Updated: Apr 25, 2020
There is an English proverb which says, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, which roughly means, that the primary driving force for most new inventions or change, is a need or a demand.
COVID-19, the epic pandemic, has sent the economy into a tizzy. The pandemic has impacted lives and living in various ways, big and small. Businesses are trying to be innovative and are scrambling to operate as efficiently as possible during this crisis. The spread of the virus and the inevitable lock-down across countries, has given birth to virtual workplaces. Business owners, management and employees are now operating remotely from each other and this is a reality, a reality which could soon become a trend.
Overnight, the pandemic has changed work culture, thoughts and processes. Work from Home was an option before, now a necessity. The reason for establishing virtual workplaces is default, but the efficiency is what every business owner, every professional every service provider must work together to progressively achieve.
What is a Virtual Workplace?
A virtual workplace is where a team creates such a work environment that, although not physically present in one certain office or location, they meet, collaborate and interact successfully, using tools and technology needed to get their job done with minimum roadblocks or process deviations.
Advantages of having a Virtual Workplace
Although this doesn’t apply to the current situation (COVID-19), since it is a forced situation, especially for business owners where the costs and overheads are only duplicated, virtual workplaces do have advantages, especially if it is the initial set-up for a business.
Cost Effective – helps cut down costs, especially support costs like transportation, office-insurance, travel expenses (domestic & international), retention costs, maintenance & infrastructure (rent, laptops, workstations, electricity, staff welfare, etc.) costs and so on. Many companies have seen the benefits of virtual workplaces and are eliminating offices for many employees except for those who are truly needed to be physically present.
Increased Productivity & Ownership – especially for employees who want to showcase their skills and want to prove their competence. Such employees are self-powered, have a high sense of ownership and don’t need to be continuously monitored.
Easy on the Environment - Virtual workplaces contribute hugely to eliminating traffic chaos, air pollution, reduce carbon footprints, since huge workplaces requires that kind of cooling setup, server set-up, and more.
Increased Business Opportunities – If the virtual set-up is spread globally, there is exposure to local markets which can create more business opportunities thus more profits
Happier Employees – Since the business do not pay too much infrastructural costs, which would otherwise cost a company a fortune, the profit margin naturally increases. A part of the profit can be shared with employees which would be an added motivation to perform.
Although there are quite a few advantages of having a Virtual Workplace, it is equally important to know how to supervise such arrangements to get the best out of it. Managers and supervisors need to have a very strong plan in place to ensure that the company gets maximum employee productivity with a focus on results.
Some clashes are bound to occur in a virtual set-up which managers should be aware of and should have the skills and tools to handle.
Throwing light on some of the set-backs that one could encounter when handling a virtual workplace team:
Isolation issues – An office atmosphere is an energetic and competing one, motivating people to perform and give their best. There is a lot of energy and excitement which gets passed on from one to the other in such an environment. Virtual workplace is, most often, where people work in isolation. Here it is very easy to get demotivated, loss of energy, procrastinate and get into a comfort zone
Trust Issues – Virtual workplace employees have access to data which could be confidential. If the employee does not have integrity, the data could fall into the hands of competitors, thus creating a loss for the business. Not very business owner or manager is comfortable sharing such data with every employee
Ownership issues – Not every employee is a committed one. Some work only for getting some money or passing their time, although they can be productive if managed well. For such employees, there is no ownership towards their job or towards the company. For such employees, it is very easy to play hookey, as they have no ownership or dedication towards their work. A manager would, many times, have to micro-manage such employees to ensure targets and deadlines are met
Productivity issues – Working from home gets even the best into a comfort zone. Since the environment and culture of the working space is not a professional one, there is a tendency for people to slack. This could lead to deviation from targets which could mean a setback, even for the well intentioned.
How can a manager and employees make it efficient and thriving
There are various ways and methods to ensure the success of a flexible work arrangement. What is important here is, both manager and employees should support each other in making it efficient and successful.
Virtual Workplace Policies and Procedures: Document the rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts so that clear understanding of working requirements are enabled.
Set and maintain expectations: Clearly articulate – verbally and in writing – your objectives and expectations from your team. Explore and communicate virtual options to increase engagement and productivity on your team. Articulating your objectives will help you monitor and measure the results and will function as a guidepost along the way
Set performance parameters: Since you manage a virtual team there are bound to be challenges in keeping your team on track since this kind of arrangement works on trust, support, motivation and professionalism. Establish clear performance goals and performance parameters, rewards and recognition parameters, periodic feedback, transparent communication, and so on. This will help in eliminating many of the challenges and keeping your team on track.
Identify your infrastructural toolkit: Very important to create an infrastructure that is uniform across the team. This will help avoid various issues and excuses since all are working on common platforms, using the same system. Customize your presentation templates, charts, messaging and communication platforms, so that everyone in the team are using the same tool-kit.
Support and Training: Provide support and training as and when required. It creates an environment of caring and growth. There are many online portals which provide e-learning courses which can be tapped if you don’t want to spend on physical training courses.
Follow-up: Follow-up ensures that work gets completed, and there is better communication and alignment with your team. Follow-ups give employees the opportunity to share their achievements and frustrations with their managers. It also gives the employee the satisfaction of knowing that his/her manager cares about them, which increases engagement and motivation.
It is all a matter of perspective.The perception of ‘working environment’ has changed. The trend of “blended” environments is a reality now. Organizations and employees are open and comfortable to spending time, both at the office and working from home. Companies are experiencing a surge in employee satisfaction which this flexible working environment has bought in its wake, enabling more productive virtual work forces and cost-effectiveness for companies.
During times where we need to rely purely on technology for communication, we have to make sure we do it right. Learn to enhance virtual communication by understanding how to use the camera , your body language and your voice along with visual aids to excel.
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