Virtual offices… better or worse than traditional bricks and mortar?

You will have heard all of the hype about the metaverse and the bringing together of the real and virtual worlds. Whilst it is still at an early stage, technology companies like Meta and Microsoft have spent billions to date. For better or worse, that level of investment demonstrates a clear direction; they are 100% committed to building out the metaverse.

The question I have been pondering is whether that is a good thing.

It's not clear whether there will be one single online platform, (think VHS vs Betamax), or whether it will be more open, with disparate systems and software connecting together. Were I to bet, I would land on the disparate or distributed approach.

Regardless of the ‘how’, all of the experts I have read are convinced that this virtual approach will have an untold impact on consumers, on companies, and all the way through to governments.

From a corporate perspective, we will be able to create a digital representation of ourselves, (whether it will be accurate or not is another matter) and meet any of our colleagues or customers in the virtual world. I will be able to visit a customer's location without leaving my own space. Office costume parties will be amazing! Global organisations will be transformed; distance will be meaningless (other than the real time differences!). The architects of this metaverse tell me I will be able to sit next to a colleague who is halfway around the world whilst maintaining the close physical contact that existing video calls cannot match. We will be able to collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, with “real” objects such as machinery or new physical products.

I question whether this will really be “as described”. I am certain that in the early iterations it will be clunky and feel odd.

At Wyser, we decided that once the pandemic lockdown restrictions were removed, we would not be returning full-time to offices. In fact, we currently have no fixed office space and indeed have no desire to change our approach. We use flexible office space and meet on a regular basis. Employees who wish to work from an office space are able to increase their time in these flexible spaces if they prefer. Our approach, like many others, is now that of “what is appropriate for both Wyser and the employee”.

We were finding that the usual suite of virtual tools, Teams/Zoom etc., was becoming less and less effective at keeping our teams connected. One area in which we excel is of being truly agile in our approach. Over a 2-day period, we ran a mini-project to identify suitable alternatives, ready to prototype, and evaluate on day 3. After trying a number of approaches, we selected www.Gather.town as our new virtual software of choice. For those who have never heard of it, I really do recommend you try it out. It’s free for <25 users and has a number of out-of-the-box virtual offices for you to use.

We settled on one of the defaults you can see below. As odd as it sounds, this browser-based online platform has transformed the way we work together. I’ve been trying to define how and why this virtual approach is so much better than the usual video conference:

  • You can see when people are at their desk
  • Because people are at their desks, you can just walk over and virtually tap them on their shoulder for a chat
  • Other people in the office can see speech bubbles and therefore they know you are present in the “room”
  • There are meeting and breakout areas along with social zones for hot drinks

Whilst this may sound like I am on commission, the current implementation isn’t perfect. There are graphical bugs, sound issues and times when you have to reload the session; normally that would stop us from using the software.

On this occasion, the benefits we gain from using the tool far exceed the downsides we face. I also love the fact that when we tweeted them about an issue we were facing, their tech team messaged us and asked for an invite to our ‘office’ to discuss the problems; I wish large companies could provide such a great service.

Our employees are more deeply connected and supported. Inclusivity is vastly increased. People move around and interact easily with each other.

Using www.Gather.town has begun to shift our beliefs that a more connected virtual space is possible and that the appropriate manifestation of this virtual space will result in better-connected employees who are happier and more productive.

As the metaverse develops I feel that this will offer us even greater opportunities and, as a company willing to embrace change and quickly adopt new technologies, I’m looking forward to finding these out.

The way in which we identified the issues, tested prototypes and decided the best course of action is why we are so confident in our promise to deliver value to our customers.

If you would like some help with your digital transformation, just give us a shout; you can expect an invite to our office.