When the pandemic hit early in 2020, many organizations shuttered their offices and sent employees home to work remotely. The shift to the virtual office was a massive adjustment—but for some organizations, it might have been for the best.
Supporting virtual collaboration in the workplace is a challenge; but the shift in workplace norms also represents an opportunity—and the organizations that seize it might thrive well beyond a disrupted year. To translate the challenges associated with going virtual into assets, business leaders must approach change with a fresh perspective. In other words, they need to view remote work as a competitive advantage, not a challenge.
Leaders need to acknowledge the permanence of remote work—and tap into its emerging potential—and rely more heavily on technology. Organizations that do so also need to embrace their new status as a bionic organization—one that harnesses the technology that enables remote work and flexible human capabilities to foster virtual collaboration, support rapid decision-making and further develop flexible working models.
Imagine possibilities, accept realities
If the shift to remote work has taught us anything, it's the limitations of virtual collaboration. The shift has been frustrating, in no small part because of the distance inherent in remote work. This isn't a new concept: In 2018, the Harvard Business Review described three kinds of distance that remote teams face:
- Physical, covering place and time
- Operational, covering team size, skill levels and bandwidth
- Affinity, covering trust, values and interdependencies
Moreover, according to Deloitte, ”distance” leave workers facing a host of new challenges including new distractions (such as working from busy home environments), new technical difficulties (such as new software with steep learning curves), new ergonomic issues (such as screen fatigue) and the inability to engage directly with colleagues and leaders.
Still, there are many benefits of the remote work structure. In fact, one of the most widely recognized benefits is that it provides access to a deeper and broader available talent pool. Organizations the world over are learning that talent isn't focused in a few select cities.
"Talent pools change with greater remote work," said Melissa Swift, the global leader for digital transformation at Korn Ferry in an article on digital workforce transformation. "There's wonderful talent available outside Silicon Valley, Boston, etc., [and] at a lower cost."
Individual employees benefit from going remote, too. Text-based communication levels the playing field and democratizes work interactions. Loud voices don't drown out soft ones. Team members who might be less enthusiastic about speaking up in person might feel more comfortable sharing ideas or feedback in virtual sessions.
Businesses are taking advantage of these emerging dynamics by investing in solutions that support synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, such as virtual whiteboards, enterprise video communications, project collaboration software, online interactive training and file-sharing solutions. The tools they deploy are often multifaceted. For example, BlueJeans by Verizon enables remote workers to virtually meet and communicate with teammates, partners and customers, while leveraging in-app intelligence to capture important discussion points and assign action items that make each meeting more efficient.
Answering the security question
The trade-off for the increased flexibility that comes with working remotely is a wider attack surface and increased security threats. The pandemic has shifted how hackers work and who they target, luring anxious remote employees into more phishing schemes and launching more malware attacks.
Exposed remote connections and new security challenges have left many organizations vulnerable—especially on the mobile front, with many employees using unprotected mobile and personal devices to access information that previously was siloed inside company networks. The number of unprotected endpoints has exploded—and if they are not properly encrypted, they risk being accessed by unknown (and possibly malicious) parties. For industries like healthcare and finance, which are frequently targeted by bad actors, this is familiar territory; but even they have had to contend with new disruptions like Zoom bombing.