By Holly Mack
Does anyone remember what an office is? You know… that place people used to go with rows of cubes and a water cooler? Where they served bagels on Friday mornings and partners, kids, and dogs were in picture frames, not Zoom frames?
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, a substantial percentage of the U.S. workforce has been working from home for most of 2020. And despite the kids, the dogs, and the Zoom bombs, these workers have proven that remote work can be done effectively. So much so that in May, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey gave his 4,000-plus global workforce permission to work from home “forever,” accompanied by similar announcements from tech behemoths like Facebook and Shopify and giving rise to the company descriptor “remote first.” This pivot in the work landscape of course begs the question, “Do we still need an office?”
The answer, is yes. Without a physical office, corporate culture can take a nosedive. Gone are the elevator chats, the birthday celebrations, and the ring-the-bell fanfare when a new deal is closed. And the usual efforts to boost employee morale, such as office snacks or an in-office “escape room” (it’s a thing, just ask the employees at United Shore) have also been removed. While many employees appreciate the money they’re saving on gas, public transportation, and work attire, they’re quick to admit they also miss the office camaraderie and believe the office is better suited to some activities such as client meetings. States Tushar Agarwal, CEO of HubbleHQ in a recent Forbes article, “Humans are social beings, and in-person connections are hard to fully replace. Physical environments affect us much more than we realize, and office space goes a long way in cultivating a sense of belonging within teams.”
The good news is that this office juju, including the space itself, can easily be replicated without the rent, furnishings, and utilities necessary to maintain a physical office space. With a second wave of the pandemic underway, companies are increasingly taking a look at how virtual office spaces can foster desired outcomes for collaboration, productivity, culture, and the work experience, and are turning to virtual environment providers to build digital offices that create a sense of connection and energy.
Take for example, the 6Connex virtual office environment solution[LH1] . Using highly customized design features, 6Connex customers are able to recreate the exact layout and furnishings of their actual physical office in a virtual environment. From the corner office to the kitchen, employees can visit any room in their company’s headquarters or satellite offices at any time, moving through the space at will and utilizing a chat feature to communicate. And each office “room” can house files. For example, a visit to the virtual Marketing Department would give the user access to brand guidelines and logos, while a visit to the Sales department would give the user access to Sales toolkits. The virtual environment can be used for regularly scheduled meetings and happy hours alike, and with the benefit of robust entitlement features, certain rooms can be designated as “by appointment only” or accessible to only a chosen few (the Human Resources department, the Finance department, the board room, etc.).
Ultimately, the virtual office is about creating a sense of community without asking employees to “perform” within the structure of a video conference call. It helps recreate the social experience of in-person office life and is especially beneficial to new hires, who may have never stepped foot in the actual office. Colleagues on different continents can chat at a simulated water cooler or attend a yoga class in the virtual break room, enabling tenured employees to maintain their social capital and giving new hires the opportunity to build it. Summarizes 6Connex CEO Ruben Castano, “Many employees are discovering that a virtual office is a welcome break from their kitchen table. Done right, it increases the frequency of person-to-person interactions and puts group and recreational activities within easy reach. We’re continually impressed by how creative companies are when designing their virtual spaces and the engagement rates we see on the platform indicate the employees are too.”