(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed below are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
Technology has dramatically reordered the shape of our lives. The rise of the "smart" ecosystem has put the internet in our pockets, on our wrists and even in our cars.
From the way we travel to the way we eat, from the way we watch television to the way we shop, it has touched every aspect of our lives. In fact, it has rewritten the rules for not just the way we live. But it has also completely changed the way we work.
Just as we are increasingly living our day-to-day lives online, so too are we spending most of our working hours in the virtual world. Technology has made it possible for a company to become one of the world’s largest ride-hailing businesses without owning a single car.
It has propelled the rise of another into one of the most popular accommodation providers despite not owning a single room.
And that same technology is facilitating the rise of the virtual workspace. A virtual workspace allows an employee to work from anywhere.
Imagine waking up, getting a cup of coffee and having to walk only two steps to your “office”. Imagine not having to spend hours in traffic or overcrowded trains. Imagine waking up at 0830 in the morning for your 0900 shift. Imagine doing away with the struggle of getting to work altogether.
It might sound too good to be true but it’s not, because virtual workspaces make it possible. The benefits are obvious for both the employee and the organization.
For an employee, a virtual workspace makes it easier to strike a better work-life balance. More employees are growing increasingly conscious of having a work-life balance.
This is all the more crucial in cities like Mumbai where people spend a big part of their day simply commuting. Think about it – for most of us and our colleagues today the grind is relentless. Wake up, commute, work, commute, eat, sleep and wake up again…our lives revolve around getting to work, working and then getting back from work.
A virtual workspace gives employees the time and freedom to pursue their passions, interests, and hobbies. You have more of the day to yourself and time left over after work to do what you like to recharge your batteries.
The hour or two an employee would have otherwise spent commuting is now theirs to apply to whatever pursuits they choose to, be that reading a book, going to the movies or simply taking a walk. Employees are happier, more productive and more motivated to return to work.
Virtual workspaces also boost efficiency and cut costs. You can hold a meeting with someone in another part of the country or even all the way across the world via teleconferencing or video conferencing and can stay in touch via WhatsApp groups with teammates who may be in different cities but working on the same projects you are.
Equally, they also make employees and companies more productive simply because they free up time to get more done.
For instance, you’ve just finished a teleconferencing "meeting’ with a team member in New York. The very next minute you can be in a "meeting" with a colleague in Shanghai. At the same time, you could be tackling an entirely different task with a whole different team via a WhatsApp group, giving an employee and business dynamism, nimbleness and versatility, they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Virtual workspaces can also grow the collective brain trust an organization has at its disposal through skill dispersion. Typically, an employee’s exposure would be limited to his immediate colleagues in the physical office.
But virtual workspaces, by expanding the boundaries of what makes an ‘office’, has the potential to give an employee the chance to interact with colleagues from around the world, who bring varying backgrounds, competencies and skillsets to the table.
The exposure these interactions give employees help them pick up new skills, spark new ideas and foster creativity in the day to day work they do.
Naturally, there are downsides to working virtually – chief among them being discipline. Working from home brings with it its distractions and its temptations. You don’t have the peer pressure to stay focused on the job at hand that you usually would from your colleagues working around you in a physical office.
Many employees may possibly be living in small homes where they don’t have the room to create a workspace closed off to domestic disturbances and distractions.
At the same time it’s easier to feel disengaged and lack a sense of ownership with regards to an organization’s business goals when you’re solely working from home. The lack of physical human interaction can also be counterproductive and detrimental to a sense of team spirit.
This is why, for all its benefits, an organization will find it hard to go fully virtual in the near future. There needs to be some physical interaction with the workplace. Just how much depends on the organization and the industry they operate in.
Virtual workspaces are more suitable to some industries like advertising and consulting, than others, like manufacturing. Still, there’s no reversing the shift. To a lesser or greater extent, workplaces are going virtual.
Virtual workspaces are the way of the future and that future is now.
(The author is Executive Vice President – Group Human Capital & Leadership Development at Mahindra & Mahindra.)