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Table of Contents

Virtual Workspace: what is it, should your organization be using it and how? Find out the pros and cons of this ubiquitous topic along with tips and tricks on how to manage it.

What Is a Virtual Workspace?

To understand the term virtual workspace, we need to understand the distinction between remote work and virtual workspace. These two terms can sometimes be used synonymously, along with other terms, such as telecommuting, telework, work from home, work from anywhere, mobile work, flexible workplace, virtual work, etc. Remote work implies an employee is working in a space at a distance from the office (hence the term “remote”). Pre-pandemic, this was typical for companies with employees in other parts of the world or across the country. Now, virtual workspace refers to a business that uses software and technology to interconnect teammates, regardless of physical location. Virtual workspaces are a direct result of remote work.

The concept of the virtual workspace and telework, in general, has become more popular throughout the pandemic and will likely change the landscape of some businesses in future years. According to a recent survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the pandemic resulted in a large increase in teleworking, with 33 percent of U.S. workers reporting teleworking because of the coronavirus in the period May-June 2020, before declining to a still substantial 22 percent in the fourth quarter.” With this comes the need for connectivity and communication, which the virtual workspace can provide.

Should Your Organization Use Virtual Workspaces?

If your organization is good with communication and setting clear goals, a virtual workspace might be the right fit. There are numerous factors to consider.

The Pros of Virtual Workspaces

  • Autonomy and flexibility. Work-life balance is a hot topic with the dominance of millennials in the workforce and is increasing in importance. The nine-to-five job is outdated and employees want more freedom while completing their workload. Technology can give them that freedom. If there’s a means to communicate and be connected to teammates virtually, there isn’t usually a need to be physically present in an office five days a week.
  • Recruitment and retention. According to research by Compare Camp, around 83% of applicants consider the ability to work remotely on some days as a clincher when choosing between two jobs. Similarly, around 60% of workers would consider leaving their current positions if they lose the flexibility to choose where and when to work. Lastly, 40% of employees working remotely say they are not stressed during a typical work day. The attraction of better work-life balance through virtual workspaces is an excellent recruitment and retention tool, attracts a broader market of talent, and helps keep employees happy.
  • Tracking company performance and employee accountability. Virtual workspaces promote the use of software and technology. This creates improved data tracking and overall company performance. For example, if a call center were to employ a virtual workspace, a telephone software would be able to intake calls, such as Calabrio and Cisco AnyConnect. Using this software enables quality assurance and pulls metrics and reporting to ensure high-quality calls and overall customer satisfaction. This can be done without a virtual workspace, but the technology itself allows employees to work remotely and promotes high customer service and connectedness with the work. This encourages greater conversations around performance using data-driven metrics and accountability, just as it would if using a physical workspace.
  • Saves money. Businesses that utilize virtual workspaces can save big on real estate costs and overhead, especially if they have multiple locations.

The Cons of Virtual Workspaces

While there are plenty of positives to virtual workspaces, there are a few drawbacks to consider.

  • Less face-to-face interaction. While virtual meetings are ever-present these days, they will never take the place of in-person interactions. Virtual interactions lack important social cues such as body language, facial expressions, and physical interactions like a hand on the shoulder or a high five. That can never be replaced with technology. A business must be prepared to address technology issues with those who can’t connect with a camera or aren’t comfortable using a camera. Efforts must be made to provide space for physical connection with teammates (more on this below).
  • Potential employee burnout. Deciding to use or not to use a camera for a meeting becomes a new area of complication when operating in a virtual workspace. The simple, camera-free phone call can easily become obsolete with the software utilized to connect employees remotely. It is important to set proper boundaries to avoid “Zoom fatigue.”
  • Cultural and socioeconomic concerns. A careful consideration for the HR professional is awareness of cultural and socioeconomic factors, such as embarrassing backgrounds, living arrangements, or appearance on camera. While there are virtual background options, this doesn’t remove all hesitations on this issue. A business needs to be respectful of employees’ privacy and move forward with empathy and compassion. Cameras can be encouraged without forcing trust or dictating employees choices

Popular Virtual Workspaces to Consider

Below are a few Virtual Workspaces to consider. When considering adopting any new software, a strategic review can help determine the best software for the business goals and needs. This review would include an environmental sca/SWOT analysis and the Request For Proposal (RFP) or Request For Quote (RFQ) process.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a group collaboration software that helps teams work together remotely.  Chat, video calls, and other collaboration tools are included in the app. Many large companies use this software, such as Ernst & Young and Pfizer, and some smaller companies use it as well.

The cost is $5.00 per user per month.

Cisco Webex

Cisco Webex is a video-conferencing and collaboration product. It is a cloud-based system, composed of software including Webex Meetings, Webex Teams, and Webex Devices. Mainly larger companies are using this, such as Paychex and ZenDesk.

Prices vary depending upon the plan from $15 per user per month to $25 per user per month. There are also custom plans available.

Zoom

Zoom is a web-conferencing platform used for audio and/or video conferencing. Businesses sized 10 to 55 employees are primarily using Zoom.

Price is $14.99 per month for each license and $19.99 per month for larger businesses.

How to Manage a Virtual Workspace

When managing a virtual workspace, you may need to adapt the leadership skills that you already have. Here are a few things to be aware of:

Communication and Transparency

When rolling out a new software, it is important that employees understand the “why” behind the change. Before considering utilizing virtual workspaces, collecting data from employee surveys or through other means can help determine the biggest hurdles to working virtually. Making employees a part of the process allows employee buy-in to new technology and helps give a smoother rollout and understanding of how to use it.

Training and Inclusion

Use of technology will differ across generations. Being sensitive to the fact that not everyone will know how to function in a virtual workspace is key, as well as proper training and resources.

Time Zones

Being cognizant of time zone differences is an important consideration when implementing virtual workspaces. Someone’s 9 am is someone else’s 6 am, and many may not want to appear on camera  that early.

Team Culture

When going virtual, it’s important for a company not to lose sight of their unique culture. Continuing to place emphasis on culture remains important, even virtually.

The Virtual Workspace of the Future

Since you’ve read this far in the article, you’re now familiar with two-dimensional virtual workspaces like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. But when some companies mention virtual workspaces, they’re talking about more than video calls. 

The Metaverse

Companies like Meta (née Facebook) and Microsoft are taking work to the metaverse. That is, they plan to create the platforms and tools for employees to go beyond two-dimensional Zoom calls and interact with colleagues in three-dimensions via an avatar in a virtual environment. Many companies are calling this virtual place the metaverse.

Who’s Involved?

Meta/Facebook is not the only gig in town. A number of companies have already made waves (i.e., investments) in building the metaverse. Gaming platform Roblox has shared its vision for a place where “people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.”

Meanwhile, Epic Games (the company behind Fortnite) has raised $1 billion from investors to help with its plans for building the metaverse. Companies like Microsoft and chipmaker Nvidia have also expressed intent to build the metaverse.

“We think there’s going to be lots of companies building virtual worlds and environments in the metaverse, in the same way there’s been lots of companies doing things on the World Wide Web” – Richard Kerris, VP of Nvidia’s Omniverse platform

But who else has joined the metaverse? For starters, Walmart. The company said it’s trained more than one million employees using VR this year. Verizon has also used VR to prepare its employees for dangerous workplace incidents, such as robberies. Professional sports teams in the NBA and NFL, as well as Olympic athletes, have also invested in VR technology to simulate competition and game-like scenarios. 

Small Businesses and the Metaverse

At the moment, using virtual reality to create a virtual workspace might not be an option for your business. The technology isn’t cheap – right now, just the headsets needed to join workrooms cost around $300. But while the metaverse might not be feasible for your company today, it could change how we work in the future. We can only wait to see if the metaverse takes over as the ideal office space. 

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Virtual Workspaces

A successful virtual workspace is a team environment where employees are utilizing technology to stay connected regardless of physical location. They are engaged, proactive, and purposeful in their roles.
In short, yes! Virtual workspaces are increasing around the globe, especially with the pandemic driving it forward. Companies are taking advantage of technology to connect employees and save on overhead costs.

Ashley is no stranger to Human Resources, acting as a strategic partner to a variety of businesses over the past 6 years by applying expert compliance knowledge and forward thinking to business growth. A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Psychology and minor in Sociology, Ashley began her career working for a small Professional Employer Organization working with 250 different businesses and aiding them with day-to-day human resources issues. She then moved to perform internal HR for a growing multi-state, 500+ employee group in the electrical field. Then went on to serve as a Senior HR Generalist for 3 years at one of the largest Professional Employer Organizations in the country. Most recently Ashley serves as an HR Supervisor overseeing multiple Human Resource Advisors who are guiding small businesses with compliance, employee relations, policy development and more.

Ashley was elected chancellor of the HR council within her organization, which was comprised of 13 HR members across the nation to lead the group in process improvements for the Human Resource Team. She is PHR, SPHR, and SHRM-SCP certified and continues to advance her knowledge of Human Resources by staying abreast of ever-changing legislation and continuing education courses.

When not working, she is an advocate for women’s wellness, enjoys learning about nature, and spending time with her husband and dog outdoors.

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