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26th January 2012
“The Internet is like alcohol in some sense. It accentuates what you would do anyway. If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone. If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect. “
Esther Dyson, Interview in Time Magazine, October 2005
The question is, does the internet make workers work more or work better? The answer seems to be “yes”, on both counts.
In 2011, Microsoft commissioned a study into attitudes of employees towards flexible working. The survey was carried out with 1,500 full and part-time employees in 15 countries, including a small Irish sample. The summary results show that more than half of respondents have caring responsibilities, such as caring for children, (39%), and caring for pets, (23%). Three quarters of workers responded that their lives would be better if they could work flexibly.
Virtual workers now have the choice not only of when they work, but also from where they work. Microsoft has gone on to envisage the workplace of the future, based on the study, called “The New World of Work”. From this study, it was identified that the workplace of the future will be defined by three things – people, place and technology. It stands to reason that if your work time and place can be flexible enough for you to pop out to take care of a childcare issue, and still get your work done, that is a “win, win” for both employer and employee.
Generation Y doesn’t draw the distinct line between work and home life that earlier generations did. It’s an “always on” generation with mobile devices providing access to music, social networks and even work email throughout the day. As long as office workers can access the internet, they can work from pretty much anywhere. Their files can be accessed via Virtual Personal Networks, (VPN), via specialist cloud providers or via “off the shelf” solutions such as the “Dropbox” application. These technological solutions are either inexpensive or even free to use.
You can for example, work in a hotel lobby once your meeting there finishes, maybe completing your reports with the meeting still fresh in your mind and / or to avoid the rush hour commute home. Being away from the clutter and distraction of an office environment can actually enhance creativity and productivity. It is well documented that JK Rowling often chose to work on her Harry Potter novels in a hotel for that very reason.
Ideally, virtual workers should spend at least some of their time in the offices of their employer. This would ensure that virtual workers are a real part of the team and form the working bonds with their colleagues that are necessary for team work. Humans do rely heavily on visual clues or body language to make decisions and move projects forward. One of the challenges for virtual workers and their employers is to ensure that promotion paths are not adversely affected by being literally beyond the boundaries of the work space.
What are the benefits of a virtual workforce?
· Reduced costs
· Reduced commute time
· Happier workers
· Lower staff turnover
· Improved productivity
· Cutting down on pollution from commuting.
People, place and technology already converge to make virtual working a possibility. Virtual working is possible for all sizes of business, from tiny start-ups to corporations, thanks to the range and affordability of technological options. It may not work for everyone, but studies have repeatedly shown that there are considerable advantages to virtual workers.
Are virtual workers something that your business has considered?