Organizations Are Switching to Virtual Teams, But Not All Are Ready

At the onset of the shelter in place orders and the subsequent transition for many to the remote working model, one of the first questions that was asked was, “how will this impact the future of work?” With shelter in place restriction loosening and some employers starting or planning to start bringing employees back to the office, we are beginning to see a more concrete answer: the future of work is virtual. The problem is that not all organizations are ready to transition to virtual teams.

Many Employees Prefer Working Remotely

A recent Gallup poll reveals a staggering revelation: about half of workers would prefer to work from home even after the Coronavirus pandemic has subsided and it is safe to go back to the office. Some cite COVID-19 as a continued concern, while others simply prefer the flexibility of working from home. Regardless, what employees want from their organizations has changed. The ability to work from home has become, for many, a key factor when determining where to work, along with other key factors such as compensation, benefits, and company culture.

Organizations Are Warming to a Remote Workforce

Having been forced to adopt virtual teams for the first time, many organizations that were previously skeptical of utilizing remote workers have now seen that it can not only work but also potentially benefit the organization through reduced expenses. By hiring a remote workforce, organizations can save on office space, commuter benefits, utilities, coffee and snacks, and other expenses.

The ability to offer remote positions allows organizations to better attract and retain top talent as well. Sheltering in place orders have given many employees their first real taste of remote work, and now that they have experienced working from home and found that it can be successful, they find that they would much prefer an employer that gives them the option. In a recent poll performed by analyst Jeremiah Owyang, 44% of respondents said that they would be fine taking a 10% reduction in their compensation if it allowed them to work remotely. For those living in areas with a high cost of living, such as New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area, having the ability to move to a less expensive area could potentially offset the pay cut, resulting in a win for both the employer and the employee.

External Factors Are Prompting Organizations to Consider Virtual Teams

Organizations are being encouraged to pursue telework from external entities as well. The CDC, in its “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” recommends that employers utilize “flexible worksites” if possible. The CDC also recommends maintaining social distancing in the office for the time being, suggesting that employees sit at least 6 feet apart and, should that not be possible, to erect barriers between employees.

To fit employees into offices while maintaining social distancing could require some employers to either pay to erect barriers or expand the size of their offices. Either option could potentially be expensive and therefore encourage organizations to choose remote work as a safe alternative. The CDC’s recommendations run counter to workplace trends of the past 10+ years, which have been to create open environments that are designed to spur collaboration and community.

The Future is Coming Fast

Remote work is naturally a trend that had been going strong before the COVID-19 pandemic; the crises simply accelerated it. The below graph shows interest in “remote jobs” since 2004. As you can see, it has been steadily growing over the course of the past decade, finally reaching its peak in recent months.

2020-05-26 13_24_40-remote jobs - Explore - Google Trends

Similarly, interest in “remote companies” has also been growing over the years before spiking in 2020.

2020-05-26 13_27_00-remote companies - Explore - Google Trends

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Shopify, and more have recently announced that they plan on giving their employees the option to work from either home entirely or part-time. Obviously, this is limited to those employees who can work remotely, and many employees may also choose to continue working out of the office, but the move shows a commitment to remote staffing.

Tech companies are leading the charge, which makes sense given that most already have the infrastructure in place to support remote work. Older organizations that still have not undergone a digital transformation are in a very different position, however.

Preparing for the Remote Future with HR and Finance Transformation

Though many were able to make the switch to a remote workforce with the onset of shelter in place orders, larger organizations that are farther behind on their digital transformation journeys are not able to operate as efficiently as those that have transformed. And while these organizations may have found workarounds or solutions to help them function as a virtual office, they lack the long-term digital infrastructure needed to maximize their virtual teams.

While some organizations may have dipped their toes into digital transformation, adopting modern, cloud-based marketing or collaboration tools, many have not transformed key components of their digital infrastructure, such as HR and finance. These organizations may have felt that they could put off an HR and finance transformation for at least a few years. As mentioned earlier, however, change is accelerating, and organizations that have not done so already need to get serious about starting their transformation process or risk becoming unable to compete.

Some industries will most likely need to go remote sooner rather than later. Higher education, for example, will need to make the switch to online classes quickly in order to meet students’ changing expectations.

One thing is certain when it comes to the future: those that can adapt quickly will thrive and those that don’t can't risk becoming obsolete. The future of work is virtual, and those that can quickly adapt to this new reality will find themselves well-positioned in the years to come.

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