A sign of the times - bringing remote workforces into digital worlds

(Image credit: Shutterstock / maryna rodyukova)

Amid the spread of COVID-19 and the mandate for extreme social distancing that has come as a result of the global pandemic, more of the world’s workforce is working remotely than ever before. In the last four years alone, the growth of remote work has increased by roughly 44 percent, meaning that while a large portion of the population is no stranger to collaborating from afar, more than half of working men and women are navigating these completely uncharted waters for the very first time.

And while technology has aided in the ability to work outside of the traditional office for years, the massive scale at which the virus is causing companies to entirely disband their workforces is putting unprecedented strain on leadership and teams alike. That being said, there are some things – including new technologies – that executives should keep top of mind in order to assist their teams and make collaboration from afar not only possible, but lucrative as well.

A new kind of office interaction

One of the most challenging boundaries to working remotely is the lack of true collaboration that’s possible within an office setting. Voice calls can only do so much, though of course options like FaceTime and Zoom are stepping up to provide much more personal connections from afar. But there’s still so much lacking when colleagues don’t have the opportunity to be in the same room as one another. There’s no open dialog to work through shared problems, no in-the-moment hashing out of ideas, no water cooler banter. And it’s not only in these situations that teams often come up with their best ideas – these little interpersonal moments are also critical to company morale, performance, and success of both individuals and the company overall.

While it’s of course possible to work in silos like this – and ultimately remain successful in doing so – teams that are able to bridge the gap, somewhere between traditional office settings and working completely separate from the whole, will be the ones who flourish throughout the changing times.

Virtual landscapes taking the place of the water cooler

Fortunately, there are technologies out there that can help teams to seamlessly bring the two styles of work together so everyone wins and continues to grow. Companies should seek solutions that enable their organization to grow and scale in the cloud, hiring and working with the best talent, no matter where they may be located. Virtual workplaces allow members to scale their businesses and ideas faster, more efficiently, and – most importantly – without silos.

Whether you're a Fortune 500 company with thousands of employees spread across the world, or a small business who has only recently been disbanded due to social distancing practices – learning how to lead, delegate, collaborate, and achieve from afar (for perhaps the first time) – virtual workplaces are providing tailored solutions. Virtual campuses are the perfect place to build a cloud-based business, home to a community of untethered innovators, while private suites provide more personalized meeting places for smaller teams.

Regardless of your organization’s size or goals, taking your office into the virtual world might be worth considering – especially if you’re navigating through the separation of teams for the very first time.

Engaging events are still possible (and no, webinars don't count)

Corporate and industry events have always been an above and beyond way for people to make genuine and lasting connections with like-minded people outside of their organizations. But with every major event, from SxSW to Coachella, being shut down or postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic, organizations are not only having to lay off hundreds of employees, they’re also swiftly losing thousands in event budget and are scrambling to make sure their investments aren’t simply being flushed down the tubes.

Fortunately, this is once again where virtual workplaces have the ability to save the day. By combining experiential event technology with virtual work landscapes, organizations have the power to host events outside of their own corporate walls –– without any walls at all. Of course, you could host an ‘event’ via Weibar or Zoom (in fact, if you’re anything like me, you may already be feeling a little worn out when it comes to Zoom meetings and happy hours). And even though the face-time with friends and family is appreciated, when it comes to a large scale event, where perhaps hundreds or thousands of people could be involved, not only does a Zoom call become impossible to manage – it becomes hugely impersonal.

This is when it becomes critical within this new landscape to first and foremost address the difference between events and experiences. New technologies are providing so much more than webinar formats – allowing speakers to engage with attendees through real-time Q&As (versus one-dimensional chat boxes), secure spaces for private meetings, and networking opportunities that simulate real life events, summits, and conferences.

Picture this – your attendee’s avatars are greeted at a registration table where they will begin their virtual event journey. From there, much like attendees at in-person conferences, they are welcome to attend keynotes and breakout sessions, meet others within the virtual event environment for ‘coffee’ or one-on-one conversations, and even engage in activities, like networking and team building games and comedy acts – all from the privacy and safety of their own homes.

These types of virtual events are providing users with three key elements of an experience that a webinar just can’t provide.

Audio: With 3D audio options, users can simulate real-life conversations and scenarios, just like they might in a convention center. They can call out hello’s to people in passing, walk up to someone and introduce themselves, and chat with the person next to them while waiting for a presentation to begin.

Presence: Admit it, we’ve all been there – you’ve signed up for a webinar, the date approaches, you dial in for the meeting, and then you work around the presentation, perhaps catching bits and pieces of important information while it drones on in the background and you get up to make your third coffee of the day. The amazing part of these virtual event campuses is that users are required to continually participate – whether it’s by walking your avatar to the virtual auditorium, kicking a soccer ball as part of an online networking event, or sitting your avatar down for a one-on-one meeting with a business associate. By gamifying virtual events, users not only have to participate, it becomes fun to do so.

Autonomy: Referring again back to the example of a webinar: there are very few opportunities to make a decision in this scenario. You either attend the webinar or you don’t. Virtual event campuses present users with a new type of autonomy, never before seen outside of these digital worlds. In the middle of a session that doesn’t quite suit you? Get up and go to another one. Planning to attend a session when you meet an interesting person you’d rather continue speaking with? Grab a digital coffee with them instead! Every user experience is completely different and totally dependent on what that specific user hopes to get out of it, making it a brilliantly interactive alternative to other online events and meetings. 

These types of solutions are not only allowing organizations to save money potentially lost through event cancellations, it’s also giving companies a chance to provide value to key stakeholders and customers who are also being impacted by today’s pandemic. These virtual campuses are providing unparalleled levels of engagement, learning opportunities, and benefits to workforces who would otherwise be missing out.

Ryan Costello is Founder and CSO at Event Farm

Ryan Costello

Ryan Costello is the Founder and CSO at Event Farm. At a time when there were virtually no platforms that could handle cloud-based event check-in, Ryan set out to build a private tool to solve the challenges he faced with his own events in Washington, D.C. Since then, under his leadership, Event Farm has built a robust event and experiential marketing platform used by hundreds of organizations including dozens of fortune 500 companies. Along the way, Costello has become one of the industry's leading innovators. Most recently he lead the product development effort for Event Farm's Experiential platform (EFx) that creates the most engaging interactive event experiences available on the market. He is a self proclaimed design fanatic and his obsession with user experience has become a distinct competitive advantage of the company's offerings.