How the New Virtual Office Could Improve Remote Work

On the heels of our latest Workforce Institute Weigh-In on returning to the office, today’s post comes to us from The Workforce Institute advisory board member, bestselling author, and managing partner of Workplace IntelligenceDan Schawbel. An extended version of this article appeared in Dan’s weekly newsletter. 

Although the widespread adoption of remote and hybrid work models has largely been beneficial, the shift to these new ways of working hasn’t come without its challenges. For employees, one of the most notable downsides has been the lack of social connection and interactions. There’s also the fear of being left behind when it comes time for promotions and raises, especially for workers who don’t go into the office very often.

Meanwhile, managers have their own set of concerns. Not only is it challenging to oversee remote workers, it’s also much more difficult to build a strong sense of culture and foster team cohesion. On top of this, leaders are grappling with how best to ensure inclusiveness and fairness — no easy feat when some employees are getting more facetime than others.

So far, the solutions to these challenges have largely been ineffective. Some companies have tried to force people to return to the office, but this has been met with a great deal of resistance. In fact, studies have found that many workers would rather quit their job than give up their ability to work remotely.

Other companies have focused on creating opportunities for virtual socialization, or they’ve looked to communication channels to fill the void. While offering an occasional virtual happy hour isn’t a bad idea, by itself, this simply isn’t enough to create an engaging day-to-day work experience. And although asynchronous communication tools play an important role in keeping people connected, they’re not a replacement for spontaneous conversations and interactions.

Without a real solution in place, little progress has been made toward alleviating the issues facing remote and hybrid companies. The result is that workers are becoming increasingly lonely and isolated, teams aren’t operating as effectively as they could be, and there’s a growing sense of unhappiness and disengagement at work. In fact, in 2021, U.S. employee engagement dropped for the first year in more than a decade.

Taken altogether, these problems can have a clear impact on the business’s bottom line. Not only are employees less productive in this type of environment, but they’re also more likely to quit. And in today’s employee-driven job market, that’s something that few companies can afford.

One solution that’s just beginning to enter the market is virtual workspaces. The products aren’t just pre-existing tools cobbled together and rebranded — what I’m talking about are spaces that truly enrich remote work with the energy of a physical office. Let’s discuss what the new virtual workspace looks like and some of the problems it can solve for.

What Are Virtual Workspaces and How Are They Evolving?

virtual workspace is a technology product designed for remote, hybrid, or distributed companies. These legacy workspaces integrate with existing platforms, and, at a minimum, these tools offer virtual conference rooms, video chat features, and other ways for employees to share information.

However, the next generation of virtual workspace products offers additional features that set them apart from legacy tools. For example, some offer spatial audio, which allows team members to have multiple conversations at the same time in one space. Others provide customization options so companies can brand their space and employees have the freedom to express themselves. These spaces can even promote movement, allowing team members to bump into one another and creating serendipitous encounters and informal collaboration.

Best-in-class virtual office tools offer even more functionality. They often allow for a wide variety of customized environments and spaces, everything from job fairs and classrooms to cafes and lounge areas. They also support events, games, and much more. In sum, these tools create a virtual work environment that’s designed to closely replicate a company’s physical space and bring its culture to life — and there are real benefits to doing this.

In the remainder of this article, Dan discusses how virtual office tools can unlock a better remote work experience by fostering connection and collaboration, boosting engagement and productivityand even improving equity and inclusion. He also explores how one company successfully implemented a custom virtual workspace for its employees. Subscribe to Dan’s Workplace Intelligence Insider Newsletter today to read the full article.