How we used a free tool to recreate the best of the office in our virtual co-working space.
I have plenty of problems with the open office floor plan. Constant noise, distractions, co-workers interrupting your flow. Going fully remote was a nice respite from that. However, working from home, thousands of miles away from my teammates, is isolating. When we first started Taskable, there were hours and even whole days where Tom and I didn’t manage to speak to one another. Even though we were working on the same objective, it often felt like we were working all by ourselves. We made a point to spend more time just chatting and having at least one call each day. But we were still looking out for new ways to make it feel like we were working together on Taskable.
A while back, the team at Pioneer invited everyone to join their virtual co-working space. They set up Zoom where anyone could drop in and work throughout the day. My initial impression was that it is perhaps the least appealing idea I could think of. So I didn't join. The idea stuck in my head, though — something about the concept intrigued me.
Around the same time, we started bringing on our first teammates at Taskable. It got Tom and me thinking: how do we build a team and a sense of camaraderie when we start out 100% virtual? We also began to think about our users, many freelancers, or founders just starting up on their own. Indeed many of them are struggling with working remotely, without much interaction with a team. It occurred to us that, while a bit crazy, this could potentially be a feature in Taskable way down the line. Ultimately our mission is to help people feel better about how they spend their day. Could a virtual co-working space be part of this mission?
Tom and I decided to test the idea of virtual co-working. We set up a dedicated channel on Tandem, our internal video & audio chat tool. The idea was, we’d hop in there and just work together when the urge struck us. Tandem is perfect for this. It even has a Spotify integration, so one person can be the room DJ for the entire room. It took us a bit of time to get going, but after a week or two, we were spending nearly the entire day in the channel. We even began to pick up habits we had in the office, like sharing quick jokes and even letting each other know when we were stepping out for a minute.
There are a few reasons why I think virtual co-working works well, for us at least. For one thing, it recreates a bit of that vibe you get from a bustling office. I’m personally motivated by an office environment and being surrounded by interesting people working on exciting things. You can’t see people with the virtual co-working space, but you can hear them tapping away at exciting projects. Also, you recreate that sense of community you get from an office. You can share a joke, ask a quick question, brainstorm on something, even hear Tom’s dog Stefan adorably snoring away in the background.
There are several ways virtual co-working is even better than an office. Unlike an open office, you can leave the virtual co-working space any time you want with almost no friction. Want to be heads-down on something? Not feeling social at the moment? You’re just one click away from peace and quiet. For another, in most offices I’ve worked in, everyone has their headphones in. This means to ask a quick question, you have to tap someone on the shoulder or wave your arms around to get their attention. With virtual co-working, you can collaborate quickly without taking off your headphones or leaving your music.
Now that it’s working for Tom and me, we’ll aim to get our new team members to join. It will be interesting to see how it works with more and more people in the room. We also plan to open up our co-working space to Taskable Premium users and continue to experiment with it as a potential feature in the product way down the line. Perhaps there’s even an opportunity for someone to build a WeWork in the cloud.