The financial benefits of reduced overhead costs are obvious.
So is the benefit to the worker: less time commuting, more flexibility, more time at home to spend with the family, etc.
With quality videoconferencing, cloud computing, and innovative collaboration tools now easily available, “Should we go virtual?” is a question every organization, every team, every employee should ask…but it’s not the question I’m posing.
No, what’s far more of an interesting question to me is “Can you go virtual?”
If the answer is no, it might be because the command and control factory mentality that continues to dominate your organization is incompatible with virtual.
In the factory, decisions are made at the top and then management delegates resulting tasks to subordinates. Excessive meetings are the hallmark of this culture, because it’s a useful monitoring device to continually check status and make sure everyone is doing their work in a controlled way. After all, without frequent check-ins people might veer off the standard path and make mistakes. This quality control driven, observational style of management is very difficult to maintain virtually.
But the world and the economy are shifting.
As was articulated brilliantly in the book Linchpin, the new economy demands everyone in the organization to be creative and innovate, to draw their own maps, to initiate, to exert emotional labor in a way that creates value by continually redefining our job description instead of simply being shackled to it.
Relying on top down decision making to tell us what to do now is a severe disadvantage to the organization and its individual members. Organizations that rely on centralized control can’t possible innovate fast enough to keep up with the competition who empower all of its people to take responsibility for quick and intelligent decisions.
As for the worker, Tom Friedman writes in his new book, That Used to Be Us, “If you do a non routine high-skilled job in a routine way—if you are what we would call a “routine-creator—you will be vulnerable to outsourcing, automation, or digitization, or you will be the first to be fired in an economic squeeze.
The type of creative work necessary in the new economy requires more autonomy, space, and collaboration (but not over-collaboration). It just so happens the virtual work style tends to support this. Virtual workers are forced to work in a different way one that is more independent, more accountable for results (rather than actions), without the ability to hide inside of meetings or “look” productive. When you can’t consult on every decision or collaborate on every assignment, it enables individuals to start taking risks, and drawing their own maps. And maybe most importantly it forces teams and managers to agree on a clear strategy, vision and set of values that will guide them.
If just the thought of having one of your team members (or all) go virtual feels completely scary and unnatural, maybe that’s precisely the reason you should try it. Because although choosing to go virtual certainly isn’t for every company, the inability to go virtual might signal you haven’t adapted your organization to the new world we live in.