Virtualization makes cloud computing possible, productive and profitable. Many businesses large and small think it can do the same thing for work by creating a human cloud based on virtual collaboration, according to a new survey. For some workers, that day is already here.


Two-thirds of workers expect their offices to go fully virtual within the next few years, according to a survey by Wrike, a social project management platform provider. The company queried more than 1,000 companies about virtual collaboration and future work practices. About 83 percent of the respondents said they were already spending at least a few hours each week working outside the office.


More than 43 percent said they now work remotely more than they did just two or three years ago, indicating just how much the scope of virtual collaboration has increased in the past few years. The growth has been the most significant among executives, the survey found: One-half of these respondents said they spend more time working outside the office.


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Time savings, increased productivity and the opportunity to focus on work rather than becoming distracted by office politics emerged as the top three benefits workers appreciate in remote collaboration, the survey found.


But without the right tools in place, virtual collaboration does present challenges. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said a lack of direct communication is the biggest obstacle to efficient remote collaboration, while other challenges include hindered data accessibility (21 percent) and poor visibility into colleagues’ activities (19 percent).


In spite of these challenges, though, 89 percent of respondents rated the opportunity to work remotely as an important fringe benefit in a job, pointing to the potential vital role this capability could play in both recruiting and retention. Across the board, the results underscore the growing demand for virtual work capabilities — either while on the road or working from home — among both small and large companies.


Workers even admitted they would be willing to forgo certain other job perks for the opportunity to work remotely. According to the survey, nearly 80 percent would sacrifice employer-provided free meals and 54 percent would give up their employer-paid cellphone plans. Perhaps even more astounding, the survey found, 31 percent would accept a reduction in paid vacation, and one-fourth would even accept a salary reduction.


"Many organizations are dealing with the ‘human cloud’ paradigm — this idea of employees spread across several cities, countries and cultures," said Andrew Filev, Wrike's CEO. "Our survey shows there might actually be many more distributed teams than one might think. Technology can make virtual teams just as efficient as if they were collaborating in the same office."


Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.