Work is traditionally defined by where you go. But in today’s virtual world, it is defined by what you do.
The virtual workforce has grown significantly over the past two decades, and according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), it is expected to reach 1.3 billion people by 2015. IDC believes the virtual workforce growth will “enable existing companies to achieve greater productivity in the future.”
Impacting almost every aspect of business, this virtual workforce has the potential to transform the work environment.
Technology offers many benefits to businesses and individuals. For businesses, it has played a tremendous role in our ability to work in locations beyond the typical physical office setting.
Face-to-face meetings and cubicles no longer confine companies’ daily operations. Today, a webinar can connect people across a vast range of locations through Internet technology. This connection is even possible with a smartphone, thus reducing the need for office space and equipment and cutting corporate expenses.
Technology is able to assist businesses with managing costly expenditures. Human resources, or payroll, and the physical spaces and equipment required to run operations are two of the most expensive areas of any business. As more corporations move away from traditional brick-and-mortar business, expenses are being reduced on both accounts.
Human resource expenses decline as more employees take less money in, a trade-off for increased flexibility. Additionally, with rising health-care and benefits costs, a part-time or flextime employee can greatly reduce organizational expenses.
Utilizing a virtual workforce reduces the physical space required, as well as the furniture, fixtures, telephones, printers and utilities to support that workforce. Although expenses related to technology can offset these reductions, they are still significantly less than the true brick-and-mortar model.
Increasingly, communications and interactions are being enhanced with technology, and decisions can be made faster with better information. In the past, formal meetings meant slow decisions; now, companies have the ability to conduct shorter meetings, creating more availability for individuals to increase productivity.
In addition, the lack of a physical building cuts out the dreaded daily commute. Less time at work yields more flexible scheduling for individuals and more family time.
Businesses that have implemented successful virtual crossover models, including Bank One and Cisco, have reported greater job satisfaction, increased employee productivity and increased profit margins because of greater customer satisfaction.
Despite the numerous benefits, some companies are choosing to continue using traditional means of business for several reasons. First and foremost, going virtual requires a change in the way they do business and the model in which they manage their people.
In addition, businesses have traditionally managed and rewarded physical presence. But in a virtual world, everything is based on results. Finally, a fear of a complete virtual crossover still exists.
We will always need some level of human interaction to be effective. But increasingly we are shopping, learning, socializing and playing virtually. Now, it is time we add working to that list.
Dalton Cox is a junior at Anderson University studying information systems and project management.