2020 was a whirlwind that scattered thousands of centralized in-office teams into remote positions.
It only took the world a few awkward months to transition from taking meetings in suit slacks in boardrooms into pajama and yoga pants, virtual meetings, and makeshift home offices.
The idea of engaging an entirely virtual workforce isn’t a new one, but it has become a burning topic of discussion now more than ever.
Over the past year, working from -- and managing -- a virtual office became the new reality for millions of employers and employees alike. Much of the world’s workforce was forced to go digital.
Global pandemic aside, many executives and founders find themselves in an all-too-familiar dilemma: how do you scale operations without drastically increasing overhead expenses?
A virtual workforce addresses both issues with ease. When a virtual team is part of your well-defined organizational structure and supported by the right technology, any business can reinvent itself as a more efficient, nimble, and effective version.
Decentralizing the Workforce
While 2020 was the year of the virtue office, decentralization had been building over time. The trend of businesses going virtual, and often fully remote, has trailed the Internet’s adoption, evolving for over two decades.
Startups, usually the first tranche of companies to embrace scrappy new technologies, have found great benefits in utilizing a virtual workforce out of a virtual office.
While its competitors burned capital for office space and in-house perks, Zapier was building an empire on its own schedule, on its way to a $4B recent valuation (The Information). Zapier is a glistening foreshadowing of many potential post-pandemic startup and corporate success stories.
The Benefits of a Virtual Office
Upon exploring the benefits of a virtual workforce, many executives and founders end up asking why they weren’t always doing this in the first place. And it’s easy to see why.
A virtual office provides a variety of benefits:
- Lower overheads
- More affordable staffing
- Access to a greater pool of talent
- The addition of specialist skills not available in-house
- Additional time zones for around-the-clock operations
- The ability to offer bi-lingual services
Business Process Outsourcing: The Fast-Track For Going Virtual
For companies of all sizes, business process outsourcing (BPO) is the foundation of many of today’s virtual workforces. Today, a huge BPO industry exists to provide companies with the specialized talent they need to run a virtual workforce.
You may be most familiar with BPO within the context of technical support. That’s because of the 300,000 jobs (Entrepreneur) outsourced by the United States annually, roughly 60% is composed of IT workers (CreditDonkey).
Why? Technical support is a necessary, repeatable process that often needs a human touch, and it’s far less expensive to outsource this process than to do it within the United States.
However, today, enterprises are employing virtual offices of all kinds globally: customer support, virtual assistants, programmers, writers, and more. Simply, if a role can be “processized,” it can be outsourced.
The Rise of Virtual Assistants
One BPO service in particular has become a core pillar of many virtual teams: virtual assistants. This is due in large part to the wide range of virtual assistant services available, including administrative support, calendar scheduling, customer service, and many others.
Virtual assistant companies allow businesses to outsource repetitive, process-driven aspects of their business, maintaining their focus on higher level operations.
For businesses of all sizes looking to hire a virtual assistant team, virtual assistant companies like Ask Sunday, MyTasker or Get Friday make it easy to get quickly set up with 5 or 500 virtual assistants.
Plus, the thousands of virtual assistant jobs available provide new, work-from-anywhere employment opportunities for people across the globe. Getting started is often as simple as registering on one of the many virtual assistant websites.
Go Virtual, Ease Managerial Strain & Boost Your Bottom Line
A virtual workforce not only helps companies like Zapier keep a juicy profitable bottom-line, but it also helps remove the anxieties of having a high-burn for key decision-makers in the company.
Instead of worrying about leasing more office space and shifting to larger and dizzyingly more expensive office space, executives with virtual workforces can focus on the highest ROI for their decisions.
So, think to yourself, if you find yourself doing the same repetitive actions over and over, it might be a good idea to look to hire a virtual assistant.
However, an exploration of virtual workforce success isn’t possible with a discussion about utilizing an appropriate software stack to sustain operations.
Want To Go Virtual? Know Your Software
An entirely virtual workforce is not without its challenges: communication and processes can quickly become dysfunctional and opaque when entirely digital. If you don’t know how or where to look, you might miss critical insights about your virtual workforce’s performance.
Zapier makes for an excellent example in this article for another reason beyond just having a low burn rate and its cap table: its success as a software integration platform is very much tied to business owners scaling their businesses through automation or outsourcing.
Similarly, Insightful has seen tremendous growth in helping semi-digital or fully-digital companies build better workforces by improving employee performance and efficiency.
Insightful works as a remote workforce management software by giving you clear sight of time on tasks and projects, productivity and behavioral analytics, and performance benchmarking.
The Case for Establishing a Virtual Team
Considering dipping your toes into business process outsourcing with a virtual assistant?
Thinking about migrating a division to be fully remote?
Or even planning to take the whole mothership into the digital world?
Whatever you plans, understanding how a virtual workforce can make life easier for yourself and your business is a vital piece of the puzzle.
Learning which business processes can be outsourced and taking action to do so can save executives time and help them scale their businesses faster and more profitably than before.
The global outsourcing market is expected to grow to $405 billion by 2027, up from $92.5 billion in 2019, which serves as a functional proxy for the proportion of new businesses throwing their hats into the business process outsourcing ring.
Companies Who Don’t Go Virtual Could Lose in the Long Run
To understand why you need a virtual workforce in 2021, a good place to start is to explore what might happen if you don’t have one.
Over a third of small businesses (Clutch) currently outsource a business process. If, as is often the case, steep overhead is the primary growth impediment for small businesses, those who take their operations fully virtual will find themselves in a much smoother and faster lane to grow.
For large and enterprise businesses, failure to adopt a partially virtual workforce can also impede performance and growth. Businesses too slow to adapt to the changing times may find themselves paying high overheads, short on talent, and bogged down by repetitive processes, while their more adaptive counterparts flourish.
Deciding which side of the business equation you fall on comes down to making the best use of the currently available technology and resources. If there was any silver lining to 2021, it was the uncovering of what businesses truly need to survive and thrive, regardless of the circumstances.
And, it seems, there is little doubt that the future workforce will be increasingly virtual.