As part of my job I advise companies about creating virtual work environments using a mix of business change roadmap’s, customized office space and staged technology deployments to help them attain their goals. During my presentations and conversations with clients I always accentuate the fact myself and others in my company ‘live a breath’ in environments where change is constant and our peers work around the world.

The pros of this sort of approach to the work place are many such as reduced real-estate costs, improved employee productivity, more customer face time, streamlined business processes, flexible work environments, better knowledge reuse that impacts customer service levels and employee expertise. There are many more that come to mind but I’m sure you get my point.

So what are the cons of such an approach to the workplace? Here are a few:

  • Disconnected team and individuals – people feel disconnected from their peers and the organization. Leads to poor morale, reduced loyalty and decreased productivity in some cases. As one of my IBM friends mentioned, they have had virtual workplaces since the early 90s – for them IBM stands for ‘I’m By Myself’.
  • Lack of context and visibility – with no face time its difficult to now the complexities of a situation or its context. For example, recently I as slapped for not completing my administrivia two weeks in row. I was on the road in multiple cities and put in 60+ hour work weeks. Stuff falls through the cracks and managers need to understand this. Jumping the gun and slapping employees kills morale especially when the employee isn’t the problem.
  • Discovery of resources – it becomes more difficult to onboard new employees – find resources, mentoring and learning the ropes. For existing employees, change places them in the same boat. Helping new managers and staff learn the ropes at my company is a continual reminder of this challenge in large ever changing organizations.

The use of tools such as SharePoint, Office Communication Server, Live Meeting, Cell Phones and purpose built office work spaces can significantly help address the functional problems (cons) mentioned but cannot help with cultural change and individual employee attitudes toward a changing workplace. For executives to truly benefit form virtual offices they must realize that more is at play than just technology deployments and that cultural change will take years.

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