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 like email, Slack, and Zoom 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 bottom line. Not only are employees less productive in this type of environment, 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 are virtual workspaces, like that offered by Kumospace, a virtual office platform. 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?
A virtual workspace is a technology product designed for remote, hybrid, or distributed companies. These legacy workspaces integrate with existing platforms like Google Workspace products or Microsoft 365. 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 offer 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. Let’s take a look.
What challenges can virtual office tools address?
1. Foster connection and promote organic collaboration
There’s no question that remote working has contributed to the growing feelings of loneliness among today’s workforce. People miss seeing each other in-person and being able to have quick conversations in the hallway. There’s a sense that all interactions have to be scheduled now, and the organic brainstorming and socialization that can so easily happen in an office is simply no longer possible.
One of the main benefits of a virtual workspace is that team members can stay connected regardless of their physical location. Employees can simply stop by a coworker's office as they would in real life. This leads to a more “normal” style of communication and collaboration, and a better sense of belonging.
2. Boost engagement and productivity
One of the side effects of the shift to remote working during the pandemic was a notable increase in meetings. And make no mistake, this isn’t a positive trend — there’s a reason why companies like Citigroup have banned Zoom meetings on Fridays. Back-to-back calls and meetings that “could’ve been an email” are immensely draining, yet they’re far too commonplace in today’s workplace.
Spending time in a virtual workspace can reduce the total number of meetings, since the majority of them can be replaced by a quick interaction with colleagues. Instead of messaging back and forth on slack throughout the day or scheduling a formal meeting, an employee can just hop into a virtual office and get the answer they need — so everyone can move on with their day. This makes the team faster and the company more efficient.
3. Improve equity and inclusion
Hybrid companies may quickly find themselves dealing with issues around fairness, since workers who choose to go into the office more often will get more facetime than those who work from home. This can affect whether people feel included and “in the know” on workplace happenings. It can also give office workers an unfair career advantage, especially when more office time means more exposure to management and senior leaders.
The right virtual office tool can help organizations put employees on a more even playing field, no matter where they’re located. By promoting connections among all team members, virtual workspaces ensure that everyone has equal access to the same information. These tools can also boost the visibility of remote workers and provide them with equal access to networking opportunities, which can help them advance their career.
Case Study: KPMG
KPMG, a global professional services firm, wanted to replicate the physical space in their Vancouver office, where their team regularly gathered for team-wide meetings and socials. They worked with virtual workspace company Kumospace to create a personalized, three-level space that mimics one of the floors in their office.
As KPMG put it, “What people really liked was the ability to go through the floor, and climb in and out of conversations as we would in a physical space. As you're walking by, you would catch the conversations taking place with a group of people, and you could join that conversation. It was reminiscent of an actual physical lounge that we would have utilized.”
Unlock a better remote work experience through the new virtual office
Although there are multiple factors behind the high levels of workforce disengagement, many of them boil down one thing: people’s inability to see each other in-person. By bringing employees together in one energizing space, a best-in-class virtual office tool can help bridge the gap between dispersed team members. And with the Great Resignation showing no signs of slowing down, there’s never been a more pressing time for organizations to invest in improving their remote work experience. To quote Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO when announcing their remote-first policy, “The right solution should combine the efficiency of Zoom with the meaningful human connection that happens when people come together.”
Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on the new virtual office.