A startling number of people have already decided: They’re not going back to offices.
While society as a whole may have balked at stay-at-home orders at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, a silver lining has appeared. Working from home is better, in many ways. We could count them—no commute, lower lunchtime and wardrobe expenses, more time with family—but, to really understand the trend, we need to consider one key component.
At a recent discussion as part of this year’s eXp Shareholder Summit, Virbela Chief Customer Officer Craig Kaplan explains what it really takes to pull off remote or hybrid work. It’s a sense of community.
A Need for Human Interaction
So, back to the idea of just . . . not returning to the office. It sounds liberating, but there’s a flip side to things.
Kaplan notes a JLL Human Performance Survey shows that 46% of respondents miss human interaction. They don’t miss commuting or expenses, but they miss talking to colleagues and collaborating in an unstructured way.
We know technology allows us to do plenty of work-related tasks from anywhere. Email, online documents with real-time updates, video apps, and more have been enabling remote work for years—but this time, it’s a major shift.
The technology that carried companies up to the point of the pandemic may not be able to take us much further. That last bridge of connection just isn’t there when you're sitting in a grid of boxes, trying to figure out when it’s your turn to talk.
Most people might not miss the office per se, but they miss each other, maybe even more than they thought they would.
The Benefits of Virtual Encounters
There’s a clear path to virtual mass communities, though—the kind that can replace office spaces completely or at least a few days a week.
Virtual worlds eliminate the things people dislike about office life and replace the things they love or miss.
We see ample evidence of well-known platforms providing the sense of community people crave in online scenarios. Right now, none of them have taken over the world of work, but that’s just a matter of time. Just look at the valuations of Roblox, Minecraft, or Fortnite to get an idea of how popular this kind of interactivity is.
When we transfer the characteristics of these platforms to the working world, we see what a perfect fit they are:
- Unstructured collaboration lets people problem-solve in real time.
- A global culture that can connect 24-7 supports diversity and innovation.
- Chance encounters encourage knowledge sharing and build trust.
- Easy, always-on access makes it stress-free to enter or exit virtual worlds.
When these features are readily available to companies, they can begin to reinstate some of the touchpoints that made office life feel comfortable and connected.
Maintaining an open-door policy, for instance, is easier when there’s a virtual door to keep open. Sure, staff can Slack each other, but the ability to get easy face-to-face time, even in avatar form, is better for conversation.
The idea of chance encounters really sings for most people, too. The what-ifs, how-was-it, or what-do-you-think type questions that make up everyday office interactions return in the virtual world.
The end result is a feeling of connection that satisfies a genuine human need—and, it’s worth repeating, no commute necessary.