What is a virtual office for remote teams?

In this article

Virtual offices provide a space for teammates to meet, work together, and bond. Used primarily by remote workers, virtual offices provide the benefits of an office without forcing people to commute to the same space.

Why use a virtual office

The consensus top two issues in remote work are loneliness and communication (see these two reports). Virtual offices help with both.

Build culture & closeness to reduce loneliness

Physical offices facilitate team closeness and culture. Employees invite each other to grab lunch, see each other at the water cooler, and generally chat about work and their personal lives throughout the day.

Virtual companies could not be more different. According to our survey of remote teams, a remote employee on average communicates only once per week over audio/video outside of scheduled meetings. Services like Slack try to fill the void, but the impersonal nature of text communication causes employees to dehumanize each other, developing less close relationships and making them more likely to develop unresolved hostile feelings.

Virtual offices help with these problems by:

  1. creating a sense of presence with teammates
  2. encouraging bonding with virtual water-cooler interactions
  3. promoting more conversations from lower fidelity text communication to higher fidelity audio/video conversation, encouraging closeness

Communicate faster

Communicating while remote is really hard. In a physical office, a worker can simply walk up to their teammate’s desk or meet in a shared conference room.

For remote workers, grabbing someone for a conversation involves significant friction. Oftentimes, the process starts with a Slack message in a channel, devolves into a 15 minute chat exchange clarifying details that could have been clarified in 2 minutes over video, and ends in video only after scheduling a meeting, waiting for that meeting to occur, and struggling with screen share.

Virtual offices reduce friction in communication by giving teammates a true sense of availability and enabling fast audio/video communication.

What teammates do in a virtual office

Remote teams use virtual offices for a broad range of use cases.

Meet in virtual conference rooms

With traditional video conferencing like Google Hangouts and Zoom, meetings are isolated events. Teammates:

  • Miss out on conversations are happening throughout the organization
  • Cannot see who’s participating in certain meetings
  • Have less opportunity to join meetings where they haven’t been explicitly invited

With virtual offices, meetings are organized into distinct conference rooms where teammates can see all the meetings and their participants in the organization. In a single click, teammates can navigate to a different meeting or pull a teammate into a conversation.

By being able to join a conversation in a single click in the same visual space (not a completely separate conferencing environment), workers have more confidence to start impromptu conversations or join a conversation that might be relevant for them.

  • If I’m on the dev ops team, and I see two people are chatting in the “War room”, I might want to check and see if they need help with debugging.
  • If I’m taking a break and I see two people hanging out in the “water cooler”, I could join them to banter about life.

By seeing someone in a virtual conference room, a worker also gains a valuable social signal about availability:

  • If I see my teammate alone in a customer conference room, I probably shouldn’t bother them. They might be waiting for a meeting to start with a customer soon.
  • If I see an HR person chatting with my teammate in a  conference room, I definitely shouldn’t bother them. They might be reviewing their HR performance metrics.

Tap someone’s shoulder for a quick chat

Traditional video conferencing tools like Zoom are excellent for hosting scheduled meetings with a predefined agenda. They’re not great for starting 2 to 5-minute-long impromptu conversations. Some examples:

  • I need someone to give me a brief run-down of an unfamiliar part of the codebase
  • I want someone to explain the latest marketing plan to promote our latest product feature

These aren’t situations where I would formally create a calendar meeting, and the friction of creating a new Zoom meeting and sharing it every time I have one of these questions is too annoying. On top of that, Slack messages are time consuming to write and require far too much distracting back-and-forth clarification.

Virtual offices allow people to quickly start conversations with teammates in a single click, similar to walking up to someone’s desk. No more wasted time in creating Zoom meetings or typing in Slack.

Have fun!

Teammates naturally bond in a physical office. An office worker eats with their teammates at the cafeteria or chats about yesterday’s NBA game or Bachelor episode at the water cooler. These encounters build a healthy foundation for great team culture.

Opportunities for socializing are far less organic, and loneliness is common among remote workers. Virtual offices help remote teams build closeness by creating opportunities for teammates to hang out away from day-to-day work tasks.

  • If I see that my teammates are hanging out in the “water cooler”, I can join them to chat about non-work things.
  • Some virtual offices like Pragli have team bonding games like trivia built into the product. If I see my teammates playing trivia, I can join in for a friendly competition.
  • Virtual offices also provide ways to celebrate team success, such as hitting a traction milestone or launching a new product feature.

In all three cases, virtual offices provide a way for workers to relax and have fun with their teammates.

Respect other’s calendars/statuses

Many workers use calendars to communicate their availability to their teammates.

  • If I create an event called “Focusing”, I’m letting my teammates know that I’m deeply working on a project
  • If I create an event called “Demo”, I’m letting them know that I’m busy talking with a potential customer

Virtual offices integrate with calendar systems to keep teammates informed of a worker’s availability. A worker’s meetings and out-of-office (personal) events are synced to the virtual office, where their teammates can get more context about the worker’s availability. A worker can also configure whether teammates can reach them for a conversation depending on whether an event is on-going.

Workers can also set manual statuses in a virtual office to let their teammates know that they’re focusing on a task.

Host virtual office hours

Office hours are dedicated times when you are available to your team for conversation, work-related or otherwise. They create a structured environment for users to bond and ask questions, thereby distributing knowledge and building closeness. Remote workers have a hard time hosting their own office hours in a way that feels natural.

Sometimes, remote teams create spreadsheets listing everyone’s office hours. These are difficult to maintain and often forgotten. Other times, remote teams share a recurring calendar event with people’s office hours. These are often deleted within a few weeks to reduce event noise.

By hosting office hours in a virtual office, everyone can instantly see who’s hosting office hours. If I’m hanging out in the #office-vivek channel by myself, I’m signaling to my teammates that I’m available to answer any questions that my teammates might have.

Collaborate, not just present

Most video conferencing products are designed for presentations, where information is disseminated from one presenter to many listeners. These tools often ignore collaborative workflows where multiple teammates are working closely to solve a complex problem.

Virtual offices provide functionality to collaborate more effectively by sharing multiple screens within a conference room. This is especially useful for pair programming and war rooms:

  • Pair programming: easily navigating between multiple screens is critical when collaborating on code with other software engineers
  • War rooms: when a company emergency happens (e.g. service down time or PR incident), everyone needs to communicate information fast. Sharing multiple screens makes the process much easier.

By focusing on quick communication and collaboration with multiple screen share, virtual offices can vastly improve the time to resolution for complex problems.

Host guests

Although most virtual office features are focused on team collaboration, good virtual offices allow workers to invite guests outside of the team for conversations in a virtual conference room. Here are some examples of guests who you might want to invite:

  • Vendors
  • Customers
  • Workers in other teams at the same company

Virtual offices show guests a restricted view of the virtual conference room. This allows guests to participate in the meeting without full access to the office.

What to look for in a virtual office

With a growing number of virtual offices to choose from, it’s challenging to know whether a virtual office will work well for your team. Here are a few characteristics that are important to keep in mind:

High quality, reliable A/V and screen share

Virtual offices are first and foremost communication products. High quality A/V and screen share is critical and should be properly assessed before you commit to using the office with your team.

Fun and engaging

As cultural tools, virtual offices need to feel fun and engaging. Workers want communication tools to express their unique identities and bond with their teammates.

When evaluating a virtual office, measure how much teammates start impromptu audio/video conversations. Impromptu conversations are often how teammates build the strongest bonds with their teammates.

In particular, see how the quieter members of your remote team respond. A great virtual office will include and empower even strong introverts.

Accurate presence that isn’t creepy

There’s a fine line between presence and invasiveness. The ideal virtual office gives a worker accurate insights into their teammate’s availability without invading privacy. Accuracy and intent matter because a worker needs to know if someone is available for a chat. But if a worker feels like their privacy is being violated, they will immediately stop using the product.

When evaluating a virtual office, if a feature feels too privacy invasive, look to see whether the product has an option to minimize the scope or entirely disable the feature. In Pragli, for example, we allow users to add their Google/Outlook calendars to show their work events but provide an option for users to hide their specific event details.

Guest support

External facing roles need to regularly meet with guests. The best virtual offices have a simple way to copy and share a link to the conversation. Make sure that process is simple and fast.

Also, since the guest is not a member of the team, the virtual office should show the guest only the meeting to which they were invited, not the entire office.

Why did you make Pragli?

We made Pragli because we personally experienced slow, awkward communication and loneliness when working remotely. As a result, we created a virtual office with the following features:

✅ Pragli enables fast communication with high quality A/V and screen share: Pragli audio, video, and screen share is crisp and reliable. Starting a conversation in Pragli is a single click.

✅ Pragli is inclusive and fun!: Pragli features fun, configurable avatars to showcase each user’s unique personality. Users gravitate to Pragli because it gives them an outlet for self-expression that many other work communication products don’t provide. Pragli also features celebrations and games (like trivia).

Pragli gives teammates a virtual presence online: Pragli allows users to integrate their Google/Outlook Calendars and Spotify account to provide teammates additional social signals of their availability.

✅ Pragli respects privacy: Pragli uses live avatars to create a sense of presence without invading people’s privacy.

✅ Pragli supports guestsUsers can copy a guest link to any Pragli conversation/channel and share it with people outside of the team. Guests see a restricted view of only the conversation/channel that they were invited to.

What now?

Try out a virtual office to find out if it’s right for your team! Use Pragli with your team for free.

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