Recently, Zapier commissioned an online survey where they asked corporate employees for a detailed look at their feeling about remote work. As it turned out, 94% of workers want to work remotely and 74% of respondents are willing to quit their job to work at home. Now, the number is too big to neglect which led us to two points:
Point 1: There will be 74% of people who would not wish to resume their physical workplace after this pandemic ends.
Point 2: This 74 % of people will be the future virtual workforce.
In fact, billion-dollar companies have already started to exist without physical workplace at all, for example, Zapier itself.
What is Virtual Workplace?
Virtual Workplace is a technology-driven network of geographically dispersed workforce in which employees operate remotely from each other and managers.
The workplace is:
The setting may be different from the traditional workplace but all the participants of the virtual workplace are exposed to a common social environment i.e. to work for the common good of the whole network of employees, managers & other members.
Thanks to the innovation in technology, products & services can be made available to the customers at any time, in any place and any variation – hence the term virtual.
A virtual workplace comprises of two most important components:
1. Virtual Employee
A virtual employee is a geographically dispersed member of a workplace who communicates and carries out activities using technology such as video conferencing and communication tools such as slack, zoom etc. depending upon how important the collaboration is for their success.
2. Virtual Team
A virtual team is an umbrella term consisting of virtual employees exposed under the common goal of the organisation they’re working for.
A virtual workplace is characterised by their focus upon teams of individual working on projects rather than on individuals working for their own job. Only by focusing on the virtual teams can the virtual workplace hope to establish and integrate to become one entity itself.
Difference between Virtual Workplace & Traditional Workplace
We can differentiate between them based on three dimensions i.e. structure, process and culture.
Structure refers to the allocation of roles in the workplace.
The traditional workplace is structured based on hierarchies arranged to their primary functions (accounting, sales, manufacturing). They tend to be demand in-person contact and are temporary.
Whereas, in a virtual workplace the network is structured in a way (supply chain) that cross traditional functional lines. Technology allows a new process to join any time when required. They are largely self-managed.
In a traditional workplace, work is performed in several jobs each one defined as a narrow set of tasks. A traditional employee would not work outside his/her job description.
In contrast, work in a virtual workplace is broader and fluid. A virtual team occupies roles based on broader sets of skills embracing the entire process.
Learning is one of the most important aspects of the virtual workplace. Employees are not trained sufficiently in a traditional setup as they are focused on immediate joining. A virtual workplace, in contrast, requires continuous learning because of the changing technological trend to work on a real-time basis.
Speaking of authority, it lies in every soul of a traditional workplace. Power comes from the level of one’s job in a hierarchy. In contrast, in the virtual workplace, power derives not from the position but from the expertise and ability to fulfil value in real-time.
Tools to create a Virtual Workplace
As we discussed earlier, the virtual team is the fundamental aspect of the workplace. To create a virtual workplace, training the virtual team members accordingly is a must.
But the main question arises is how?
The task of delivering instruction, training to a virtual employee may seem like a process of thorough tracking. But how do companies deliver training to workers who rarely see the inside of office? the answer lies in technological advancement, communication lines and powerful tools to create a virtual workplace.
Let’s discuss these tools individually:
1. Project management platforms
Project management tools serve to provide performance efficiency of the collective virtual team. Managers use them to provide a briefing for a project, maintaining deadlines, establishing and to maintain client rapport, monitoring team performance, managing schedules, sharing files and tracking overall performance. Examples of such project management tools are:
- Microsoft projects
- Basecamps etc.
2. Communication collaboration tools
In a virtual work environment, communication is the key aspect which ties the virtual team together. There are apps which support asynchronous communication like e-mail exchange which is necessary to keep members in touch. Examples of such tools are:
- Workplace etc.
3. Cloud computing
Cloud computing is a practice of using virtual computing service from applications, storage, data processing etc., hosted on the internet. It is a much reliable and feasible approach than owning a physical computing infrastructure for a team. Tools such as Dropbox, Google Suite allows a virtual team to collaborate individually while having access to shared documents, calendars, drives etc.
4. Virtual assistant
A virtual assistant is a person used to save time on tasks like scheduling, digital marketing tasks, managing meeting/events for managing the virtual team. They act as a medium to achieve productivity even when an individual is not working because a virtual assistant performs tasks for you. The concept is increasing at an alarming rate.
According to, Gartner, Inc. by the year 2021, “25 per cent of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant (VEA) daily.”
5. Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the process of mimicking human thinking. It works to solve computing problems using vast data. For example, Netflix uses AI to display videos based on your watching habit.
Similarly, in the virtual workplace, AI can replace entry-level, task-heavy jobs including Al software engineers, computer vision engineers, data scientists etc. the more advancement is made in Al greater the likelihood of expansion will be in the virtual workforce.
Now that you have the tools for virtual workplace let’s move on how to create one?
How to create a virtual workplace?
1. Estimate the digital maturity of the workplace
Step 1 is estimating the digital maturity of your future workplace. Digital maturity is the digital capabilities of an organisation. It should be measured across the different component of the organisation:
Technology should be adopted, implemented in a way to increase efficiency, productivity and flexibility of the virtual workplace. For example, selection of the right cloud computing tool for which suits your virtual workforce, or the right technology to meet your customer goals.
- Workforce and Culture
Digital maturity of your employees, managers and other workers affects your workplace directly. Your workers should be pro advanced towards innovation and change to build a virtual workplace.
The more digital mature an organisation will be the more productive it will be as a virtual workforce.
2. Design a strategic roadmap
Step 2 in creating a virtual workplace is designing a strategic roadmap with the help of estimation you’ve made in step 1.
A pre-designed roadmap towards the ultimate goal of the organisation should be created. Goals, duties, required skillsets should be mapped for the employees. The assumptions of being affected by technology should be charted well before. Because a virtual workplace doesn’t offer the perk of face to face training by managers to employees.
A successful strategy of a virtual workplace is always employee-centric. Because employees are the drivers of the workplace. They should be motivated, fully engaged, well trained with a structured approach which focuses more on enhancing employee growth even over the company growth.
Lastly, a strategic roadmap should consist of detailed communication. In a virtual workplace, employees are required to make reports of the task which are then documented. The steps of the report should be written in a way which conveys crystal clear communication and is self-explanatory to the managers. Unlike the digital workplace, you do not get to walk into the meeting to explain your report. Hence, effective and clear communication is a must.
3. Provide virtual employees with the right tools and training
Step 3 is providing the right tools to virtual workers where they have access to continuous learning throughout their careers to keep up with the technological advancement and changing job requirement. For example, the ability to use computer software effectively, finance management which affects their work performance.
Secondly, tools which can keep up effective communication, management, function between virtual workers should be provided. (discussed in the article above).
4. Provide support, reinforcement, & make adjustments as needed
Final step: Similar to the normal workplace, a virtual workplace should be evaluated timely as it progresses.
The ability to be successful in a virtual workplace comes with improved work efficiency, advanced innovation, 100% agile virtual management or even by saving a project from failure as a team.
A virtual team should focus on optimizing:
- Data collection
- Learning & training
The ability to react to data quickly and making adjustments in technology are the key for a working virtual workplace.
Benefits of Virtual Workplace
1. Increase competitive capabilities
This is one of the most valuable benefits. A virtual workforce can cut across boundaries and work globally. The ability to access global markets increases competitive capabilities as this increases many more opportunities for work, increases network and increases the ability to respond rapidly to changing business environment. These virtual companies can increase their structure by pooling their resources, expertise and technology with other smaller virtual companies across the globe. Hence, increasing competitive capabilities.
These the company can change its pattern; it has operational flexibility plus the flexibility of working remotely around the world. In a virtual workplace, resources are kept at an optimum level since the work in each location by sharing work. Which results in financial flexibility as well.
3. Improve customer services
In a virtual workplace, workers are linked more to customers through marketing campaigns, business activities, client linking campaigns etc. than in the traditional workplace. They can listen to the problems and provide an instant solution to their customers than in a traditional space. Any feedback from clients can be incorporated in business which in turn results in fewer errors in the process and hence, improved customer services.
Challenges of a Virtual Workplace
1. High cost
A virtual workplace has high operational cost also including training and maintenance. Advanced technology does not come cheap. Tools, training methods, cloud storage per individual sums up to a large amount.
2. Trust and respect
In a virtual workplace, workers are trained to complete the project without detailed planning. This results in not spending much time with co-workers as in the traditional workplace. This affects the trust and respect factor between members of virtual teams.
When a team member experience no contact with team members, it can lead him/her demotivated and isolated. Contributing major hours of the day working with co-workers you cannot meet can create a feeling of deep isolation and loneliness.
The current merging of technology and communication is facilitating the trend towards the virtual workplace. As the growth in the virtual workplace accelerates organisations faces new challenges to cope up with this new workplace structure. With the advancement of AI and augmentation, it will only rise. Management should in fact now learn to abide by the motto:
“Moving work to where people are, rather than people to where the work is.”