There’s this idea about recreating the office environment, without actually being in the same place. It’s called an online workplace or a virtual office.
The gist is that you’re working together at the same time, but in different places.
You can pop over to different “rooms” see how people are meeting, the points they are discussing, and then leave.
It’s like a virtual world or video game for the office except with work.
In this post, we’ll discuss if a virtual office is actually needed, what is meant by that term, how to make the decision, and suggestions on how to build out a tech stack for your company if you decide to go all-in with remote work.
Virtual work environments and online workplaces range from real-time employee monitoring to asynchronous gathering places for chat and documents. Others have gone so far as to make an “office layout” where you move from room to room interacting with different colleagues and their discussions, like in a video game.
But what is the true value of the office setting? Is it the conference rooms and cubicles or the people? And then there’s the pesky element of “work,” too.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many teams to work remotely even if it wasn’t their first choice. Now you may be thinking about what it looks like to go back into the office or to stay remote. But what’s really important is to drill down on this question:
What is the right choice for your company?
There are many benefits to going with remote work, including a more flexible working environment that integrates work and life together. This is what we call the “secret to remote work.” Once you understand that replicating the office isn’t necessarily the goal (more on that in this post), then you’re way ahead.
That said, there are challenges to remote work, including loneliness and distractions. There are ways to improve remote work however, including check-ins, asynchronous communications, focused blocks of work time, and different expectations about work schedules.
If an online workplace or virtual office is only trying to simulate the physical office environment, then what has really been accomplished?
The founder of Friday, Luke Thomas, outlined a few of the problems with virtual offices and online workplaces:
Many of these solutions require a constant online presence, which makes remote work worse, not better.
It doesn’t make sense to create a halfway solution, which is what seems to happen in most online workplaces and virtual offices.
In pre-COVID times, only 14% of companies believed their internal processes for collaboration worked well. This won’t automatically change because of synchronous digital environment, or an asynchronous one for that matter in an online workplace or virtual office.
To address some of the issues with online workplaces and virtual offices that we noted above, use these pointers to get the most from your team communication tools.
Below is a list of different tool seats that you may want to check out. A few of them may violate some of the rules I mentioned above, but it may still be helpful to review them.
Do you need a “virtual office” as a piece of technology? Our overall opinion is that you don’t. There are plenty of tools to help you do work remotely, without an exact duplication of the office.
To be fair, a lot of forward-thinking tech companies and remote-first companies realized some of the difficulties with remote work before the COVID-19 pandemic and began building their own remote intranet services. It’s also an issue that companies with offices in multiple locations would also face, especially trying to collaborate across big departments and teams.
Those learnings shouldn’t be put to the wayside, many of those pain points can still be felt today, and thankfully there are more strategies and tech to help. You also need to operationalize your remote work with standards about communication, flexibility, and expectations.
When creating your online workplace tech stack, think about the strategies and intentions behind each piece of the technology.
Just adding a new piece of technology won’t solve your problems. You also need to establish good habits around the tech.
Helpful posts to build your remote work tech stack:
The office may have had a great reputation, especially in the 2010s era of startups. Remember pingpong tables, catered meals, and open-floor plans?
But were those beneficial? Or just a superficial trap? Most people with unlimited vacation took less vacation days.
However, it may not have been worth even getting to.
It’s estimated that before the pandemic congestion was at its highest levels, and that commuters spent an extra 54 hours in traffic (congestion vs compared to traffic moving at a normal speed). Not to mention the effects on the climate.
Flexibility is now part of a great work environment. According to a recent report about remote work from Owl Labs, 46% of people would look for a new job if not allowed to work from home. Being able to have a few days at home for childcare reasons, to focus, or to have a change of pace is now part of the office culture. With several large tech companies allowing more remote work, and Salesforce announcing that workers can come into the office for a few days of the week and set their own schedules, this change will not be reversed. The effects of this are still fully unknown, but it’s happening.
One of the key traits of a positive work environment are regular team check-ins. A survey by Ernst and Young found that 39% of employees felt a greater sense of belonging when they are checked in on both personally and professionally. In many workplaces, this happened both informally and formally. But informal workplace chit chat and grapevine communication.
Remote work forces teams to adopt good workplace communication habits that they probably should have developed from the beginning. Documentation is an imperative, especially as asynchronous communication takes hold across multiple time zones and even countries.
This seems like an odd factor to include, but intentional inclusion and communication within the workplace motivates employees to do their best work.
“When working remotely, intention has become so much more important. Are we doing things with intention? In the office, it was 'easy' to tell if someone was off, or needed a pick-me-up. Now that we are remote we have to be really intentional. Intentionally checking in. Intentionally supporting our team. Intentionally trying to bring joy, surprises, and wow moments to a remote team,” Kevin Dorsey, VP of Inside Sales at PatientPop told us in this article about best practices for remote teams.
Intentionality is a piece that can be missed even within the physical office environment.
Start implementing great work habits and routines at your office with Friday. Start for free.