Presented by Sococo

The shift to hybrid work has come with a number of learning curves. In the last two years, we have figured out how to successfully maintain day-to-day operations, evolve our technologies and processes, and communicate with colleagues around the world. These are critical lessons, because we’re not going back: this is the future of work.

But while we have learned how to communicate in a distributed workplace, we struggle with connection. Communication tools like Zoom and MS Teams can’t provide the type of conversation and camaraderie that happen in an office. Since the pandemic, our near network interactions have exploded while our far networks have withered; Microsoft recently published a study showing that remote work caused the time employees spent collaborating cross-group to drop by about 25% from pre-pandemic levels. These silos of people and ideas undermine the human potential of an enterprise.

Building connection and culture into hybrid work

As part of VentureBeat’s Future of Work Summit, I recently spoke with Gereon Hammel, Vice President of Business Development at Deutsche Telekom, about how they’re building a virtual office to increase culture and connection across the company’s customer service teams.

Using technology that focuses more on collaboration than communication, customer service representatives start each day by logging into their virtual office. There, they can see the status for each of their colleagues, such as who is online and who is available to assist with customer service issues. As they take customer calls, they use the virtual office to quickly find answers to the questions they are working to resolve. The tool makes the reps faster and more efficient, and as a result, improves the overall customer experience.

The virtual office enhances the employee experience as well by enabling casual connections. For instance, there is a “Coffee Roulette” room where employees are randomly connected to another coworker. They can spend a few minutes getting to know each other, sharing details about their roles, exploring how they can help each other, and discussing what inspires them.

These interactions encourage employees to meet people outside of their individual work teams and build a new type of company culture within a virtual setting. They are particularly important to younger employees who haven’t yet built their professional networks, as well as employees new to a company who typically learn about company culture and processes from drive-bys and casual in-office conversations.

How to create your own virtual office

This type of virtual collaboration is the precursor to working in a business metaverse, and it’s fully available for companies to begin adopting today. While setting up Deutsche Telekom’s virtual office, we found the following four tips to be particularly useful.

1. Don’t assume it’s a cost-savings project

Will you realize savings with a hybrid work model? Yes, especially by reducing the amount of money spent on physical office space. But that shouldn’t be the primary goal of creating a virtual office. Deutsche Telekom’s KPIs, for example, are focused on solving customer issues faster and increasing employee satisfaction.

2. Complement your communication tools, don’t replace them

A virtual office tool focused on collaboration should be complementary to communication tools like MS Teams and Zoom. It’s not an either/or; they should work together seamlessly to provide employees with a cohesive virtual experience.

3. Build the solution by focusing on what people need

What are the specific use cases for the tool within your business? How do you want people to use it and why is adoption important? Deutsche Telekom’s pilot is laser focused on helping customer service employees get the information they need to solve a customer issue faster.

4. Use fast prototyping

This type of virtual work experience is new for businesses and employees alike. Partner with a technology company that is willing to collaborate to test new things, learn what works for your business, and evolve the solution quickly based on real-time feedback from employees and managers.

The future of work is changing rapidly. To keep up, companies must use new technologies to create immersive experiences that build connection and culture. Done right, a virtual office accomplishes exactly that, giving employees the best of both worlds: the flexibility of remote work with the camaraderie of the office.

As CEO, Scott Brighton is leading Aurea’s reinvention of the software business as the “Netflix of business software”, embracing the public cloud early to build a library of SaaS solutions powering the future of work, commerce, and IT.

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