It has never been easier to add a virtual team member; however, integrating these technologically connected employees into the office culture remains a challenge.
A large number of companies already employ virtual workers, and the amount of companies accommodating these digital staffers is only expected to grow. The coming influx of virtual workers will not only have a significant impact on corporate culture but also the role of FM providers.
According to survey participants from our ISS 2020 Vision: New Ways of Working report, virtual working habits will have the greatest influence on office design in the next couple of years:
The growing trend of virtual work brings with it a number of benefits, challenges, and implications that FMs need to prepare for.
The benefits of having a virtual workforce
Customization: Employees are increasingly calling for more flexibility. Telecommuting is just one example of the current tools available to employees that enable them to assert more control over their daily schedules.
Access: Anyone with a laptop and a Skype account could become your company’s next employee. Technology has enabled companies to gain access to a much broader talent pool. Given the current war for talent this is an essential development in the realm of hiring. These global employees can provide numerous benefits to companies, such as exposure in new markets.
Optimization: With fewer employees using the company’s offices as their primary workspace, companies can inhabit smaller office spaces. Besides providing significant cost savings, this allows companies to decrease their environmental footprint by minimizing excess square footage.
The challenges associated with a virtual workforce
Leadership: Management’s leadership abilities will be tested in these virtual work environments, which require new styles of management. Communication in virtual work environments demands much more open and consistent communication with employees than face-to-face communication. This is just one example of the changes managers must make when working with a digital staff.
Engagement: With no water cooler to gather around on breaks, virtual workers can become isolated from a company’s culture. Managers must make added efforts to engage virtual workers and integrate them into the company’s culture.
Recognition: Physical absence from an office can significantly hinder a virtual worker’s potential career path. The London Business School and the University of California Davis discovered that virtual workers are typically passed over for promotions, receive lower employee evaluations, and receive fewer and smaller wage increases than traditional workers.
The virtual workforce of the future will have several implications for FM providers. To prepare for these challenges, FM providers must reconsider the technical, design, and managerial service offerings provided to customers.
The implications for FM providers in a virtual workplace
Technology: FM providers must remain forward thinking in their planning. Measures must be taken to guarantee that virtual workers are able to connect to the office from anywhere in the world through both wired and wireless networks. Consistent connectivity will support virtual workers using online collaboration platforms such as Slack, Podio, and Basecamp to name a few. Other tools that enable space reservation and package delivery support services are examples of how FM providers could potentially innovate to offer an enhanced work experience to the virtual workforce of the future.
Design: Virtual workers should be encouraged to frequent the office to help establish a sense of engagement and community. The virtual workers of the future will still need to socialize with colleagues in a physical setting, so whether this interaction occurs at the office or a third location it is important that the virtual worker feels included. To help develop this sense of inclusion, FM providers need to ensure that the overall workspace will be attractive and can house virtual workers when, and if, they feel the need to come into the office.
Management: The flexibility afforded to virtual workers can present new challenges to managers accustomed to evaluating and organizing workflow through face-to-face communication. These same challenges apply to FM providers, which need to develop their own leadership competencies for managing more virtual workers. These new practices involve a managerial style that is more empathetic, emotionally intelligent, and sensitive.
As workers continue to demand greater flexibility from their employers, the virtual worker will no longer be the exception. These digitally empowered employees will come to be referred to solely as workers. The growing number of virtual employees demonstrates how, “technology and globalization have transformed what it takes to succeed in business.”
FM providers equipped to manage this evolution will enable employers to reduce overhead costs, provide employees with a greater sense of work-life balance, and reduce the environmental impact attributed to traditional office commuters.
This blog post features research from ISS 2020 Vision: New Ways of Working report.
For more insights into the role of technology and the future workplace, read more from our previous blog post: How the Internet of Things will change the world of FM.
What is your experience with managing a virtual workforce or being a virtual worker? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.