Online Workplaces: Does Your Remote Team Need One? |

Online Workplaces: Does Your Remote Team Need One?

Posted by Josh Spilker

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. 

What Are Virtual Work Software and Online Workplaces? 

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. 

Is A Virtual Office or an Online Workplace the Right Choice for Your Company?

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.

The Problems With Online Workplaces & Virtual Offices

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:

  1. Remote work is based on flexibility and asynchronous communication. Embrace it.
  2. Virtual offices with synchronous communication has limited upside
  3. The office isn’t a well-liked place, anyway
  4. Online workplaces and virtual offices are used for employee control
  5. Online workplaces don’t allow for long amounts of time to get work done

Read the full article here.

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. 

How To Get The Most From Your Online Workplaces and Team Communication Tools

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.

  1. Automate as much as possible
  2. React and respond to what people are saying asynchronously within a reasonable timeframe. You can also set expectations for when a response will come
  3. Try to make it “fun” with icebreaker and watercooler-type questions

What should your regular online communication pattern include?

  1. Regular weekly check-ins, such as an end of the week status update
  2. Prioritizing for the week ahead. This could be a daily standup or team huddle that aligns everyone for the work, and intentionally includes each team member as part of the work
  3. Ways to communicate directly and collectively. Slack does this, Teams does this, but so does email or a tool like Yammer if you’d like to keep those in place

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. 

What Does Your Tech Stack Look Like for Remote Work? 

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. 

Team Updates and Check-Ins

  • Friday: That’s us! We’re a team collaboration tool that helps keep teams on track and connected even when working remotely. With Friday, manage your time efficiently at work with the daily planner. Keep track of your meetings, tasks for the day, and set daily goals you want to accomplish. With daily check-ins, you and your team can see each other’s work progress, and connect with one another even when working remotely.  
  • Yammer is a software owned by Microsoft that enhances communication within your organization and outside it. Everyone can stay informed to keep the company productive.
  • Slack is an app catered towards team collaboration and internal communication. You can create multiple channels to keep discussions organized, direct message team members, and integrate with other apps.

Other team communication tool categories to consider: 

  • Project management
  • Video conferencing
  • To-do lists
  • Daily planners and online calendars (Friday has that too!)
  • Internal documentation or a wiki

Helpful posts to build your remote work tech stack: 

Decide on what makes a good work environment for your company before deciding on a “virtual office” 

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

What Makes a Good Work Environment?

1. Flexibility

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. 

2. Regular communication 

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. 

3. Intentionality

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. 

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