When people work in an office, they see other people working. This is a subliminal booster of productivity and also of accountability. It’s a lot harder to spend time on your phone or do some online shopping when a colleague or your boss might walk by and see that you aren’t actually working.
Now that many employees are working remotely, that sense of accountability and workplace camaraderie have been removed. Employees have less connection and more time spent simply in front of a screen with no one on the other side. The boost from being surrounded by other people working is now gone. With remote work certainly sticking around for the long haul, how can this in-office style of work be replicated?
Enter virtual co-working, where employees work alongside each other digitally. It’s a video call with one specific agenda – to get people working. It’s not a time for chatting and catching up, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The point of virtual co-working is to boost productivity and provide accountability, and provide that same subliminal boost that comes from working together in an office. Rather than spending time talking to each other, everyone on the call commits to dedicating the entire time to working.
There are a couple of ground rules to set to ensure that virtual co-working actually works. First, video for all participants is mandatory, as is sharing goals for the session. Second, it’s best to keep people unmuted. Just like white noise in a coffee shop can help people be more productive, the sound of hearing someone typing along can also be a motivator and productivity booster. People can choose to mute their own speakers if they find the noise distracting. Third, be clear that this is time to work, not surf the web. Unfortunately you can’t see what’s on people’s screens or control what they’re actually doing, but a gentle reminder that this time must be dedicated solely to work goes a long way.
Start by quickly having each person share what they’ll be focusing on and what they hope to accomplish by the end of the session. Then everyone gets to work, and comes back together at the end for a quick debrief. These tasks should take no more than five minutes each, as not to encroach on the actual working time. If it’s a big group, consider having people simply write into the chat box what they’ll be working on, and add a few extra minutes to the end of the session for the debrief where they can share their accomplishments aloud.
Virtual co-working can happen daily, weekly, or on set days of the week. You can experiment with the length of the calls to see what works best, but usually one to two hours is best. Get feedback from people on the calls to see what’s working and what isn’t and make adjustments as needed.