This is a guest post by Raj Singh, Co-founder and CEO of Loop Team.
What started as a Covid-induced WFH experiment is now permanent WFH. Over 70% of remote workers are preferring remote to in-office. Employee productivity is on the rise with 80% being more or equally productive working from home. Happiness is also climbing with eliminated commutes, flexible schedules, and increased family time.
Employers are also taking note, realizing that this new way of work can be effective. Online meetings are encouraging more focused and equal participation and the shift to fully distributed teams is creating more egalitarianism across organizations.
But new remote teams are experiencing some challenges
While happiness may be increasing, surveys also spotlight the impact on team collaboration and communication, and many workers’ feelings of disconnect and loneliness. Both employees and employers are experiencing a loss of serendipity — there are simply less spontaneous discussions happening and heard across desks, in snack rooms, during lunch, in hallways, or in the walks to and from the office.
The loss of these “chance conversations” are affecting employee morale and reducing opportunity for micro-innovation. Impromptu discussions result in creative ideas to problems and strengthen personal bonds. Office rituals are also less likely to form and the role of the manager is even more critical to make sure communication and information flow to make people feel “in the loop.”
Enter the virtual office
To address these pain points, a new category of remote tool called “virtual office” has emerged that enables presence and more casual and collaborative workplace communication and dissemination, helping team members form stronger bonds and have more serendipitous discussion.
Core experience is all about presence
Things like who is in a meeting, teammates location and weather, their automatic status (eg ‘coding’, ‘designing’) as well as AI to determine if someone is in deep focused work, all provide context akin to a real office where you can see your colleagues and determine if someone is in flow or in a work state applicable to engage.
Presence can be taken further with integrations into the calendar as well as aggregation of activities across the company’s tools such as Jira, Trello, or Google Docs activity feeds. This combination of context not only ameliorates some of the loneliness that comes with remote work, but also addresses much of the anxiety that results from team members being spread across time zones and just simply not knowing who is actually around.
Virtual offices organize your team by time zone and display presence.
Fast shoulder-taps make interactions seamless
The typical meeting workflow includes generating a link, sharing a calendar invite, receiving the alert and then joining the meeting. This might be perfectly fine for your larger formal recurring meetings, but many day-to-day interactions are unscheduled and this workflow is too much friction. In the office, small hyper-collaborative groups shoulder-tap through-out the day when it’s appropriate to collaborate.
One-click tap to connect and screen share within 1-2 seconds
While virtual, making this interaction fast and seamless is the closest thing to replicating that feeling of sitting adjacent to someone; and can be done in such a way that it is respectful and not interruptive.
Floating heads to encourage more casual conversation
Formal conferencing tools are great for formal meetings but much of the in-between conversations and collaboration are casual and ad-hoc. Presenting an experience that is fun and casual is key to driving serendipitous communication. Incorporating games into the experience is even better, as it encourages bonding time vs simply work.
Rooms provide a space to have watercooler or small-group discussions
Recent research from Microsoft has shown how the calendar has changed post-COVID. Whereas previously, their employees’ calendars had longer back-to-back meetings, the long meetings have shortened and been replaced with many 30 minute discussions. Employees are leaning on the calendar to have more collaborative and unscheduled discussion throughout the day.
Rooms provide a great way to have and possibly even organize these discussions. They are often set up by topics as opposed to specific meetings and/or for different interests (eg gaming, sports, general watercooler).
Why did you make Loop Team?
Above is only a partial dive into some of the benefits of virtual office which many startups are working to solve.
With Loop Team, we wanted to take this further and solve for the serendipity that comes from in-office.
Background conversations keeps me in the loop
The office affords so much spontaneous learning and opportunities for team bonding. Hearing your nearby teammate talk about your favorite sports team or your colleague across the room discussing pricing strategies results in more cross-learning about your teammates and the company. These learnings provide context, foster new ideas and drive positive discourse.
Our Alpha teams report that seeing real-time topics being discussed, the screens being shared across their team discussions, and having the ability to listen into these conversations without joining the meeting is providing a radical way to follow and discover conversation akin to the hallways discussions in a physical office.
In Loop Team, users can go-live so other team members can follow without joining the meeting
A feed of conversations you missed
As most fully distributed team playbooks indicate, documentation is key to support your global team. But documentation often doesn’t extend to the many ad-hoc and unscheduled discussions that happen during the sync hours of a work day. As a result, much of this knowledge is neither captured nor transferred. Loop Team supports those distributed teams by allowing conversations to be published into a feed akin to the way documents are shared in Google Apps and/or Notion.
The feed is personalized to each user with AI-augmented summarization and snippets to allow teammates to quickly consume what they’ve missed, providing further context and creating more egalitarianism across the team — remote employees are no longer penalized for simply not being near HQs time zone.
Loop Team’s expanded view displays a personalized, AI-augmented feed of convos shared with you
We can expect a lot of innovation focused on encouraging more hallway conversations with your distributed team. As COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the shift to remote work; and as remote collaboration, communication, and presence become more pivotal to the way we work, virtual office will play an increasingly important role in keeping teams more connected.
About Raj Singh
Raj Singh is Co-Founder and CEO of Loop Team, a virtual office for distributed teams. Previously, Raj Co-Founded Tempo AI, a smart calendar acquired by Salesforce, Co-Founded AllTheCooks, the largest iOS and Android recipe community acquired by Cookpad, served as VP of Business Development for Skyfire, the first mobile browser that could play Flash acquired by Opera, Co-founded Veeker, NBC’s mobile video citizen journalism service acquired by WMG and ToneThis, CNET’s top downloaded ringtone creation product.
Raj has also worked in product management, engineering, strategy and consulting roles for numerous companies including Kodak Mobile, Dell Mobile, AOL, Blackberry, MobiTV, Tellme, Samsung, Turk Telekom, IGT and others. Raj blogs at his LinkedIn and invests via AngelList and other. Raj has a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Cal Poly, SLO.