How to tackle employee shortages with remote workspaces

Companies that hire remotely are more attractive to potential employees. That’s no longer a secret. There are ongoing debates about whether employers should be able to force employees to work from the office for a certain amount of days per week or not. Some companies still have a hard time seeing remote work as a solution rather than a problem. However, the real problem is the current lack of applicants and an increased resignation rate. Finding suitable candidates within the parameters of the office building is getting increasingly tricky. Remote work no longer seems to be a “nice-to-have” but rather an essential for being successful on the labor market. When desks remain empty for months on end and existing employees are reaching their limits, remote work is the best, if not the only, solution for many companies.

Employee shortage

The current shortage in laborers has many industries firmly in its grip. According to a study by the Guardian, 500,000 job positions in the US are waiting to be filled. Compared to 2021, the shortage of skilled workers has increased in almost every industry. More than 50% of companies report that they strongly feel the absence of skilled workers.

Many of us vividly remember times when companies could choose the most qualified employees that best suit their company. However, the tables have turned. The labor market is feeling the impact of New Work: Now employers have to convince jobseekers that they are a company worth working for. 

There are many reasons for this development:

  • Demographic transition: Baby boomers are retiring. As a result, many jobs remain vacant.
  • The expectations of younger generations differ greatly from those of the baby boomers. Many do not want to work a 40-hour week, but seek flexibility that is more compatible with leisure time and family life.
  • Over the course of the past few years, many employees have been struck off. However, many companies did not hire additional workforce.
  • The part-time rate in the US is currently at 17 percent. 63 percent of that are women.
  • Many people are leaving hectic cities for the quiet and relaxed countryside. Only a small percentage of people is still willing to move for their job.

Remote Work as a Win-Win Solution

According to a study by McKinsey, 87% of employees choose to work remotely when given the option. Fixed office and home office days, as is customary at companies such as Apple, have a negative impact on employee satisfaction. Five days of compulsory office work not only has existing employees resigning, but are also reflected in a lack of job applications. 

More than 50 percent of people in a Kazoo Workplace study claim that they would not go back to a job that didn’t offer some level of remote work. When hiring internationally, remote work increases the pool of talent, making it easier to find the right person for a job. When working remotely, employees are no longer forced to move or come into the office every day. 

Game changer: The Virtual Office (or Remote Workspace)

Community, team spirit, and passion: these aspects can’t be formed with ergonomic desk chairs and Zoom-happy-hours. Creating a remote culture takes time and is not a “quick fix.” You are wondering which steps have helped us to achieve a strong digital culture? First and foremost: our virtual office, the heart and soul of our company!

At first glance, the virtual office seems like a gimmick that is often accompanied by skeptical looks. The look of our virtual office is reminiscent of nostalgic Game Boy games. You might be wondering: is this really supposed to engage employees and positively contribute to the corporate culture? 

Yes! Incorporating game elements into everyday work is called gamification. It’s an easy way to engage, motivate, and inspire employees in their day-to-day remote work. According to a Talent Lms study, 89% of the surveyed employees feel more productive when their workday includes gamification. Combining playful elements with everyday work is nothing new and is already used by companies such as Google, Engine Yard and Microsoft.

This is why the virtual office is irreplaceable

To fully understand the added value of a virtual office, we need to look into the way our brains work. In a conversation with Dr. Bernd Hufnagl, he tells us that our brain uses all available senses to create our reality. The classic “office reality” is thus created by our colleagues at the table next to us, the clattering of the computer keyboards and the general office atmosphere. Our brain processes these impressions and tells us: “Okay, you’re in the office now.” Since most of us equal such an environment with productivity and concentration, our brain automatically switches into work mode.

When sitting at home in front of our laptops, the sensory impressions from the office are missing. We don’t feel as if we are at work, but alone within our own four walls. If our colleagues are only listed names in the Slack channel, concentrated work, collaboration, culture and team spirit may suffer.

This is where the virtual office comes into play. Here, the brain is confronted with much more office context than in MS Teams or GoogleMeet. People can really get an insight into what their colleagues are currently doing. Regardless of whether customers are visiting the meeting room, colleagues are collaborating on a project, or the entire team is coming together in the daily meeting: Our virtual office feels a bit more like reality every day. We associate it with memories and rituals. The big advantage: We don’t have to go to the physical office to experience team spirit, culture, and the classic office setting. All we have to do is log on to our laptops, no matter where we are

An interesting observation: By having a functioning remote work setting, we have managed to significantly improve our relationships and friendships. Even though our team is spread across different countries, we still feel as if we are working in one big office. This way, we feel more connected with each other. Funnily enough, the result of our remote workspace is that people are coming into the physical office more regularly than before. Because we manage to strengthen our interpersonal relationships in the virtual office, people have the need to see their colleagues offline as well. 

How we work in the virtual office

Every employee has an avatar which they can maneuver around the virtual workspace. If two or more colleagues are standing together, a video window opens, and they can talk with each other without being disturbed. Meetings, activities, workshops or hallway conversations can be easily transferred to the virtual office. You have a question or just want to have a quick chat with a colleague? Then you can stroll right up to the person and strike up a conversation, just as you would in the physical office.

In our virtual meeting rooms, everyone sees and hears the others automatically. The microphone and camera can be turned off at any time. With the “spotlight” function, one person is also able to talk to the whole room. This is helpful when you only have a single speaker leading the meeting. 

With one simple click, you can see whether people are available or do not wish to be disturbed. You simply change the light in the personal menu from green to red. In addition, you can change your status and, for example, others can see that you are currently at lunch.

The virtual office creates an intense sense of community. However, the real game changer is not the software itself, but the way it is used. The best and most beautiful virtual office delivers no added value without properly taking advantage of its functions. That’s why following the rules is critical. Good thing they are simple:

  • When people are working on their laptops, they chime into the virtual office
  • Those who cannot speak at the moment (because they are in a meeting, for example) put themselves on red.

Creating a remote-first culture

The remote workspace forms the base of a remote-first culture. However, it is not always easy to use the full potential of the technology. How can companies successfully create and live their values in a remote setting? 

The most important factor: communication! Aspects that can get tricky in traditional work models are even more challenging online. Personal interactions need to be implemented more consciously in a remote workspace. As a manager, you should focus on scheduling regular meetings with every employee. Additionally, try to make time for personal conversations. Not only between employees and managers, but also between colleagues. Having fun together and holding conversations outside a work context can already be challenging offline. However, in a remote setting, they are even more important.

The power of rituals

Rituals play an important role in creating culture, both online and offline. They strengthen the sense of community and aid in forming intentional habits. Most companies probably have numerous culture-shaping processes and rituals when working in a traditional office space. Whether it’s the morning coffee chat with colleagues, birthday celebrations, or the energizer before a meeting: rituals create solidarity, identity and a connection between colleagues. 

Rituals work best when employees implement them themselves. As a leader, you should encourage every opportunity for a new ritual. Whether you choose to offer special welcome gifts or decide to eat lunch together: Every ritual is unique and contributes to forming a strong bond. Generally, the more unusual the ritual, the stronger the impact. In many cases, offline rituals – that are modified slightly – can also be translated into a virtual setting. When switching to a remote workspace, existing rituals don’t necessarily have to be lost. Our favorite online rituals include:

  • The Daily Meeting: In the virtual office, all employees briefly discuss the past and upcoming workday. Problems, difficulties and successes can be shared. This way, team members stay informed about the daily progresses and struggles of their colleagues. Transparency is promoted and the space for cooperation created. The Daily Meeting is meant to be brief and should not last longer than ten minutes. Any discussions or questions that arise from the Daily Meeting can be discussed in separate follow-up-meetings. 
  • Celebrating successes: We love to highlight and celebrate the great achievements of our colleagues. Whether we receive positive feedback from our clients or our projects end up in the newspaper again: We always share good news in the Slack channel #all-well-done. It also has become a tradition to accompany our meetings with thunderous applause for outstanding achievements. 
  • Online team building: Offline events are accompanied by lots of planning and resources. Most companies can not afford to hold big offline meetings more often than two or three times a year.  Online team building is an excellent way to actively work on the culture without having to meet up in person. Online events are far more flexible and less time-consuming. They can be integrated into the daily work routine more seamlessly. The team spirit does not have to suffer in the process. 

Remote recruitment

Once the entire company and its culture has successfully been digitized, there are limitless possibilities for recruiting new employees. On one hand, the application process can be made more efficient with the help of a wide range of tools. Applicants and HR staff no longer have to sit in the same room for interviews in order to check professional and social skills. 

Cultural aspects, which are hardly integrated in some remote recruiting processes, become a greater focus with a virtual office. When getting to know a prospective new employee in the virtual office, applicants can get an immediate feeling for the corporate culture by strolling through the hallway and talking to prospective colleagues. This is a clear improvement to on-site interviews, as real offices are often only sparsely occupied

Companies struggling with empty desks can use virtual offices to

  • attract the best talents from across the world and
  • retain existing employees in the company for the long run

Take the IT industry as an example. As a result of the fast advancing digitalization, IT specialists are increasingly in demand. Considering that IT personnel had already been short-staffed before this crisis, it is no wonder that employers have a hard time finding new talent. With virtual offices, IT companies can recruit globally and attract talents from anywhere to the company. With employees from different parts of the world, companies are much more diverse and flexible. Response time no longer depends on just one time zone. In addition, it is much easier to cater to varying markets.

English as a corporate language

When recruiting internationally, companies not only expand their talent pool, but also the pool of competitors. In this case, the employer brand is almost entirely limited to the online presence. Using English as the overarching corporate language is non-negotiable. Many companies originating from German-speaking countries, such as Deutsche Bank, Daimler or Adidas, use English as the main language for communication. The chosen corporate language should be understood by every employee and not exclude anyone.

Remote work and regional developments

All these aforementioned developments boil down to one thing: The workspace is becoming more flexible. The results of this development can hardly be overlooked. In 2020 alone, around 330,000 residents have left New York City and moved to the countryside. Such developments can be observed all around the world. In addition to low maintenance costs, rural life also offers a more desirable living environment than the cities. 

“Young people are leaving the countryside for the city”. A sentiment that many rural regions have shared in recent decades. Now the tables are turning again. Younger people increasingly move back to the countryside or suburban areas. They want to care for older family members and start building a family of their own. Which career young people pursue is heavily influenced by which work is available near their home. Only few people remain that would consider moving for the sake of their dream job. Companies in rural regions can take further advantage of this trend and proactively attract talent by offering remote positions.

Whole countries are also struggling with the loss of employees. Entire generations have moved from Eastern to Western Europe, for example, because they have better opportunities for a higher standard of living elsewhere. The IT industry in Romania has experienced a significant boom in recent years. But IT specialists moved to Western countries. With Remote Workspaces, employees can stay in their home countries, increase the prosperity there and still work fully integrated in the Western companies.

The future of work with remote workspaces

When digital solutions largely replace the world’s open-plan offices, what will the workplace of the future look like? Will it still be necessary to come together offline at all? 

The answer is: Yes! Offline collaboration is still a catalyst for innovation and will not lose its relevance in the future. However, five-story offices on the outskirts of the city are no longer necessary. If employees need to collaborate on certain projects, this will happen in so-called hubs or team retreats.

Hubs are usually small offices that benefit from a less rigid design and promote creativity, innovation, collaboration and communication. Permanent employees, freelancers and project partners can work side by side on their projects. 

Many industries already favor the hub model. Companies are not only improving their own products, but also do some important research for the future: Digital Innovation Hubs in Europe, for example, serve as centers that provide access to expertise, laboratories, equipment and training. 

But even large companies are increasingly using hubs to connect the best talents and test new working methods. For example, the Austrian fintech company Bitpanda uses a remote hub for their blockchain research. In terms of looks and methodology, hubs vastly differ from the main campus of the company. They promote “out-of-the-box thinking.” In the digital companies of the future, individual hubs communicate with each other via a remote workspace.

In the future, companies will also rely on augmented reality for remote workspace development. Colleagues will be superimposed in glasses or lenses. Whether such developments will be possible in five or ten years, remains to be seen. There certainly are high expectations for this development (also on the capital market). The world’s largest companies are developing at full speed, and it is only a matter of time before the next major breakthrough is coming.

More on remote work:

🌴Workation: More than just a buzzword

Key takeawys

No one can predict what will happen in the future. However, one thing is certain: digitalization will greatly impact our workplaces. Remote workspaces will be necessary for solving challenges in the modern corporate world. Employee shortages or surpluses can be solved with a remote corporate culture. Digital work and recruitment processes can happen on a global scale. All of this can be realized with the help of the virtual office. Now it is up to the companies to use these technical possibilities to improve their company structure.