Pesto Blog

What is a virtual office for remote teams?

Doug Safreno
Doug Safreno
Aug 22, 2019 - 4 min read
What is a virtual office for remote teams?

Virtual offices provide a space where teammates can meet, work together, and bond. Used primarily by or with remote workers, virtual offices give the benefits of an office without forcing people to commute to the same space.

Why use a virtual office?

The consensus top two issues in remote work are loneliness and communication (see these two reports). Virtual offices help with both.

Build culture & closeness to reduce loneliness

Physical offices facilitate team closeness and culture. Employees invite each other to grab lunch, see each other at the water cooler, and generally chit-chat about work and their personal lives throughout the day.

Virtual companies could not be more different. According to our survey of remote teams, a remote employee on average communicates only once per week over audio/video outside of scheduled meetings. Services like Slack try to fill the void, but the impersonal nature of text communication causes employees to develop less close relationships and makes them more likely to develop hostile feelings to their co-workers.

Virtual offices help with these problems by:

  1. creating a sense of presence with teammates
  2. simulating water cooler spaces for teammates to bond and chat as they would in a physical office
  3. promoting more conversations from lower fidelity text communication to higher fidelity audio/video conversation, encouraging closeness

Simulate a shoulder tap to communicate faster

Communicating while remote is really hard. In a physical office, a worker can simply walk up to their teammate’s desk or meet in a shared conference room.

For remote workers, grabbing someone for a conversation is not a frictionless process. Oftentimes, the process starts with a Slack message in a channel, devolves into a 15 minute chat exchange clarifying details that could have been clarified in 2 minutes over video, and ends in video only after passing around Zoom links and struggling with screen share.

Virtual offices eliminate these problems by removing friction from audio/video communication with:

1. Direct communication that simulates a shoulder tap, similar to a walkie talkie.

2. Audio rooms/channels that allow impromptu conversations about certain topics (e.g. #onboarding-project or #nux-redesign)

Empower remote teammates to have office hours

Office hours are dedicated times when you are available to your team for conversation, work-related or otherwise. These dedicated times create a structured environment for users to bond and ask questions, distributing knowledge and building closeness. But, remote workers rarely have the opportunity to host their own office hours in a way that feels natural.

Sometimes, remote teams create spreadsheets listing everyone's office hours. These are promptly forgotten. Other times, remote teams share a recurring calendar event with people's office hours. These are often deleted within a few weeks to reduce event noise.

By hosting office hours in a virtual office, everyone can instantly see who's hosting office hours. If I'm hanging out in the #office-vivek channel by myself, I'm signaling to my teammates that I'm available to answer any questions that my teammates might have.

Make your remote teammates first-class citizens

Keeping remote teammates engaged when many teammates come into an office is really hard. Many believe that companies must be remote-only or office-only, but not both, else remote workers miss out on communication, leading to a “two-class” company where remote workers resent feeling excluded and unheard.

If you’re working with remote workers from a physical office, it’s critical you combat this by communicating through the same mediums that they use. Virtual offices help you communicate in a way that’s inclusive for remote employees.

What are the most common features of a virtual office?

  1. Presence: a way to show co-workers if you are online or offline, and what you’re up to. Think of the social signal of putting on headphones in an office. Good virtual offices will allow you to do the same.
  2. Meeting Spaces: virtual analogs to conference rooms (called “channels” in Pesto) where teammates can meet or spend focused time collaborating
  3. Quick Audio/Video: a very fast way to  reach teammates, akin to walking up to someone’s desk
  4. Guest Support: the ability to host guests in your office as though it were a traditional video conferencing product, so that external-facing roles such as sales and customer support can consolidate their internal and external conferencing products
  5. Great Screen Share: ability to view someone’s screen as though you’re next to them in the office. This is especially useful for quick pair programming.

Why did you make Pesto?

None of the other virtual offices felt right to us.

Other products generally implemented presence through always on video, if they had a presence system at all. We wanted a way of feeling present with teammates without them staring at our faces. We made live avatars for workers to feel present with their teammates without giving up their privacy.

Most virtual offices also take a pretty literal approach to the virtual office metaphor with a floor plan and office rooms for teammates. We designed audio/video conversations in Pesto with modern communication paradigms like channels.

What now?

Pesto makes work more fun and productive than a real office - try out Pesto with your team for free.