Illustration: Nick Shepherd

The rise of the virtual organisation

Companies such as Airbnb and Fiverr show that a business doesn't need a tangible presence any more.

by Nigel Nicholson
Last Updated: 05 Jan 2016

You can't smell it, touch it or see it, but you can talk to it, listen to it and complain about it. But to whom? Many virtual networks like Lyft, Airbnb and Fiverr are literally disembodied so it's hard to know who to kick. They work best in markets - markets themselves having been exemplars of virtuality for millennia. The internet has spawned a host of new ways of transacting without setting foot in an office, and some futurologists claim we will all soon inhabit a cyber business universe.

Of course you'll never be able to get a virtual haircut. All the same, even when it is quite possible to work and play via devices, people will still go to the pub to watch the match to be part of the action. True, globalised sources of supply, outsourcing, crowdsourcing and digitalisation make possible ingenious ways of combining effort to produce and deliver, but virtual teamwork flourishes when there is absolute trust in one's partners For this, if only from time to time, we need to smell the place, to feel the handshake, and to make the eye contact.

To see Nigel Nicholson's book, The 'I' of Leadership: Strategies for seeing, being and doing (Jossey-Bass), go to

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