear that some business needs might never be adequately addressed through remote work, new alternatives will rise. Shared office spaces can evolve to meet the challenges of infectious diseases. Communal areas might be able to offer workers with a combination of workplace and accommodation. This can meet their needs for social interaction while also limiting contact and health risks.

As we move past the recent chaos, it’s vital to stay attuned to your business performance. We don’t face a binary choice between remote work and the traditional office. Know what will drive your success, and you can find the best option for your team.

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