I've seen a lot of articles passed around LinkedIn recently talking about the benefits of working from home and facilitating employees working from home. Cost comes up regularly -- savings to the company by not maintaining workspace, savings to the employee by not paying for gas and vehicle wear. Time seems to be the second most popular argument: sitting on the highway is rarely a productive use of time, even when one schedules conference calls during that span.
However, there's been relatively little mention of what I consider the top reason to embrace the virtual workforce: your future workforce expects it.*
When I say "future" here, I don't mean some far, distant future, where the sky is full of flying cars, lunar settlement is bursting at the seams, and the Cleveland Browns have had a winning season. I'm talking about three to five years from now.
Consider the job application process itself. If you're around my age** you probably remember the summer vacation hustle: collecting job applications from all the local stores, taking them home, painstaking filling out one after another. Today, job seeking depends heavily on online applications, whether your goal is to run the counter at 7-11 or manage Six Sigma for an IT department.***
The 2025 entry-level job applicant would look at a paper form and say, "Wait, I have to write on this?"
Consider the social experience -- or better yet, observe a teenager. Sure, they come together for classes at school (for now) but what do they do when they get home? Jump on phones and tablets and communicate virtually. My daughter learned to play the ukulele this last summer. Her instructor was a buddy 1,500 miles away, whom she met in person once. They work on the ukulele together via FaceTime, and he's now friends with all of her "local" friends, via group text and SnapChat.
High school and college students today are already being trained to collaborate virtually. Online comms facilitate group projects for school and then -- there's GAMING. TeamSpeak has provided group communications for gamers for 17 years now. Mics and headsets are standard gear for game consoles. Massively multiplayer games for the phone and tablet encourage clan creation, and it's pretty rare for members of a gaming clan to be geographically close.
Remember LAN parties? My 15 year old has no idea what a LAN is. Your 2025 entry-level job applicant would look at an Ethernet cable and say, "Wait, you have to connect them?"
The key concept here is the tipping point: there are already people in the workforce who embrace virtual culture. Many companies have partially-distributed workforces, or rely on outsourced vendors in other countries.**** But so far, that remote distribution is the minority, and not expected.
The tipping point comes when the majority of new employees see remote work as the norm, not a bonus, and it's coming faster than you think. Postings on many job boards already include a "remote possibility" flag. More and more new companies are simply starting with a remotely-distributed workforce, and it won't be long before job seekers view non-remote companies as "old fashioned." If you want to attract the best of the new talent in the 2020s, it might not be a bad idea to get with the times.
* I know, blunt. I rarely get to the point within one paragraph and one sentence like that. You're welcome.
** Familiar with the concepts of "advanced" D&D, TurboPascal, break dancing, and BBS's? You're around my age.
*** And no, filling out those online applications isn't much more fun than filling out the 1990s version with a ballpoint pen. Trust me, I know.
**** If you're going to lay off half an organization and replace them with an overseas contract from a company partially owned by your new IT director, you'd better be quite adept at working virtually, don't you think?