Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working was already massively on the rise. In 2019, more than 26 million Americans—about 16% of the total workforce—were working remotely at least part of the time, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2020, Upwork’s Future Workforce Pulse Report found that 1 in 4 Americans (26.7% of the workforce) would be working remotely in 2021 with 36.2 million Americans fully remote by 2025. This is an increase of 16.8 million people compared to pre-pandemic rates.
While the pandemic’s end, unfortunately, remains hazy, the benefits of remote working are plenty. According to Remote.co, remote working increases productivity, improves loyalty, decreases missed days, increases workforce diversity, reduces costs for employers, saves workers money, reduces stress, and benefits the environment. Remote working has also allowed for the rise of virtual coworking—without having to go to a specific place, workers get some of the same benefits of a physical location.
Working virtually alongside each other
Already a slew of virtual coworking platforms have popped up, offering all kinds of opportunities for people to work alongside each other. For example, Sococo provides a virtual floor plan with avatars for each employee, allowing people to see where others are and what they’re working on. People can even knock on virtual doors before entering a room or shut a virtual door if they do not want to be disturbed. Aiming to help provide a sense of community to encourage productivity, MyWorkHive allows remote workers to interact with each other, learn together and share experiences.
Then there’s I Love Creatives, a virtual coworking community for multi-hyphenates who want to build their creative communities alongside like-minded people. It also offers courses and merch. Lunchclub is an AI super-connector that makes introductions for 1:1 video meetings to advance your career, facilitating casual conversations that lead to “not-so-casual” professional impact. There’s also the Common Desk’s Work from Home membership, which “is designed to meet the digital workforce where they are and provide all types of professionals with a true sense of human connection, a plethora of resources, access to dedicated support, genuine words of encouragement, and new friendships as we go.”
Virtual coworking spaces are also emerging. “Those who use a virtual coworking space get the same sense of community and other coworking benefits, but without constant interruptions or having to go to a specific location,” writes Alberto Di Risio in a blog post for Coworking Resources. According to him, virtual coworking spaces even have virtual floor plans, so you can feel as if you are truly in the same office and even virtually knock on doors or go to a meeting. Whether it's at a phone booth or in a meeting room, you still get to interact with others, just in a virtual setting.
Benefits of virtual coworking
While we’re in the midst of a growing loneliness pandemic, virtual coworking can help to decrease such feelings. Other benefits of virtual coworking include encouraging productivity and allowing for stronger long-distance connections and networking. Comparing a survey in June 2020 with results from another survey in January, PwC found that a higher percentage of employees say they’re more productive now than they were before the pandemic (34% vs. 28%).
Virtual coworking can also be more effective. Karen Sze, a creative strategist, says Lunchclub has been a great way to network virtually without having to network in the traditional sense of cold emailing, in-person networking events, etc. “The algorithm is pretty good at matching you with people of similar interests/career paths but regardless, everyone I’ve met has been great and more than willing to help with leads and opportunities,” she says. “It’s been nice using it during this time to meet people outside of my circle.”
During the beginning of the pandemic, Brontë Miller, senior brand designer at Evercast, came across Super Productive Time via ilovecreatives and decided to try it out. It's a virtual coworking session based on the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes on 5-minute break x 4), 2 hours of productivity. “I really enjoyed having a set time to get bigger tasks done per week and the accountability of having other folks there with me working too,” she says. “During the break periods, it was a great time for casual networking and learning more about other creatives and what they were working on.” While virtual coworking might seem a little strange, she explains, funny enough it kind of feels like working in a coffee shop. “It was always nice to see familiar faces and meet lots of new people from all creative backgrounds/skill sets each week.”
“With a virtual space, you get the same feeling even if you are working from home,” says Di Risio. “Just pressing a button lets you interact with others, and you can view the virtual map to see where everyone is at a given moment in time.”
Virtual coworking ideas
According to Cat Johnson, a coworking expert, there are countless ideas when it comes to virtual coworking. Some of these include:
- Coffee breaks
- Happy hours
- Accountability check-ins
- Talks and panels
- Guided meditations
- Book clubs
- Watch parties
- and more.
“Virtual coworking has emerged as a powerful way to keep communities connected, generate revenue, increase local impact, and attract new market segments to coworking,” she says.