The COVID pandemic put a lot of words and concepts into team leaders’ minds. According to Google Trends, we’ve been massively looking into remote work and automation. Another concept that is slowly but surely getting traction is virtual office space.
With companies undergoing a telecommuting shift, team managers are looking for ways to stay close with their peers. That’s why the outburst of the pandemic led to the birth of tools that support the culture of spontaneous creativity and casual collaboration in remote-only workplaces.
The adoption of virtual offices has been picking up steam but is still slowed down by the resistance from employees and executives.
For many, moving their workflows to a 2D workplace seems a risky endeavor, full of organizational and security challenges.
In this post, we will address the concerns about using virtual office platforms and offer teams a checklist for migrating to digital spaces.
- What is a virtual office?
- What should managers know about moving to a virtual office: a step-by-step guide
What is a virtual office?
When you first hear about it, the idea of a virtual office might feel redundant and forced. After all, a digital space will never compare to a physical one and there’s a risk of your “virtual office” being another useless tool you have to run in the background.
Besides, some team leaders might be doing well enough with the standard Slack-Zoom communication package. Why would they add more tools?
The answer to this question becomes obvious once you are a few years into the remote work shift. You’ve been able to experience its benefits and, by now, are coming to see its limitations.
Yes, teams are generally more productive but it comes at an expense of their work-life balance (how many of us have taken remote projects “home” and finished them at 11 pm?)
Yes, access to the global job market helps fight talent shortage and build inclusive teams but what about retention? Statistically, remote employees aren’t as attached to their workplaces as their office counterparts.
Yes, there are no useless meetings and distracting office chats but what about accessibility? Can employees ask casual questions without having to schedule a call? Do newcomers get enough exposure to the entire team without feeling left behind?
Remote work has been productive but it makes teams grow and eventually fall apart, churning employees at an unprecedented pace.
Virtual office platforms are designed to change it through technology, bringing people closer together even if they are miles apart.
Here are the most impactful reasons to consider setting up a virtual space for your team.
Everyone is at a hand’s reach
It is one of the huge benefits of in-person office space: employees across different departments are intermingled, can share knowledge casually, and get to know each other.
In that sense, virtual offices are similar: you can see the entire team hanging out in a customized space. In fact, large-scale companies can expand this infrastructure to connect their headquarters in different locations.
This way, the knowledge sharing between global teams will be faster and more seamless compared to physical offices.
Better onboarding and employee training
When entering a remote workplace, new hires can feel isolated since they haven’t yet learned which Slack channel they should use to ask specific questions. On the other hand, DM-ing their managers can feel intrusive.
Also, the delay between the question and answer slows down the learning process putting extra pressure on employees.
When it comes to onboarding, virtual offices have the upper hand because they help quickly and seamlessly address the concerns newcomers have.
The ability to ask someone a spontaneous question without having to write it formally breaks the ice and smoothly integrates a new hire into the team.
Extra benefits like customizable office layouts help employees immerse themselves in the corporate culture from Day 1, building a stronger sense of belonging.
Advocating for work-life balance
While not to the fullest extent, a remote office helps put teams in a “Leave work in your workplace” mindset.
Such a space makes it easier for team leaders to see if their peers are overworking themselves, spotting red flags of burnout before it’s too late.
[To see the full list of reasons to move to a virtual office, take a look at our post covering the benefits of these platforms].
What should managers know about moving to a virtual office: a step-by-step guide
As more people come to appreciate the convenience of remote work and want to combine it with the benefits of office interactions, setting up a virtual office is a win-win strategy.
However, to successfully rent virtual office spaces, we recommend putting a migration plan in place.
Based on our experience as a virtual office space developer, we’ve collected the best practices teams follow to make their workplaces as productive and flexible as possible and put together a comprehensive checklist.
Step #1. Identify selection criteria
Compared to other collaboration platforms, the market for virtual offices is still a nascent one. Still, driven by huge demands, new tools sprout fast, leaving team leaders overwhelmed and struggling to choose the most optimal solutions.
To eliminate confusion, put together a list of selection criteria and assess the tools you discover against these points. In our experience, the vital considerations for most teams are:
- User capacity of a space: how many people an office accommodates simultaneously. Think how many employees, clients, or partners you might want to host in a digital space at once and find a platform that supports that user count.
- Computing power needed to sustain a virtual office. In this case, there are two broad categories of digital spaces: VR tools and 2D platforms. While the former provides an immersive experience, teams need to buy headsets to access it and the resource strain is higher. That’s why more team leaders choose 2D spaces instead – they are not as photorealistic but fully functional and resource-efficient.
- Security and data storage. Since a virtual office can become both the company’s hub for internal operations and a place for external meetings (investor pitches, client presentations, industry events), team leaders should run due diligence on whether the platform they are considering is storing call and other data, how reliable the servers are, whether there is a history of major downtime incidents. etc.
- Features. If there are specific features (spatial audio, simultaneous screen sharing, customizable layouts), the team wants to see in a virtual office, document them, and shortlist tools based on your requirements.
- Pricing. Office space pricing is a major consideration for managers. If you want your space to be scalable long-term, you want to make sure the provider’s pricing policy doesn’t hinder your team’s growth. That’s why, rather than choosing tools that charge per user, we recommend looking into platforms that offer a fixed price per space.
For a quick recap of the virtual office platform market, take a look at our review of the top 15 frontrunners in the space.
Step #2. Choose a virtual office platform
With a list of selection criteria, team leaders can move to the next stage of virtual office migration – choosing a tool that’s going to become the core of your remote activity and communication.
To speed up the process and get all the information you need, we recommend:
- Studying the platform’s websites and case studies. Make sure that the positioning of the tool matches your needs: for example, platforms that target online communities might fall short on tools for remote offices.
- Reaching out to the customer success team if you have any questions. Virtual office platforms are complex by design so websites rarely cover all technical aspects in depth. That’s why you’ll have a more informative introduction to the tool if you reach out to its representatives.
- Giving the virtual space a try. The best way to choose a virtual office platform is to try using it yourself before you bring teammates along. Find out if the tool you are considering has a tour space and pay a visit.
Step #3. Set up your office layout
Once you made a decision, it’s time to settle into your digital office space. There are two ways teams typically approach it: either building a digital copy of physical headquarters or designing a new creative layout the team wouldn’t be able to experience in real life. Figure out which approach works best for you and think about what you want the office to look like.
Virtual office platforms like oVice offer layout templates to choose from and help workplace owners customize and set them up. If you have a designer who can work on a layout, you can integrate a custom look-and-feel into your office.
Other than that, virtual office platforms offer different zones and areas for various purposes: standup meetings, uninterrupted work, breakout chat, 1-on-1 calls, and so on. Think about the way to take advantage of these spaces to give the team as much flexibility as possible.
Step #4. Set up virtual office login rules for the team
Once the virtual office is ready, it’s time to help the entire team feel at home in their new workplace. For a seamless onboarding, we suggest preparing guidelines and instructions for teammates to follow, namely on:
- Working hours and availability. When do you expect teammates to come and leave the office? Can they leave the workplace and come back flexibly?
- Avatar and profile customization: share conventions on how to set up a virtual office profile with the team.
- The purpose of different zones and areas. Platforms like oVice allow putting together an announcement board that explains how teams should use designated areas. This way, you make sure everyone makes the most out of the virtual office infrastructure.
- Virtual office working hours “Do not disturb” policies: make sure there’s a system that allows employees to focus on tasks at hand without distractions or constant interruptions.
Step #5. Blend your virtual office with the tools the team uses
Virtual office platforms are universal and can single-handedly replace a lot of tools (messengers for chats and audio calls, video conferencing platforms, and many more).
However, at oVice, we noticed that most teams use the platform together with other collaboration tools and it has been working out.
Here’s how teams are using virtual office platforms with other tools:
- Virtual office + Slack: virtual office for all synchronous communication Slack for file sharing and updates.
- Virtual office + CRMs: virtual offices for hosting presentations and client meetings, CRMs for keeping all prospect data in one place.
- Virtual office + project management tools: all the discussions around the project are happening in a virtual office but meeting notes and project progress are tracked in Jira, Asana, or a different tool.
- Virtual office + Notion: teams work at a virtual office but store their documents for internal and external use on Notion.
In oVice, teams can also share content from Google Drive, Figma, or other platforms through iFrames (HTML pages embedded in the office space).
In conclusion, we believe that functional remote teams shouldn’t have a hard time transitioning their workflows to a virtual office.
Though choosing a reliable platform for remote office jobs takes time and resources, in return, team leaders will be able to create an engaged, dynamic workplace, quickly mitigate concerns and remove bottlenecks.
If you want to try oVice, one of the leading virtual office tools worldwide, check out our tour space. There, you will be able to chat with our team about the platform and best practices for setting up a virtual workspace.