5 things to consider when creating a virtual digital workplace

The Covid pandemic massively changed the workplace. With commuting to offices restricted, most office-based professionals were forced to work from home. And now that the pandemic is in the past some corporate leaders have tried to revert to how their workplace used to function. In the vast majority of cases, however, this return to 2019 has just not worked.

Indeed a recent survey conducted in the US found that 73% of companies have struggled to get their employees to return to the office. The temporary change in workplace has become permanent. Employees now expect flexibility.

What is really interesting about this change in workplace is not just the location, but ‘how’ people are working. When the crisis first arrived, many office-based employees followed their office working pattern at home – they just replicated the same hours – working from a desk at home rather than inside the office. Now this has evolved, so there has been a change in location and environment, in addition to the hours worked and flexibility of the work itself.

This has led to a much more detailed exploration of how people work together productively, by which I mean: how hybrid work can allow employees to choose some time working at home and some time in the office; how this change in workplace and work practices changes employee health and wellbeing; how new workplace technology is transforming what it means to ‘go to work’; and what all of these changes mean for issues such as the environment, public transport, and city planning.

One of the most fundamental changes has been to the workplace itself. Working from home changes the nature of interactions between employees. Companies that want to ensure their home-based team is productive (and supported) need digital tools that can transform their workplace – so the best attributes of offices can be replicated at home.

So what are the main features of an office-based workplace that need to feature (i.e. be replicated) within a ‘virtual digital workplace’?

  • Collaboration: Office environments feature employees in a single physical location where interactions, conversations, and meetings all take place (or are easy to arrange). This enhances collaboration and communication within the team.
  • Social interaction: Employees demand personal interaction and community. They want to talk about their weekend or catch up with friends. Nobody spends 100% of their time at work only talking to colleagues about work and although this networking may seem unproductive it is important for team-building and bonding.
  • Environment: Offices provide structured environment designed for work. 
  • Culture: This is often defined by the physical space that an organisation occupies – how an office is decorated and designed can present an image of how the company wants to be seen by clients and those on the outside.
  • Security: The ability to physically secure an office environment by using ID passes or badges ensures that only employees can be on site and if access to the computer network is only possible on site then this adds a further layer of data security.

These are key attributes and there are others too. Many managers prefer to be able to see their team in person, for example. And in environments that require learning on the job – such as where apprentices are being taught or where employees need a mentor – it can be useful to be together in person.

However, with an informed approach, it is now possible to digitise most – if not all – of the office experience. And the key requirement is an IT platform that all employees access when they are ‘at work.’ 

People with experience of gaming will be familiar with this idea. Modern gaming usually involves an environment where several players can interact with each other – the players can be logged into the game from anywhere but within the game they are together inside a virtual environment. The GTA 6 trailer is a good example.

Today, this type of virtual platform is enabling employees to work from home and experience the same features and attributes that their 100% office-based colleagues enjoy. And because employees – regardless of where they work – are within a virtual work environment, they can see and interact with other team members. Interactions may be related to work, so collaboration and meetings are possible, or just social – i.e. chatting to friends.

It’s all a far cry from the early experience of the pandemic. Companies that rapidly switched their workplace from the office to the home of each individual employee were not connecting their teams together into a single virtual workplace. They might have used Zoom or Teams to stay in touch with managers but there was no ongoing connection lasting for the entire shift. It was easy for many employees to become isolated during the pandemic, and this was a commonly reported issue for home workers.

When the workplace is transformed then a different type of workplace can be embraced and used to encourage team-building and innovation. This is how modern workplaces can function today and it will certainly become more common in future.

Sensée uses its own purpose-built platform, LiveDesk™️, to connect remote teams within a unified digital workplace. LiveDesk is an award-winning system that allows teams to chat, collaborate, socialise, and work together from anywhere.

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