This article originally appeared on Fast Company.
After years of trying to lure employees back to full-time office work, many companies have determined that the future of work is hybrid.
McKinsey’s The State of Organizations 2023 reports that 90% of companies allow employees to work remotely for some or most of their time, and only 14% of respondents expect remote work opportunities to decrease. Considering that companies can better attract and retain talent through hybrid work—while also boosting employee productivity—it makes sense why hybrid work is here to stay.
Despite the advantages of a hybrid setup, many leaders need help balancing employee needs across both work settings. Teams can become disconnected and disengaged by prioritizing either the in-person or virtual experience over the other. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Leaders can bridge the gap between remote and in-office workers by implementing a virtual office that becomes the hub of both in-person and remote work collaboration.
How Companies Are Failing Hybrid and Fully Remote Workers
Employees overwhelmingly want to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career—98% in a study from Buffer—noting that it is easier to do focused work, manage stress, and avoid distractions from home.
However, there are common challenges companies must address to build a truly effective hybrid work environment. Specifically, Buffer’s study found employees working remotely commonly face the following challenges:
- Loneliness: Although 75% of remote workers feel connected to their coworkers, 15% express feelings of loneliness. This may be because 21% of remote workers feel they stay home too often. Companies should ensure that workers have the equivalent of a virtual water cooler for non-work discussions and offer opportunities for in-person meet-ups when possible.
- Time Zone Struggles: Working across time zones is another common friction point. This challenge may imply teams need tools to help them manage scheduling across time zones and additional solutions or procedures to ensure projects are transferred smoothly between colleagues.
- Collaboration Disconnect: Nearly 15% of remote workers face difficulty with collaboration and communication, which suggests that companies need different tools or processes to bridge the gap between workers across time zones and locations.
Fortunately, there’s a solution already available to help address each of these issues—the virtual office.
How a Virtual Office Fits Into Your Digital Transformation Strategy To Drive Hybrid Work Success
Building a genuinely equitable hybrid work experience requires you to rethink the employee experience through a digital lens.
Every experience offered to in-person employees should extend to remote workers. Even more importantly, you need to create a shared virtual space where everyone works, even in your office.
A virtual office is a place where employees can access all necessary work resources and collaborate with colleagues through a dedicated virtual space. The goal is to seamlessly integrate all the information, technologies, and opportunities given to your team through an intuitive and engaging virtual interface.
To help you get started building your virtual office, I recommend your team follow these steps:
Step 1: Audit Your Software And Tools
Take stock of your teams’ various tools and applications. Document every product and speak to your team members to understand how they use these tools in their workflows. As you document your tools, you will likely notice that individual teams use different tools for similar functions like team messaging or collaborative editing. Group apps by their function, and review your employee feedback about how often they use the tools and any drawbacks. This information will help you choose which tools to keep and which to scrap.
Step 2: Create Digital Information Hubs
Workers should be able to access appropriate resources and information quickly, regardless of where they choose to work. Once you’ve optimized your software options, creating digital information hubs that store commonly used documents and templates that can streamline work is important.
Step 3: Onboard Your Employees
Even the best digital transformation strategy will only succeed if your team members understand the strategy behind your changes. Host a recorded meeting where your leadership discusses your new toolset and explains how to navigate the virtual workspace. Encourage questions and embrace feedback as your team adjusts to their new arrangement. To further help employees succeed, save how-to guides and FAQs in a shared digital library for easy consumption.
Step 4: Hire A Virtual Office Manager
A virtual office manager is integral to ensuring your employees get the most benefit from your virtual workspace. A virtual office manager’s role will vary based on your team’s specific needs, but commonly helps with planning and managing company events, onboarding new employees, assisting with technical support and setup, and researching new workplace tools and solutions. This Virtual Office Manager’s Handbook provides an in-depth look at a virtual office manager’s typical roles and responsibilities, plus strategies to maximize productivity in your virtual office.
The Office of the Future is Digital
You can only have a truly effective hybrid workforce if you build a digital workspace where everyone can thrive regardless of location.
Hybrid work is here to stay, but remote workers commonly face challenges when collaborating with their colleagues and building meaningful relationships. That’s why building a virtual office that overcomes these challenges is critical to ensure you provide a consistently delightful experience to all your workers whenever and wherever they are working.