A virtual office company that bridges the gap between remote and hybrid teams.
Remote work seems to be one of the topics on which team leaders still cannot make up their minds. After two years of the pandemic, some tech startups, like Spotify or Airbnb, are committed to remote or hybrid models. Companies like Yelp take this approach a step further and are ready to fully get rid of their office spaces.
Meanwhile, others are ardently opposing remote work, painting to be the killer of culture, creativity, and operational efficiency.
Elon Musk called the Tesla workforce back to the office and told remote workers to “pretend to work somewhere else”. Apple and Google are also favoring office over working from home — both companies opted for a 3-to-2 hybrid split after the pandemic.
The question to ask here is: why does remote work succeed in some teams yet fails in others? Is there a way to set yourself up for success in a remote workplace and make sure you won’t regret downsizing office infrastructure?
We will attempt to answer this question by examining why remote teams fail to begin with.
In trying to get to the root of the dilemma of remote work not being able to support organizations, we turned to the testimonials of leaders that were disillusioned with the new model.
A PR firm executive told
Elon Musk, Jamie Dimon, and other leaders opposing remote work all, to some degree, shared this sentiment — as do most managers. Data shows that two out of three leaders polled by
Without the ability to see their reports in the office, managers are left to their own devices wondering if people are working, to begin with. C-levels are not the only ones struggling — the rise of working remotely led to a sharp
In an attempt to regain control, managers often go to extremes. In August, New York Times blew the whistle on employers using invasive monitoring software to track people’s every move in real-time.
At J.P. Morgan, employee time is tracked second-to-second, scanning how long it takes an employee to write an email. At Barclay’s Bank, employees would get emails saying “Not enough time in the Zone today” to motivate them to work harder.
These stories seem straight out of a “Black Mirror” script — yet, they are becoming a standard practice. Data shows that eight out of ten largest private employers in the US monitor worker activity. The need to oversee and monitor is hugely driven by the switch to remote work, as the demand for productivity tracking and employee surveillance
The effects of this missing trust are disastrous to remote teams. Employee anxiety is on the rise in hybrid teams, as those who work remotely feel disregarded by their managers and replaceable.
Under the motto of “They can’t take away your desk from you if you are sitting at it”, employees feel the pressure to go to the office even if they are allowed to work remotely on paper.
All forms of “digital presenteeism” — making it look like you are working extra-hard by flooding Slack channels with or scheduling meetings needlessly — are on the rise since the switch to remote work.
Jeremy Useem argues, in a thought-provoking piece for the Atlantic, that the struggle to trust our teammates and earn trust from managers has profound economical implications and is capable of exponentially deprecating GDP.
He also warns that, with the rate of trust loss since the pandemic, we might be approaching a “trust recession”.
Feeling at a loss of control is natural for managers who used to rely on in-person interactions and now have no other way to check in on their reports.
However, instead of giving up on the benefits of remote work, leaders should restructure operations in a way that gives them assuredness of the team’s productivity, as in:
The widespread adoption of remote work gave rise to a unique phenomenon — people starting and leaving their jobs without having met anyone from their team in person. That distance, experts believe, is making it easier for people to leave, as they feel no strings attached between them and their companies.
In fact, two phenomena: job hopping and the Great Resignation, have become widespread during the pandemic, so much so that recruiters stopped seeing job hopping as a red flag, as it became hard to find someone committed to a single position.
Employees themselves point out that physical distance makes gauging out the tone of a message and figuring out a proper way to respond to a colleague a lot more challenging.
Also, the multi-step process that comes into play when scheduling Zoom calls makes people debate if an issue is big enough to set up a meeting for it. Thus, spontaneous communication fueled by proximity gets substituted by guesswork and teammates second-guessing their interactions with each other.
At the same time, the freedom of remote work encourages people to rekindle their hobbies that, over time, become more fulfilling than work.
A 23-year-old analyst from PwC
She called this experience “leading a double life” and said she became much freer after quitting her job at the consulting firm.
As team leaders attempt to close the gap between team members by bringing them back to offices, they should remember that, with growing globalization, it is possible only to an extent. After all, it is rather difficult to bring employees from the US, UK, Japan, and other far-apart countries under one roof.
That’s why looking for digital ways to bring teams closer without flying them to the office will benefit hybrid or international in-office teams as much as it does remote startups.
Here’s how we address the challenge:
Big or small, in an effort to conquer a candidate-driven market, pre-pandemic tech startups put a lot of effort into improving their list of office perks. For tech teams like Google, large, million-dollar offices have become part of the brand — so, when the company’s 156,000 workforce switched to remote, the dream of a Silicon Valley campus vanished.
As companies switched from in-office work to hybrid or fully remote workdays, they made little effort to create new benefits packages that would contribute to employee satisfaction.
Seeing flexibility and autonomy provided by remote work as standalone perks, leaders didn’t walk the extra mile to understand what hardware, tools, learning, and wellness opportunities would make their teams more connected to the organization, productive, and engaged.
The readiness to review and update worker benefits has a noticeable impact on retention. A survey of over 1,000employees shows that 64% of those working at companies that have changed their perks to fit the needs of different work styles plan to stay with their employer for the next year.
On the contrary, only 47% of employees are loyal to leaders who don’t have the practice of reviewing employee benefits.
Looking back at the history of remote work at tech companies, it’s interesting to see that even those who have successfully adapted to the new model during the pandemic, had a rocky start in their first experiments with remote work.
Reddit is one of the prime (though not only) examples of a company that didn’t initially commit to remote work but eventually came around.
In 2014, after securing a new investment round, the company
In 2020, the company made a public statement that it would allow teams to work from anywhere.
The same is true for Yahoo which
In 2022, tools that did not exist in 2013-2014 are commonplace — Slack for asynchronous communication, Notion for documentation, and many more. Collaborative platforms help optimize workflows department by department — think about the fact that Figma, a collaboration-friendly design platform, is around only since 2016.
One of the key factors separating successful remote teams from laggards is the ability to discover and implement new tools. Companies that have roles or departments dedicated to introducing innovation to the workplace are able to adapt to changes and stay connected remotely much faster than teams that still rely on decades-old playbooks.
Having said that, leaders should remember that, when it comes to choosing collaboration platforms, less is more. Here’s how you can make sure your organization is not missing out on innovation and protect teams from being overwhelmed:
Expanding collaboration tool stacks give remote team leaders a lot of choices. With video conferencing, audio chatting, and virtual office platforms on the one hand, and email, messengers, Slack, and documentation platforms like Notion managers can achieve efficiency by skillfully balancing synchronous and asynchronous communication. The issue is few know how to do it.
A Harvard Business Review article describes an experiment that skillfully exposes the challenges of remote communication. Participants are divided into groups of three and each group is shown an image.
The person who has seen the picture shown by moderators has to describe it to the second team on a phone call. That teammate, in turn, emails the third teammate the instructions on recreating the image via email. The third participant has to draw the picture from scratch based on the email he got from the colleague.
You may have guessed it — the experiment produces hilarious pictures and shows how miscommunication prevents teams from successfully accomplishing even a relatively straightforward task.
What would happen if the game challenged participants in a complex process like designing a product feature and groups were composed of dozens of people, not three?
The problem could’ve been solved if instead of using audio-only and text-only tools (phone and email), the participants in the game chose a video conferencing tool that enables screen sharing and walked each other through the process step-by-step. This anecdote example shows the importance of matching the message to the medium.
Understanding whether an issue should be solved synchronously or asynchronously will help leaders reduce meeting fatigue among teammates while, on the contrary, leveraging audio and video when the context calls for it.
While it’s better to map up the balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication on a process-by-process basis, here are a few general practices we’ve seen to be effective in our and other teams.
Objective evidence shows that remote work is a progressive and forward-thinking model. On the other hand, there’s a record of tech teams having a rocky start in working remotely and their concerns have a basis.
It is true that, what could be taken for granted in the office — proximity, seamless oversight, effortless connection, requires extra effort in remote workplaces. It’s also true that employees are not entirely used to new responsibilities created by the shift: independently managing their time, maintaining home offices, and going the extra mile to connect with people within and outside their teams.
That’s why leaders should focus on bridging the gap between teammates, reducing the sense of alienation, and redefining employee benefits.
We aim to achieve both by offering leaders a virtual office space — a place where teammates can instantly connect without jumping through hoops to schedule calls or confirm availability. It combines the standard features of a communication platform — text chat, voice calls, and video conferencing, with an intuitive visual interface that gives managers and teammates a full view of the team.
Our spaces are fully customizable and can have areas for scrum, brainstorming, or casual conversations that help build “soft connections”.