Working remotely, whether it be part-time or as a full-time digital nomad, has plenty of benefits. It allows for more flexibility, less commuting, and fewer workplace distractions. However, there are some benefits of working within an office too. Some of the positive aspects of working in a traditional office are quicker communication, easier collaboration, and it’s easier building social bonds.
Coworking spaces seek to address the shortcomings of remote working by providing a space that provides what a home office lacks, like social interactions, office equipment, etc. And it’s no surprise that such spaces are becoming more popular. Currently, there are over 26,000 coworking spaces around the world. Between 2013 and 2017 the number of shared workspaces grew at a rate of 200%. And it’s estimated that almost 5 million people will be working from coworking spaces in 2024.
However, just as physical coworking spaces are becoming more popular, so too are virtual coworking spaces. Which seems to be a natural evolution of physical to digital, just as what is happening with work itself. But it’s unlikely that it will fully replace physical coworking spaces and it most likely can be used as a supplemental tool for teams working remotely or for individuals that don’t have access to a physical coworking space due to proximity or even a pandemic.
What is a coworking space?
Before we get ahead of ourselves let’s take a look at what makes a physical coworking space what it is. It’s pretty much a neutral space that has various components of a normal office, but it’s used for individuals or small teams, rather than a single organization. While coworking spaces always include things like desks, private offices, conference rooms, Wi-Fi, printers, etc. they also usually have other amenities as well. These can include a break room with coffee, tea, and snacks available, 3D printers, and even business coaches and advisors.
WeWork, perhaps the biggest name in the coworking industry, has some of the most robust offerings in some of its locations. Some of the amenities that you can find in some of the WeWork spaces include bars, baristas, a screening room, a fitness center, or even a recording studio. Of course, there are also many coworking spaces that are more budget-oriented and bare bones. These can be nothing more than a desk and Wi-Fi, but a lot of the time that’s all one needs.
Why do people use coworking spaces?
For some, the biggest draw to coworking spaces are the amenities that they can provide – like the ones previously mentioned for example. However, for others, there are some other reasons and less tangible ones. This includes lower overhead costs, increased flexibility, reduced commute, work by yourself but not alone, cost efficiency, increased creativity, and increased collaboration. These are just a few reasons that people or organizations may choose to use coworking spaces. It is likely a combination of both the amenities that are offered as well as the other intangible advantages that come along with coworking spaces that can help a business succeed, whether it’s a one-person company or multi-team organization.
What is a virtual coworking space?
It’s pretty crazy that not long ago the concept of coworking spaces became mainstream – far-flung from the first shared hackerspaces in Berlin in 1995. And now the new concept is already making a shift to becoming remote itself. But if a coworking space was to address the problems of working remotely, then what is a virtual coworking space and why should someone use it?
Just like the name suggests, virtual coworking aims to do what regular coworking does but in a virtual realm. It’s an ultra-modern solution to address the problem of a decentralized organization. It seeks to combine the benefits of remote work while allowing increased collaboration and a sense of community.
How each virtual coworking space works differs. And each one has a unique interface and layout but with the same goal in mind of working together – even when your team is a world apart. Ultimately, though, in its basic form, it provides an interactive environment that team members, or a collection of individuals, inhabit a single virtual space and can work concurrently or in collaboration with each other.
Most virtual coworking spaces have a virtual office layout that is just like a normal office. There are open spaces, conference rooms, breakout rooms, a kitchen, media lab, etc. And you can see various avatars that represent different people in each room much like you would in real life. You can see their availability if you want to chat with someone or ask a question. Alternatively, if you or someone else is busy and shouldn’t be interrupted, you can signal yourself as such.
So, a virtual coworking space lets you mingle, work together, or work in proximity to someone else so that you aren’t alone, much like you can experience in a real-life coworking space.
Of course, there are shortcomings of a virtual coworking space. Since it’s a virtual space it can’t replace the amenities that are sometimes offered in normal coworking spaces. So, if you use solely use a virtual coworking space you’ll have to forgo the barista, bar, printer, and other aspects that can only be found in person. But, on the Brightside, you won’t have to pay $5 for a cup of coffee if you’re sipping on homebrew.
What are the benefits of a virtual coworking space?
Since a virtual coworking space provides a modern solution to the modern problems of remote working, there are a variety of benefits of using a coworking space. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much use for such platforms. The benefits and how impactful they are can depend on how a virtual coworking space is used and if it’s an individual, team, or an entire organization that uses it.
The costs are much lower in almost every aspect, no matter the user. For organizations and teams, it can reduce overhead costs by a significant margin as it takes away the expense of a physical office or even a physical coworking space. While traditional coworking space is already cheaper than a whole office, the prices for a month can still easily be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on the location and desired amenities. A virtual coworking space can be free if you do a DIY version or use a free platform, although it will be a bare-bones version. But you can get a comprehensive plan on a platform like Sococo for as little as $25.00 per month, which is only a tiny fraction of the cost of even a physical coworking space.
Additionally, there are other ways that a virtual coworking space can be cheaper. Since you can join a virtual coworking space from anywhere, you don’t have to spend money on food, drinks, or transportation to the coworking space if you choose to do it from your home office or even a public space like a library.
In the same vein as the previous point, it allows you to work from anywhere. You can work from a café, bar, home, library, train, or plane. Pretty much anywhere that you have access to Wi-Fi, you can work. If you already have a subscription to a normal coworking space, you can even get super meta and join a virtual coworking space from your physical one. This may actually be quite practical if you like the physical amenities of a normal coworking space, but the rest of your team is located around the world and you work in the virtual version as well. All of these are possibilities when it comes to using a virtual coworking space.
If you are dependent upon Zoom, Skype, or MS Teams meetings for your collaborations you may be hindering yourself. While these tools are very good for meetings and to have discussions, they are limited to those that can participate and the ease with which people can come and go. When you are on a call on these platforms you generally don’t have the call open all day. If you use a virtual coworking platform each team member can work independently and then quickly call people together in the virtual conference room, or even just go sit next to them in the virtual open office and ask them a question and have a quick brainstorm. It can allow for a similar kind of interaction as you would find in a physical office.
One of the primary benefits associated with an online-first coworking space is that you won’t feel as isolated as compared to working alone in a home office. This is because there are people around you in the virtual space. Just pressing a button can let you interact with others that are in the same space. You can look at the virtual map of the floorplan to see where anyone is at a given point in time.
Additionally, it allows you to see what others are doing by the space they are in. For example, you can see that a meeting is taking place in the conference room, or that someone is taking a call on the phonebooth. You can even customize rooms on some virtual platforms that show what project you are working on. This can be beneficial if your organization employs a virtual coworking space so others can be aware if you are working on a specific project and allows for everyone to be on the same page.
Since it’s a virtual space it can help to alleviate the pressures put on decentralized teams. You can still create a sense of community and belonging by mimicking a real-life workspace. So, you can have members in Africa, Europe, and North America all working concurrently and able to quickly talk to each other despite being scattered around the world.
Why you should avoid using a virtual coworking space
Of course, since it’s a virtual realm it has its own set of limitations – particularly related to things that predicated upon a physical presence. Virtual coworking spaces or your home can’t offer the same amenities that a physical coworking space can, like fitness studios, cafés, etc. Also, while it can be good to be able to work with people around the world, perhaps time zone discrepancies make it unfeasible for even virtual coworking to be possible. And lastly, while communicating virtually has gotten close to replacing physical coworking, communication, and collaboration, it’s still not quite as good as when you are physically working with someone.
Three Virtual Coworking Communities You Can Join
If you’re interested in joining a virtual coworking community, here are three of the highest-rated platforms out there. However, there are many more to choose from.
WorkInSync is a SaaS platform that allows for the management of distributed teams and facilitates seamless communication and collaboration amongst the team members. There is also a user-friendly mobile application for on-the-go functionality. It’s best suited for a hybrid workplace to enrich the employee and manager experience.
Teemyco is an online platform that’s free to use for up to 25 users in the basic package. It gives you a virtual floorplan that allows you too what people are working on and where they are. It also allows for calendar and Slack integration to boost communication.
Wurkr aims to disrupt the remote working industry by creating a comprehensive platform that allows individuals, teams, or organizations to seamlessly work together remotely.
DIY Virtual Coworking Space
While there are platforms that are either free or very reasonably priced that allow you to get the virtual coworking experience, you can also do it yourself. You can make your own virtual coworking space by having a continuous conference call on one of the video call platforms. Or conversely, you can utilize a free tool like gather.town and customize your own space. This particular tool allows you to fully customize your space into anything you want. It can include anything from a virtual dancefloor to cubicles. In the modern era, there is certainly no shortage of how you can work remotely.