Life after Covid lurks (hopefully) on the horizon.
Office spaces remain largely shut or limited. Videoconferencing suites set up in spare rooms have become the new meeting rooms.
We have spent the past year designing and refining our workspace solutions to fit our needs and allow us to continue with some kind of normal.
But with so many businesses and other organisations now pivoting their long-term property strategies to recognise an irreversible switch to mass working from home, what does this new ‘virtual office’ look like at the other end?
The answer is not remotely the same as before.
Virtual offices, redundant
It was seen as the way of the future – back in the past.
When instead of renting expensive space in a city centre location, people would work on the fly in business centres or serviced offices and save money and hassle on administrative support. Secretaries at the front desk, doing basic admin such as photocopying and faxing (remember that?) while topping up the coffee.
Giants such as WeWork, The Office Group and Regus, signed up entrepreneurs and workers on the go at expensive rates – a timeshare for travelling salespeople for the privilege of a quiet corner, a meeting room and decent wifi.
A clever idea and a useful alternative for many. Having someone to answer calls and arrange appointments on an hourly or day rate trimmed costs. Except, the brand equity was so often limited. The individual care normally transactional.
Despite the lure of a temporary venue to call your base in another city, it felt – well, temporary.
The huge financial issues sustained by WeWork underlined that the model does not work.
Especially post-pandemic, where we will likely remain cautious about using space which has been utilised by many others outside our trusted circle.
And the simple truth is the very idea of a virtual office has evolved. For businesses reducing desk count, Office 3.0 is not a mix of headquarter hub and a by-the-hour rental.
It is employees, continuing to make their company function normally to the outside world, from their house or apartment. But with a consistent veneer of service, tone and brand disguising a radically reshaped interior.
Time to get real with a virtual assistant
In our "The rise of the virtual assistant" article, we discussed how the virtual assistant is, more than ever, the real hub of the future.
Personal assistants or virtual receptionists supporting one or multiple staff members, all based wherever it suits them best, reducing costs and supporting growth and efficiency.
Who needs to pay for videoconferencing with a high-definition webcam and (soon) 5G mobile broadband almost everywhere? Who needs to travel at all, or at least as much?
Better to combine your upgraded set-up with a flexible call handling service or other back office functions that are undertaken by specialist experts, rather than whoever is on duty in a serviced office in some edge-of-town business park.
Collaboration is simple. With remote platforms such as Google Hangouts, Slack and Microsoft Teams (ok, you too Zoom), working apart but together has never been simpler nor more effective. Yet it requires a little expertise in itself. People who understand the tricks of the virtual working concept, who can make sure meetings are in everyone’s diaries and that everyone knows the link.
That they are comfortable and positive in a culture where they quickly integrate into your crew, with an injection of bright ideas. But also logging off – with no needless costs incurred – when they are not required. Effectively, 100 per cent productivity.
That, we must understand, is the office of the future. One that provides the best service to our people and our customers, irrespective of the bricks and mortar involved.
We may still occasionally require that meeting room when Starbucks and Costa simply won’t do.
But for everything else … the workplace revolution now upon us is not just virtual but inescapably real.