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Virtual is the New Reality for Workplace Teams: Study Finds

May 23, 2016

Work is so much more complicated today than just the hours put in during any given day. In the average office, knowledge workers – workers whose main capital is knowledge, whose job is to “think for a living” – have to contend with generational gaps, digital transformations, the on-demand economy, the fast evolving nature of work, frustrating technology and the growing realisation that many of their jobs won’t be in existence in the future.

A new study surveyed 9,000 “knowledge workers,” whose job is to “think for a living,” about their current and future attitudes and expectations in their working lives. The respondents, who also have access to technology as part of their day-to-day jobs, indicated that when it comes to work teams, virtual is the new reality—and the workers endorse this concept.

The Way We Work Study commissioned by communications and collaboration software company Unify, surveyed 9,000 “knowledge workers” in the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, and found that more than half of them (52%) say that they now work in more virtual teams (distributed across offices and locations) than they have done in the past.

They think this is a good thing, too. According to two-fifths of knowledge workers (42%), virtual teams can be more effective than face-to-face teams, and nearly half (49%) report that their organizations operate through technology and communication rather than through offices and locations.

Interestingly, over a third (36%) suggest that creative thinking is one of the biggest benefits of working with people outside of traditional, physically located teams. Team members are also dealing with a freelance and on-demand economy.

One-in-five knowledge workers surveyed (21%) currently work as freelancers or contractors. And more than half (53%) say they would consider changing to a freelance or on-demand model of work over regular employment if it were offered.

Virtual teams are also being enabled by technology, with more than half of knowledge workers (57%) suggesting they use on-demand tools, such as the Internet or cloud-based programs, for teamwork, project management, or virtual collaboration.

“Today, knowledge workers have an unrivalled freedom in how they connect and engage with each other. This has been provided to them, by and large, through technology,” says Jon Pritchard, CEO at Unify in a press release.

See: Why are Global Virtual Teams Falling Short of their Potential?

“The Way We Work Study shows the significant impact that technology, the trend of digital transformation, and the on-demand economy is currently having on the workplace. It’s our belief that knowledge workers will increasingly want to define how, when, and where they work. It’s up to businesses to enable this behaviour and manage further disruption and change.”

Besides teams, knowledge workers also have a clear idea of what they want from an ideal working environment. In their current roles, knowledge workers describe their businesses as successful (30%), collaborative (28%), and supportive (26%).

However, in their ideal workplace, respondents indicated they would want their workplace to be successful (51%), but also creative (50%), exciting (45%), and innovative (41%).

“As knowledge workers continue to construct the future of work for themselves, employers must keep up. Technology will play a vital part in them realizing their ideals while ensuring that top talent remains engaged with their organizations,” explains Pritchard.

“It is up to the global business community to recognize this and provide the tools that knowledge workers most desire—those that will enable the creativity and innovation that the workforce is demanding.”

“Work-life balance is very a subjective concept. But it is very clear that the majority of knowledge workers feel that they are achieving something closer to their ideal in terms of balancing their work and personal lives – compared to even as little as five years ago.”

“As technology continues to proliferate in both our work and personal lives, we expect to see knowledge workers become more and more adept at integrating these two worlds. They will set their own boundaries and naturally strive to find new ways of working that works for them – especially as their own lives become more complex,” said Tim Bishop, Head of Strategy, at Unify

Knowledge workers across generations have only marginally different views on whether they achieve work-life balance. Work-life balance is more important for older respondents. Compared to the average of 70%, 75% of those aged 55+ believe it is important to have a clear division between your work and personal life. While those aged 16-24 suggest it is closer to 65%, which could be indicative of a changing workforce mindset or simply that younger respondents are more willing or able to blend the two.

Also read: Virtual Teams: Getting People to Work Apart

Image credit: skilledup.com

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