It’s hard to see how the pandemic could bring about anything positive that wasn’t gained at the cost of over a million dead (worldwide), but the change it has wrought is irrefutable. Certain industries like food services and hospitality have had to reshape their entire business model, and many that couldn’t change fast enough succumbed as the entire world retreated to our bubbles. Not surprisingly, most professional services firms (accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, banks, etc – and yes, MSP’s like C2) after the initial panicked spasms were overcome, turned out to be well suited to work remotely, and many are now making a leap of faith to go fully virtual permanently by eliminating one of the larger expense lines in their budget – the office lease.
In most cases, there is no technological reason why some companies can’t go completely virtual. Note the words I emphasized there. For several industries, especially the ones that were born of the digital age, business technology is easily well ahead of the need curve for the majority of organizations in that industry, so far ahead in some cases that many have no idea of what is possible and don’t even consider it. Let’s assume that the technology exists for your company to go virtual, so instead it may be useful to examine the reasons why you might need to consider carefully before tearing up that office lease.
Look before you leap!
As has been made painfully obvious by our (mostly) self-enforced lockdowns, some of us are realizing how much we miss the hustle and bustle of a busy office. Indeed, many companies thrived on spontaneous interactions that can only occur when people are physically adjacent. If you’ve noticed a decrease in productivity or creativity despite everyone having all the tools they need, you may have been one of those companies that developed a culture that was built around face-to-face interactions. Switching to online forms of interaction like videoconferencing and instant messaging will be difficult for people, and certain folks will never consider it as a suitable replacement for those watercooler meetings. The pandemic will end and for staff that look forward to returning to normalcy it may be particularly disheartening to find out that their workplace also fell victim to Covid.
Physical offices allow for a certain level of technology simplicity and manageability that are not achievable (yet) in virtual companies. Granted, if the internet was down for the office, no one was getting any work done, but conversely, it also allows IT managers to ensure a consistent level of service and security that they could literally put their hands on by walking down the hall. Running a company on the back of the internet and personally-owned electronics presents a new layer of complexity that is not easily serviced by a traditional in-house IT department, and it multiplies the potential security vulnerabilities to a level that will be unacceptable for some industries without very careful planning and discipline.
You should also consider the management style of the company’s leadership. Are they used to managing by sight, i.e. they need to see that their employees are busy and engaged, or can they trust that their people know what needs to be done without being physically supervised? It shouldn’t surprise you to know that while it is technologically possible to supervise remote employees just as closely (if not closer) as if you were standing over their shoulder, most folks will find this intrusive and offensive, especially if they are working from home. While I would argue that this type of leadership is perhaps a relic of bygone eras and definitely less effective in today’s workforce, I still regularly encounter it and know that leaders who rely on this style are especially frustrated by virtual staff.
Make no mistake, virtual companies are here. They were here well before the pandemic and I’m seeing many more making the transition as each week passes. While it may be tempting to consider permanently striking real estate leases off your budget, make sure you consider the underlying costs that might not be easily summed up on a spreadsheet.