This article originally appeared on Fast Company.
We’re no longer debating whether hybrid work is the future of work. The question now is if leaders should prioritize the in-person experience or the virtual experience to optimize their distributed workplace strategy.
It’s understandable why many executives want to focus on their company’s in-person experience. Shared office spaces carry a perceived sense of normalcy that many have missed, and it is seemingly easier to brush the dust off our old playbooks for designing in-person workplace cultures than it is to tackle the challenges of distributed workspaces. But to achieve the full benefits of hybrid and distributed workforces, and enable all employees to be productive and fulfilled, the virtual experience must be the priority—even if your company primarily engages in person.
The Enterprise has Been Distributed for Decades
With all the talk about hybrid work and remote work, many people have lost sight of the fact that traditional office environments were often also distributed. We just weren’t as aware of the ways in which the friction between people who sat together and those who worked in distant offices detracted from their experience.
It has always been rare for an entire company to work from a single building in one location. Large companies had offices globally, or a few regional offices around the country. Over time, team skills and information inevitably became siloed. In the worst cases, company tools and resources were restricted to the corporate headquarters, leaving everyone else—including freelancers and consultants—to fend for themselves. Not a great recipe for a productive and engaged workforce.
A shared virtual workspace can remove these barriers and empower everyone with the same tools and resources. Now that the future of work is here, we have the opportunity and means to fulfill this potential.
How a Virtual Workspace Empowers Teams
A dedicated online workspace allows everyone to work together more effectively, regardless of where they are located. To get work done, employees can access the same information, resources, and people through a purpose-built virtual workspace instead of needing to work from a specific office location.
There are several reasons why it’s smart to align your company around a virtual workspace:
1. Workplace Inclusivity
More voices can be heard, and people can more easily engage when online collaboration is the standard for your company. Asynchronous communication channels and modern video conferencing solutions give people opportunities to connect and share their feedback. Contrast that with sitting in a conference room, where they may be spoken over or ignored, or putting colleagues in distant offices on speakerphone. Furthermore, people can more easily balance their work and personal priorities when they can access a reliable virtual workplace from anywhere.
Unlike in in-person environments, everything you do in a virtual setting can be utilized and shared to improve your company culture. For example, you can use a virtual meeting tool that analyzes how much each attendee talks. This data can help you notice if specific people dominate meetings or talk over their peers.
3. Knowledge Retention
The most effective teams rely on shared templates and central resource hubs that streamline their work. Building your virtual workspace to have rich information libraries means employees have a go-to place to overcome their challenges—instead of asking around the organization and across offices to get the information they need. The key is to train them to navigate your virtual workspace and access these resources effectively.
4. AI Capabilities
When everyone operates from a digital-first mindset, you’ll get the most value from your software—especially AI-powered tools. When you have a bot attend your meeting to take notes, for example, it can automatically transcribe your conversation and analyze that meeting content to generate to-do lists for your team.
Futureproof Your Organization With the Right Virtual Tooling
Providing an optimal in-person working environment requires your team to first focus on the remote experience. By using the right tools—and training your team to use them effectively to boost productivity and increase knowledge sharing—your team will be more productive and connected with your culture regardless of how they choose to work.