Virtual Office Environment

Working virtually (from a home office) is no longer a rare situation. In fact, my entire team works virtually from various locations around the world. This is a paradigm shift regardless of the role you hold in your organization, because most of us are accustomed to leaving the house to go to work every morning.

Shifting to this new way of working was a natural progression for us over the last several years. Given we are in a new client implementations environment, it’s not difficult to understand the rationale for shifting to virtual work. Implementations require constant long hours, and the valuable team members who are willing to put in the long hours want the “time back” in their day in the form of an eliminated drive into work and back home, etc. The virtual work set-up is a great compromise between the needs of the company and the personal life needs of each of our team members.

As in other businesses, the bar is constantly raising for performing the work faster and more efficiently, and it’s difficult to find talented, hardworking people, let alone find them in an exact location. Without the existence of a talented group of people who are also flexible and committed to achieving the goals of each client implementation, we are more likely to fail.

In a recent PM Network edition (, I read an interesting article highlighting a software company functioning entirely virtually. The article presented some unique perspectives on the benefits of virtual work environments:

  • They can be more efficient.
  • They help get the right people to the right places.
  • You tend to track  outcome-based results (rather than effort-based).

While there are numerous benefits, there are also challenges (from my personal experience). It is:

  • More difficult to form personal connections – technology such as video conference calls, instant messaging, etc don’t bridge the gap
  • More difficult to people and project manage – while everyone generally works the same hours, it’s not uncommon for someone to be unreachable when you need them

Not every role/industry can convert to a virtual environment. Industries like manufacturing will always be in-person. Other industries that have typically been in-the-office will soon become more virtual. For example, customer service center positions have begun to transform in terms of the ability to perform the job from the employee’s home. While rare now, this may begin to shift over the next decade, especially for companies looking to provide a more differentiated customer experience by employing the best resources.

Do you agree or disagree with the benefits of virtual environments listed above? Do you think the pendulum will swing back the other way, towards a more in-person work environment, as our business landscape continues to shift towards the knowledge sector?

4 thoughts on “Virtual Office Environment

  1. I think we are going to see more virtual offices, or different kinds of office environments. For me, I have occasionally worked from home – with no distraction and the fact that I can start work 2 hours earlier (no need to curl the hair or commute), I get a ton of work done! And usually those pesky tasks that are difficult to get done in the office. I could see a lot of offices offering flexible schedules where people are allowed to work from home one or two days a week and in the office the rest. I do think most companies need to realize that with all our technology, a physical office can be more of a burden than a benefit.

  2. The last two companies I worked through (in the higher education tech industry) have offered work from home days. I’ve also worked on teams where close to half of the department works remotely and does not commute to a corporate office. While the flexibility is nice, I’ve found that personal connections are strained. There is something about being able to stop by someone’s desk informally and hearing others around the office that you can’t replicate with virtual meetings.

    That being said I agree with the benefits of virtual teams. A project manager in this type of situation needs to have a strong understanding of team dynamics and work styles to reap those benefits. I’d also attribute successful virtual teams to organizational culture. If a company invests time in selecting tech services with good user interfaces, as well as promoting the culture through the technology, virtual teams are able to build on those strong connections (even without walking by someone’s desk!). Companies I’ve seen do this well usually offer virtual team members annual trips to come to team building events with coworkers, host all staff and company wide meetings with robust teleconferencing services, and recognize virtual team members in performance awards regularly. I think a hybrid between in-person work environments and virtual teams will become the norm instead of leaning towards one extreme or the other.

  3. I love this post Milena! The part that speaks to me is where you key on to the benefits of virtual work environments. Outcome related results make way more sense to me than effort-based. Yes, effort is important but if you put in 8 hours and still have junk results the then process needs to change, something needs to be corrected. Whereas being rewarded with freedom of time by doing efficient quality work, makes total sense. I think that you can operate on a much more outcome-based results system when you are virtual.

    I can imagine the challenges for virtual work but I would love to experience them first hand! My office space is still pretty traditional in regards to clocking in and out even when it is completely unnecessary. I can see things starting to shift and I’m glad for it!

    In regards to business on the whole, I think it would be ideal if the pendulum could sit in the middle! I think, unfortunately it is more the organization or the leadership that decide the appropriateness or virtual work vs in-person work rather than the reality of what is better suited. Overall I agree that the hybrid between in-person work environments and virtual teams is ideal so I hope Alecia is right that that is becoming the norm!

  4. Nice post. I have struggled with the working virtually concept especially as a manager. I manage a team of 11 and one of team members handles the larger projects on the team, those that require capital funding. That person is constantly interacting with the team to see what how they can improve processes and what type of tools our team needs in an every changing industry. While I think the function can be done remotely. I don’t think there would be the same level of interaction. Also have someone sit next to you, where they are available at any moment has some significant benefits to it. It eliminates the need for a whole team to schedule a meeting. It’s also hard to trust that the person is working to their full capacity without seeing it first hand.

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