New online office technology offers employees a way to work virtually with the same collaborative benefits of being together in a physical office…it may turn the corporate real estate world on its head.
Over the last decade, there has been an explosion of companies over-investing in elaborate corporate campuses, only to find that their shiny new office buildings are not always the futuristic productivity hives they imagined. Recently, three of the largest companies in the U.S.—Amazon, Walmart and Apple—have all announced new corporate megastructures with price tags in the billions. Meanwhile, the average annual cost per workstation rose by 1.5% globally last year, and many companies are searching for a less expensive alternative that improves upon the structure of the physical office.
What if these companies could tell shareholders that they’d invested that money into product development or global hiring rather than expensive real estate? What could that business do with the billions back in their pocket? One workforce revolution could soon make corporate mega-headquarters obsolete.
The Office of the Future – What it Looks Like
As new technologies make it easier to collaborate from anywhere, many companies are ditching the physical office altogether. The remote work revolution has already begun to transform the way business leaders think about the workplace: the telecommuting workforce has grown by 140% since 2005, nearly 10x faster than the rest of the workforce or the self-employed.
Research has shown that when done right, remote workforces can be even more productive than traditional workplace teams. In this way, businesses can have their proverbial cake and eat it too—enjoying the benefits of side-by-side collaboration without the restrictions and distractions.
Workers Prefer Working from Home Anyway
Employee productivity and engagement go hand-in-hand. Workers that aren’t optimally engaged in the organization cost U.S. employers up to $550 billion annually according to Gallup. This has prompted some, including the author of a Harvard study, to suggest alternative options that include greater remote or work-from-home time.
And flexible work options are transitioning from a perk to a necessity for companies that want to be competitive in hiring. A survey of 5,000 professionals showed that the number of people who quit a job due to a lack of flexible work options nearly doubled from 17% in 2014 to 32% in 2017. Additionally, 35% of people surveyed by Gallup identified the ability to work remotely as the number one perk that would cause them to switch jobs. To remain competitive in hiring and retaining talent, businesses have to consider their approach to remote work.
Previewing the office of the future
But what does remote work look like in practice? To facilitate the proximity and social awareness necessary for successful teams to drive better employee engagement and culture, companies like Sococo (www.sococo.com) provide an online workspace that allows workers to come to work side-by-side each day, even while remote. The virtual office allows employees to see where their coworkers are and feel connected to the organization as a whole.
This “virtual co-location” allows people to work as if they were sharing a physical space, regardless of their geographical distance. In Sococo, for example, even remote workers can bump into a colleague in the hallway, chat around a virtual water cooler or jump into a conference room to work out a problem.
Virtual offices like Sococo promise to facilitate the kind of spontaneous collaboration that has been the goal of workplace design since the beginning of modern work, without sacrificing the ability to work heads-down and distraction-free that is so often lost in open physical offices.
Steve Elliot, Founder and CEO of AgileCraft, an enterprise software company based in Texas that comes to work in Sococo each day, says, “We live and breathe agility at AgileCraft, and Sococo is the oxygen that helps us seamlessly and spontaneously collaborate around the world.”
Another example is an international hospitality company that uses Sococo to bring teams together. With offices in Germany, Texas, Panama, Minnesota and New York, the company does not pay for any physical office space. This has saved the small company tens of thousands of dollars, all while giving employees the benefit of a flexible work environment and enabling seamless collaboration throughout the workday.
These businesses will also expect to fare better in the ongoing battle for talent—businesses have a better chance of finding the right candidate for a particular role when the candidate pool can be expanded beyond local applicants and those willing to relocate. There’s also the added benefit of greater team camaraderie and alignment.
Leaving the Corporate Office Behind
The remote work revolution can offer a more productive solution to the overpriced headquarters for business leaders seeking to balance efficiency, accountability, cost savings and performance. For Sococo Chairman and CEO Marc Kirshbaum, it’s about the maturation of both the technology and the processes behind remote work that can bring the benefits of co-location to a preferred way of doing business day to day.
“Virtual workspaces like Sococo can enable social awareness just as if all employees were sitting in the same office, which is key to keeping remote teams engaged and cohesive,” Kirshbaum explained. “In the early days of working remotely, you wouldn’t know whether people were heads-down working intently on a project, in a meeting or available to interrupt with an email or phone call. Working in an online workspace allows you to virtually sit with your colleagues in one place and see whether someone is in a conversation or a meeting, enabling the kind of synchronous, real-time conversations that transform businesses. This hasn’t been possible for remote teams until now.”
Kirshbaum and others are betting that business leaders will find the cloud-fueled next generation of remote work not just an adequate alternative to traditional work, but rather a powerful evolution of the workplace—enabling people to work where they want while boosting productivity, collaboration and money-saving efficiency.
Online workspaces like Sococo model the “social awareness” and accountability of the workplace without sacrificing the flexibility of choosing where you work. This concept differs from “communication tools” such as Webex and Zoom that rely on discontinuous interactions and do not replicate the sense of presence that a physical office provides.
So while it may initially seem like a bold step to redefine the status quo that’s dominated the workplace for many decades, the future of work is already here. The businesses that remain competitive are those that will embrace the remote work revolution.
Kirshbaum says, “Whether you’re a major corporation with employees spread across a campus or a smaller team distributed between cities and countries, you need to be able to work side-by-side without being in the same room.” By moving their physical office space increasingly into the virtual realm, these businesses will find their teams more focused, innovative, and collaborative in a far more cost-effective manner.
Originally posted in Entrepreneur.