What is a Virtual Workplace? (5 min)

What is a Virtual Workplace?

Wikipedia defines a virtual workplace as this:

“A virtual workplace is a workplace that is not located in any one physical space. It is usually in a network of several workplaces technologically connected (via a private network or the Internet) without regard to geographic boundaries. Employees are thus able to interact in a collaborative working environment regardless of where they are located. A virtual workplace integrates hardware, people, and online processes.”

Simply put, a virtual workplace relies on technology to connect workers in different locations and allow them to collaborate effectively.

The History of the Virtual Workplace

Virtual working was first developed as an alternative or an addition to the traditional bricks-and-mortar workplace, where everybody working in a company was under the same roof. It was an optional extra where, if needed and from time to time, employees could continue to work while not being in the office. This was usually referred to as telecommuting and would apply if someone were either caring for a sick child at home, away on a business trip, or had to move out of town and transition out of or into a role.

For some organizations, the benefits of virtual workplaces became gradually apparent, and their business was particularly suited to this model, and so they transitioned to a fully virtual workplace. This is particularly true for companies working primarily in the digital or online space providing services, rather than those with a physical retail product. Others maintained the option of a physical workspace but took advantage of the fact that some employees preferred to work remotely part of the time or all the time. These companies were able to redesign their premises so that, instead of having their own desk, employees would come in and work at any available workspace. This is known as hotdesking.

When the global Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many countries enforced a full or partial lockdown for their citizens and everyone able to work from home was required to do so. This led to many companies who might otherwise not have encouraged virtual working, to experience managing a fully virtual workforce for the first time.

Some organizations have never looked back, making a permanent switch to a virtual workplace. For others, it is a temporary measure, but has proven what is possible – perhaps beyond what they had imagined- and shown the benefits and challenges of managing a virtual workplace.

Which Businesses are Suited to a Virtual Workplace?

A virtual workplace is more suited to some kinds of business than others. The retail sector has managed this shift quite well, along with software developers and customer service centers. As a rule, the more employees work online at a computer, the easier it is for them to shift to working virtually. Since the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, more and more companies have been forced to work virtually and discovered that many team members can continue to do so.