As the pandemic slowly winds down, I don’t think we’ll ever be out of it, the question of virtual or physical office looms. Apple has said it wants its employees to return to offices three days a week in September. Understandable when they’ve spent billions on a showplace corporate campus. But it’s not what their employees want.
As many businesses learned, their employees can work remotely and the work gets done, sometimes better, faster or cheaper. Companies can use this to their advantage and dramatically reduce their office space. Use the cost savings to make remote work better and more efficient. Workers gain the flexibility they’ve come to love and the time saved in commuting while getting better work done without the interruptions and distractions of the modern open office.
Virtual or in-person
If your company is in the information or service industry a virtual office rather than a physical office is the way to go. Think of the advantage of being able to hire anyone who lives almost anywhere to join your team. If you’re thinking of a physical office, think about all the extra costs involved. You don’t only need space to work, you’ll want to have some of the perks that the Googles and Facebooks of the world offer. Cafeterias, nap pods, foosball tables, the list is endless.
Statista recently surveyed 2,181 pandemic remote workers in the US and Canada and the results are telling.
Advantages of a virtual office
You can hire whomever you want without regard for where they now live. This makes your available pool of talent almost limitless. You’ll also have the advantage of competitors who are maybe forcing their staff to return to the office. They could be part of the 58% who would look for a new job, possibly at a lower salary.
You avoid the hard costs of a physical office and can use those savings to provide better infrastructure to make remote work better.
Your employees will be happier. They won’t have to spend hours commuting. I live just outside of New York and I spent a few years with a three hour round-trip commute. Fortunately, I was able to take the train so I could nap or read. Many of my neighbors who had to drive didn’t have that luxury. Speaking from experience, commuting sucks.
Your employees don’t have to live near a big city, so they can search out more desirable places to live. Probably lower their housing costs and improve their lives.
If they have children or elderly parents to care for they can manage that along with their work and reduce their stress level at the same time.
Disadvantages of a virtual office
Everything isn’t perfect in the virtual office either. There are disadvantages that must be considered as well. You lose having everyone in the same place at the same time to interact and create.
Your teams won’t have a place to have in-person meetings with clients or vendors. You will no longer be able to walk down the hall to the conference room to meet with that client or vendor.
Social interactions between employees become more difficult. This is especially true for extroverted employees who need that human interaction. There is also the perception that virtual workers aren’t as productive, but I think recent experience has debunked that.
Advantages of a physical office
Most of the advantages of a physical office involve time management and communication. In an office environment there are fixed hours, fixed meal breaks, a daily routine. For those who don’t have the self discipline needed to work remotely this can be helpful
Communication is easier, you can just walk to the next cubicle to ask a question. It can also teach newer employees how to function in an office environment. It is easier to communicate with senior staff and managers. And they have the advantage of being able to see firsthand how employees are performing.
Disadvantages of a physical office
Working in an office all day has its disadvantages, too. It encourages a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting at a desk all day isn’t good for your mind or body, it also contributes to obesity. The lighting in most offices contribute to eye strain as does sitting in front of a computer screen all day with few breaks.
Then there’s the part about your employees having to be physically there. This means they have to live close enough to the office that their commute is manageable. The cost of living near city centers is much higher than in rural areas. And some would say the quality of life is lower closer to cities than rural areas. But that’s purely a matter of personal choice.
I’ve been working remotely for more than 15 years, and I love it. Those years of commuting to an office because the owner wanted to see us every day are a vivid memory I don’t want to go back to. As the CEO or founder of a startup I would recommend going the virtual route. You can solve the problem of a meeting space with a shared space or spaces so employees can meet customers or vendors in person. Take some of the savings and invest in the best infrastructure you can find and afford. Get the best software and communication tools available and make sure your employees know how to use it. I’ve done it both ways and I’m a fan of the virtual office.