First Came Remote Work, Now It’s the Virtual Office

some employees rocking the virtual office space

It’s now approaching the two-year mark since the COVID-19 pandemic began, bringing the world to a halt. Lockdowns, quarantines, and facemasks followed, and with these changes came remote work and virtual meetings. The change was difficult for businesses and employees alike, but in the process, many realized the benefits of remote work. Therefore, as restrictions gradually relaxed, many workers insisted on remote work as a new employment model. As a result, hybrid and remote work schedules have become more the norm than the exception these days. But it remains unclear if the future of remote working is truly sustainable. Productivity has been preserved, but other aspects of the work environment have not. As a result, many companies are exploring more comprehensive virtual office spaces moving forward.

(Potential employees are requiring remote work as a condition of employment–read more in this Bold story.)

For the last year or so, the standard for hybrid and remote work models has been the virtual meeting. However, while these meeting allow communications and collaboration, they’re not the same as actually being in the office. Informal conversations at the water cooler don’t take place. Likewise, employees at home often feel left out when colleagues are physically on-site. This is where companies designing virtual office spaces come into play. They attempt to recreate these informal encounters by expanding interactions beyond the scheduled meeting. And based on the number of such startups, it seems many believe this will be the future of remote working.

“People, especially the ones who are working from home, they don’t feel they’re part of the group. We’re missing all of these conversations that used to happen where you could talk about your personal life. And a lot of actual business decisions are made in the corridors.” – Oded Gal, Chief Product Officer at Zoom

Exploring Virtual Office Spaces

The distinction between virtual meetings and virtual office spaces may not at first be apparent. But conceptually, they are quite different. For more employees engaged in remote and hybrid work, connections with colleagues primarily occur during scheduled sessions. Microsoft Teams boasts over 270 million active users who use their platform primarily for this purpose. But what’s missing is the more informal, casual encounters among coworkers. Once the virtual meeting is over, there’s typically no additional conversations about personal life or non-work happenings. And because of this, many employees are feeling disconnected and disengaged.

This decline in worker engagement is why many believe the future of remote working needs a paradigm shift. Surveys have recently shown that engagement has declined for the first time in a decade. Slightly more than a third of workers now describe themselves as engaged, and 16% are actively disengaged. The proposed remedy to the situation for those working remotely may be virtual office spaces. In essence, these are digital representations of the office where employees can connect any time of the day (or evening). Conversations about recent social events, life circumstances, or anything can take place. As such, it’s expected that such platforms could lead to a more productive and more positive future of remote working.

“The post-pandemic workforce will be hybrid moving forward, and there’s a stronger desire to create sustained connection and team unity. The thing that makes a virtual office special is the interaction between people.” – Adam Preset, Analyst at Gartner, Inc.

Virtual Office Startups and Companies

As you might assume, larger companies already active in the virtual meeting sector are among those exploring virtual office spaces. Microsoft Teams is adding games to their platform in an effort to better engage workers through play. Zoom has recently announced Zoom Spot, which is its version of the virtual office. It is expected to be released in early 2023 and allow spontaneous encounters among workers outside of meetings. They actually describe Spot as an all-day business platform where connections can take place any time if desired. Both companies therefore seem to envision the future of remote working moving in this direction.

some people utilizing virtual office space
Virtual office spaces are gaining in popularity–but are the better than remote work?

Clearly, Zoom and Microsoft Teams enjoy firs-to-market advantages when it comes to introducing virtual office spaces. But that doesn’t mean many other startups aren’t doing the same. Overall, the market for collaboration apps in general is expected to grow 20% this year alone to $36.4 billion. It is anticipated to double by 2026. Thus, it’s not surprising the industry is attracting many newcomers. Among them are companies like Roam, Kosy, and Teemyco, all of which have raised significant venture capital as of late. Like Zoom Spot, these startups also facilitate spontaneous encounters and customizable digital office spaces. But unlike Zoom Spot, they offer their services for about half the price. Most charge around $10 per employee per month while Zoom is closer to $19 a month for medium-sized businesses.

“Companies want something different. They want technology to support the way humans work, not the reverse.” – Howard Lerman, CEO and Founder, Roam

A Metaverse for the Office?

If virtual office spaces are the future of remote working, then there could be some risks of some old issues. For one, there could be the suspicion that “Big Brother” is watching virtual interactions among colleagues. As a result, this could reintroduce a level of oversight that many wanted to avoid with remote work in the first place. Or virtual office spaces could encourage what is known as presenteeism. This is where employees show up in virtual offices simply to receive credit from employers for being engaged. This may not be inherently bad, but it’s certainly not the same as spontaneous encounters in the physical office space.

Regardless, it is evident that the future of remote working does need to evolve. Research has shown that the most effective teams are those who participate in frequent informal communications with coworkers. In fact, companies that have coordinated work breaks of their staff at the same time have seen increases in productivity by 8% on average. Presumably, this occurs in part because increased worker connections enhance work attitudes. These statistics and findings are why companies see virtual office spaces as the next step in the future of remote working. No one believes remote or hybrid work will disappear. But everyone appreciates that these platforms could offer more than they currently do.


Sometimes businesses are like rose bushes, and need to be pruned to grow. Read more about prune and grow, and Musk’s use of it, in this Bold story.

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