Virtual collaboration has become a normal part of everyone’s daily work routine. Nearly every meeting invitation seems to have a virtual option as the norm, not the exception. Other than making the occasional common mute button mistake, people have learned to use technology to collaborate at work and at home almost seamlessly. Is this the default way of connecting now? Do we need to be connected in more personal, meaningful ways? The answer to both questions seems to be yes.
In a survey by Mural in 2022, over 400 people were asked, “What frustrates you most when collaborating virtually?” In response, 69.5% said they were “missing the personal, social component” of being a part of a team. Interestingly, only 20.3% listed “technology” as the most frustrating element of virtual collaboration.
Virtual-only meetings tend to be scheduled and structured with the same group of people, which can lead to the loss of a larger social network over time. When everyone is remote, fewer impromptu connections and conversations occur, which limits diversity of thought, creativity, and idea generation. We’ve experienced this first-hand in recent years.
Senior Principal Researcher, Microsoft
Being in the office allows people the opportunity to create connections and rebuild their social networks. Designing spaces meant for interaction and casual run-ins with new faces in the workplace can improve employee engagement and productivity. However, there are unique considerations for these spaces in hybrid work environments—to make the experience more equitable and beneficial for people working remotely, as well as people in the office.
When designing new spaces for a hybrid workforce and the different ways they collaborate, here are 4 key things to think about in each:
Is this a brainstorming area, training area, information sharing space, or a social connection space?
Is it an in-person-only meeting space that does not require technology to support virtual connection? If virtual connection technology is used, how are the people on the screen interacting with those in the physical space? Do virtual attendees only need to observe, or must they actively participate?
How many people should fit in the space? Must everyone be visible by the camera? Are meetings in this space more structured or casual in nature? (i.e., Does the space need a conference table versus lounge seating?) What type of lighting is needed to create the intended environment and support camera views?
How much visual or acoustic privacy is needed in the space? Not only for the participants in the meeting but for the adjacent spaces. Should it be open to encourage others to join? What does the camera see? Are there distractions?
Once these questions are answered and needs are more defined, it’s easier to thoughtfully design spaces to support what your people need to successfully collaborate in a hybrid environment and stay connected with one another.