Will the Virtual Office replace the Traditional Office?

As technology is advancing, the workplace as we know it is changing forever. The Mad Men-esque office environment is long gone, and in its place we are left with a question – will the traditional office survive and how will it continue to evolve in the future?

Below we have outlined the pros and cons for a traditional office and a virtual office. We dive deep and try to determine which is the better choice in the end for the employee and employer. Read on and decide for yourself.

Traditional Office: A “traditional office” has changed its meaning over the last century – from rooms separated by department, to cubicles, to open office plans – a singular definition is not possible. For the sake of this blog, let’s consider that a “traditional office” is one where the employees of a company commute to the same physical location where they conduct their work – no matter the layout of the office.

Now think of where you work – does it meet this definition? How do you feel about this type of office? What are some ways that could improve your current office situation? Read on to discover some advantages and disadvantages of a traditional office environment.

Pros:
+Important aspects of a traditional office include innovative design, inclusivity, diversity, and advanced technologies. It is easier to build a strong company culture when employees enjoy their working environment and interacting with each other on a daily basis.

+Communication is improved when working face-to-face which means less back and forth and more decisions made with fewer delays. The way employees interact together is very important and contributes greatly to the success of a business.

+In a more structured office, employees can stay focused for longer knowing that there are managers within eye and earshot. There may be less distractions in an office which can lead to higher productivity throughout the working day.

+Having a traditional office means stricter security on premise as it is possible to ensure network connections. This increases the safety of confidential information from being possibly compromised.

+A company that continues to invest in physical office locations is Google, who continues to purchase properties in Manhattan and Silicon Valley and insists that they have found no difference in the productivity of on-site and remote employees. Their reasoning is to create a strong company culture where employees are nurtured and for fear of potential conspiracies arising from developers rubbing elbows in local coffee shops.

Cons:
-A healthy office environment depends greatly on the design, and how it contributes to the overall functionality for employees. There is a lot to consider when maintaining a traditional office setup – a physical location, office supplies, furniture, utilities etc. This can get very expensive especially as the size of a company grows.

-There is a commitment (ie. a lease), which can be strict, and a company can incur extra costs if it is broken. Along the same lines, as a company grows in size, the office may not be able to handle the capacity, employees will get crowded, which can lead to lower productivity. If a company is growing significantly, then investing in a physical location can be expensive and irresponsible if the company outgrows it in less than a year.

-There are plenty of opportunities for distractions in a traditional office, as people are social creatures and it is natural to talk and interact among each other.

-Requiring employees to travel to a designated location can cost employees extra time and money spent on transportation, but also contributes greatly to carbon emissions and pollution. Check out this calculator to see the carbon emission footprint based on your daily commute.

-When different personalities are together in one space, there are bound to be disputes. The possibility is increased when there are more people are together in one place.

Virtual Office: Now, what is a virtual office? This is a somewhat new phenomenon and as technology has advanced, employees are able to do the same work from a remote location. A virtual office most popularly means telecommuting (ie. working from a location outside of a traditional office – see above – which can be at home or a coffee shop, for example). As technology has continued to advance, this will also include forms of virtual and augmented reality, wherein employees can work from home, yet virtually attend meetings and interact with other employees in the traditional office. See some advantages and disadvantages that could arise from telecommuting.

Pros:
+With the development of programs like Google Suite and internal messaging systems with video capabilities (ie. Skype & Slack), communication and collaboration are simple and easy. Case in point, Microsoft is developing the “conference rooms of the future” which feature a 360-degree camera for teleconferencing.

+Employees save money and time they had previously spent commuting – the average time spent commuting in the US is 26.6 minutes one-way. By telecommuting, it conserves resources, reducing energy and total consumption which means less emissions and gas money spent by everyone. There are also lower operating costs as a physical location is not necessary.

+With greater flexibility, employees take fewer sick days and are considered to be in a less stressful environment – leading to higher productivity with fewer disruptive meetings and loud colleagues.

+Employees end up being happier and morale is improved. A real life example is with Cisco, who not only saved $1B over 2.5 years by telecommuting, also saw the largest payoff in higher retention.

+Artificial intelligence technology is making it easier to telecommute. It is often perceived that more and more jobs will be done by robots rather than humans. This could shift the entire office structure in the near future, as automation and telecommuting jump in popularity. It is unlikely that AI will take all office jobs, AI can simply deliver automated routine tasks, meaning less in-office work. You can read 4 ways that AI is changing Accounts Payable to see real benefits that AI can bring to a company.

Cons:
Some employees might find managing their time a struggle, as there are plenty of distractions that can take precedence when telecommuting (perhaps priorities in the household). Trust between employee and manager is very important in this instance.

Security concerns can arise when working from different locations. This could include possible unsecured networks, risk of storing confidential information or accidental data release which can cause serious consequences for a business.

-There can be a sense of weakened communication when employees telecommute. It may take longer to speak to someone or get a question answered when it’s not possible to walk to someone’s desk and get an immediate answer. Along the same lines, employees may feel isolated by not spending time together. According to Forbes, this could lead to a loss in camaraderie, efficiency, synergy and collaboration.

-It is likely that employees might not have the same supplies while telecommuting that are ensured in a traditional office. This could include office supplies, technical accessories and even food, which more and more offices are providing for their employees.

-If implemented poorly, telecommuting could lead to employee push back which could skew a company’s vision. It is also possible to discredit a company’s reputation by only having a virtual office – some people may not consider this a “real company”.

So which should you choose?

Startups focus a great deal on exciting working environments – open spaces, games, snacks, even sleeping pods. According to Forbes, “Big companies are rooted in doing what is proven to work. In contrast, startups are oftentimes doing something that has never been done before, so there are no rules”. An office type that settles in the middle is a co-working space – popular with small companies and startups. This means that there is a physical location for employees to travel to, but without the massive real estate investment that traditional offices require.  Particular types of companies, or departments, fit well in the traditional office or virtual office scenario. Our suggestion – do some research to see what is right for your company.

Happiness in the workplace is very important, as people spend so much of their waking time there. Here are 25 companies with the happiest employees in 2018. Do you work for any of these companies? Comment below and let us know your thoughts!

Rossum boasts a physical office location where teams can collaborate, yet also allows employees to work remotely (some in the US and even Asia!). We believe in building a strong company culture where all teams can collaborate and interact together which can be fostered in our traditional office setting. We know that certain people can be productive outside of the office as well which is why we give everyone the flexibility to telecommute. Leave a comment for which type of office you work in any relevant successes you’ve noticed, or if you have a suggestion to make the best office environment.

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