By John King
Even those organizations with a zero-tolerance stance on remote work have had to make adjustments to their policies and roll with the realities in light of COVID-19. With extended shelter-in-place mandates, long-term school closures resulting in parents juggling work and distance learning, and infection rates that lower then spike again, returning to the office en masse may not happen any time soon.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For years, studies have shown the upsides of allowing employees to work from home: more work-life balance, less stress, higher morale, and increased productivity, all contributing to a healthier bottom line for businesses. Then there are infrastructure cost-savings. No employees in an office means no need to keep the lights on (or HVAC), and in some cases, no office is needed at all.
But there are other benefits to virtualizing an organization that turn the necessities of the current business environment into real opportunities. More than a few new capabilities, like remote learning, flexible staffing, and virtual recruiting have been developed out of necessity over the past 6 to 8 months. Real value can come from making them ongoing corporate capabilities versus short-term, stop-gap measures.
If your company is considering embracing virtualization for the long haul–or at least for the foreseeable future–here are a few benefits to consider that could help your business thrive in this new environment:
- Expand into new markets: Entering a new market can be expensive. From opening satellite offices to recruiting and training local staff, it can also take some time. With a virtualized organization, you can approach a new market without related infrastructure costs normally associated with this kind of expansion, and without the lead time involved in setting up. In theory, armed with appropriate virtual capabilities, your business can reach anyone anywhere in the world–and fast. No excuses.
- Become more targeted: With a remote workforce, your teams are no longer limited to face-to-face discussions, or rather, in-person, face-to-face discussions (Thanks, Zoom!). Online capabilities make it easier to reach out to more potential clients, work with more people, pursue more opportunities, and become more niche. The result is your business can successfully target the right people quickly, using new and existing collaboration platforms and communications tools.
- Strengthen your workforce: Hiring the best people for the job is much easier and yields better results when you can cast a wider net. When filling remote roles, virtualized businesses can attract the most qualified candidates no matter where they are located, versus limiting their search to a narrow geographic area in which the best might just be the best for that location. Plus, there are the added benefits of not having to pay relocation expenses and not having waiting for a newly hired staff member to move and set up house before getting to work.
- Operate 24/7: With a virtualized organization, employees across the country–and around the world–can work across time zones to support clients wherever they are located. This ensures someone is always available to answer questions, troubleshoot issues, etc.–with no second shift and no overtime necessary. It also provides greater flexibility to employees (remember that part about increased morale and productivity?).
- Assure consistent operations: Establishing processes and policies across an organization is important to ensure everyone is engaging in work and performing to expectations. This is equally true of an all-virtual workforce, and one might think it more challenging to enforce with less in-person supervision and support. However, in remote work environments, there are powerful tools that track progress, facilitate collaboration, enable communication, and build connections between employees to keep business running smoothly during the new normal.
As highlighted in a recent Harvard Business Review article, the challenges of a remote workforce are real–for both companies and their employees. With the latter, domestic distractions and feelings of isolation can often become burdensome. Which is why it’s critical for any organization developing a roadmap to go 100% virtual to quickly establish ways to support remote work that keeps employees engaged and happy. Your bottom line will thank you.
For more insights on how businesses can plan for success during the COVID-19 pandemic, read HighPoint’s Managing the Whipsaw: Planning for the Next Normal and Musings of a Fallible Leader: Corporate Leadership in the Pandemic
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John King is a HighPoint consultant and the Managing Partner at Special Circumstances Partners with over 25 years of experience as a business leader and management consultant. John’s previous experience includes roles at McKinsey, Aon, TD Ameritrade, and ThoughtWorks. He serves senior executives in financial services, healthcare, and business services on topics of strategy, service operations, data and analytics, and performance improvement. John holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BS from Bates College.