The Digital Age has given rise to the virtual office.
A virtual office is a workplace where a significant proportion of the workforce work from home, making full use of online resources and platforms, including group chat, messaging and online collaborative apps that facilitate communication and coordination.
For employers, a virtual office means lower operating costs, since a the company no longer has to pay for office rental, cable subscription, housekeeping and office maintenance costs, landlines, electricity and other utilities.
On the other hand, the home-based employees are spared the daily hassle of commuting and the rising cost of transportation. All they are required is to drop by during weekly staff meetings and to attend training programs, when there is one. Working from home also means being able to keep an eye on the children and doing away with hiring household help. All these can translate to a better work-life balance.
And – very relevant to today’s prevalent public health concerns — going virtual seems to be the way to go for workplaces seeking to protect employees from the Covid-19 menace. What could be more compliant with the social-distancing prescription against the dreaded contagion than to telecommute and work from home?
In India, news reports say that many multinationals have directed employees to work from home.
However, before business owners make any rash decision, they should make sure going virtual would indeed work for them.
A virtual office is not for all businesses.
There are businesses that require employees to always be on the frontline and constantly serving and interacting with customers. This is true of most retailing and food service business like restaurants and fast-food chains.
Moreover, in spite of its obvious advantages, there is a downside to a virtual type of operations.
Being a virtual employee this may mean being on call most of the time.
Virtual employment can isolate workers. Extroverts, especially, will miss the camaraderie in face to face interaction – the laughs, the sharing, the exchange of experiences and commentaries, the small talk (trivial but fun), the friendships formed when people work side by side. With a diminished team spirit, motivation may decline and with it, productivity as well.
A virtual setup will hinder communication and slow down decision-making.
A virtual office can be misunderstood by the public. Some customers may think that a virtual office manned by remote employees is not an authentic company. Such misconception will undermine marketing efforts.
There is more security risks in managing a virtual office.Employers must make sure all devices used by employees are encrypted and password-protected.
If remote access to business data is not deployed carefully, it leaves a company at high risk. This may open opportunities for hackers to access highly confidential business information.
Therefore, unless an employer is willing to invest a lot of money in cyber security and unless he is prepared to lay down measures to neutralize the communication gap, the dimunition of team spirit, and other dangers in a remote set up, he must think very carefully before going virtual.
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