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Remote Coworking: What it is + How it Helps Distributed Teams

Building your team remotely has huge benefits—it enables you to recruit diverse talent regardless of physical proximity, and offers greater flexibility for everyone. Still, it’s difficult to recreate the casual chats of office life in a remote work setting.

In a recent survey of 2,000 work-from-home employees, 63% report feeling less engaged with their coworkers when working remotely. You’ve probably felt this disconnect to some extent on your team—social cohesion is hard to solve for.

Coffee chats, happy hours, and other virtual team bonding events might help. But what about all the time in between? Remote coworking is an excellent way to bring casual social energy back to your day to day work, beyond just the once or twice-monthly scheduled team events.

It helps make room for the spontaneous conversations that foster strong social connections, which ultimately help you build a closer, more effective distributed team.

What is remote coworking?

Remote coworking, also called virtual coworking, is hanging out with your coworkers on a call and working alongside them. You can create an always-open call to hop in or out of, or do it for a designated period (usually an hour or less). It lets you spend time together in a low-stakes, casual atmosphere. There’s no agenda, and you simply work alongside other members of your team.

At Remotion, we default to cameras and audio off for coworking sessions. We also usually listen to a shared playlist in the background to make sitting in mostly-silence together comfortable. Every once in a while, someone will come off mute to share a quick comment, and we’ll have a brief chat about our something personal or what we’re working on.

Remote coworking is the closest thing we’ve found to feeling like your coworkers are sitting in the room right next to you, and it helps us create a sense of connection and shared presence that can sometimes be lost in remote work environments.

Why remote coworking helps you build strong remote team culture

Remote coworking is often touted as a way to boost productivity. And while it does create peer accountability (like traditional coworking spaces), we love remote coworking primarily because it strengthens social ties on your team.

A recent OnePoll study showed 77% of participants felt that strong workplace culture is tied to solid communication. These remote coworkers miss face-to-face meetings, energizing office banter, and having fewer text chat and email conversations. Virtual coworking helps build this social glue by offering space for unstructured conversation while everyone’s working.

Enables inclusive, organic social interactions

Scheduled social events are important, but can sometimes feel forced or difficult to make time for. They can also lead to the same big personalities dominating the conversation, or be draining for some. Introverts, for example, may prefer a lower-stakes social option where they don't have to talk the whole time.

Remote coworking allows team members to connect organically on their terms, in an opt-in way. During a coworking session, team members can talk when it strikes their fancy and when they feel comfortable doing so, making it more inclusive for all types of personalities.

Facilitates casual collaboration for remote teams

Virtual coworking eliminates the familiar in-office or Zoom meeting pressure of always needing to be “on.” Instead of only interacting in routine scheduled meetings, teams can use coworking spaces to work alongside each other and chit-chat every once in a while.

We’ve already expounded on the social value of remote coworking, but it’s extremely helpful to create space for casual conversations about work as well.

Whether it’s pair programming, helping one another get unblocked quickly, or just sharing an idea in the moment it comes to mind, coworking can help you collaborate spontaneously and build a sense of momentum for any project.

When a project is underway, ideas flow in the moment. When you’re working side by side, its easier to take advantage of “a-ha” moments by sharing thoughts with your peers right then and there to brainstorm or get feedback.

Tips to get started with remote coworking

If you want to give virtual coworking a try, we have good news—it’s super simple. Here are a few of our favorite tips to get started:

Get buy-in from your team with a quick survey or conversation

We think teams should align on what they’re trying to solve for before implementing any new culture initiative.

It’s helpful to run a survey or have a conversation to understand how your team feels about your remote culture, so you can develop a shared understanding of what you’re trying to improve. It also gives you something to point to in response to “why now?” and a baseline to measure improvements against.

Choose the type of coworking most aligned with your goal

Different styles of coworking can help with different challenges. A few ideas:

  • Project-based coworking promotes spontaneous collaboration and helps you build momentum
  • Independent coworking (i.e. sharing space while you do independent tasks) can help your team bond socially
  • Deep coworking can help you be more individually productive and get in flow.

Check out our Tactical Guide to Virtual Coworking for more on how to implement the coworking style that best aligns with your team goal.

Regardless of the style you choose (or invent!), it’s helpful to set norms around coworking for your team so everyone is on the same page. This can be as simple as saying: let’s be cameras off and on mute by default, feel free to pipe up and chat at anytime, and come and go as you please.

Start with a one-hour pilot in groups of ~4

Start small. Have your team hop into a scheduled coworking session for an hour, and see how it feels to everyone. We recommend starting in smaller groups of around 4 so any chit-chat doesn’t get too distracting, and to keep things low-pressure.

Create an always-open space

You can create scheduled blocks for coworking sessions with your team (especially when you’re introducing it as a concept), but we find coworking to be most fulfilling when we do it in a hop-in, hop-out way.

You can create an always-open video or audio call with your software of choice, and dedicated remote coworking tools like Remotion provide the features to make this hop-in, hop-out style of coworking easy. You can use Remotion to listen to your favorite Spotify playlist together, and see when your teammates are gathered for spontaneous coworking.

Develop a remote coworking solution that works for your team

Virtual coworking isn't about forcing awkward interactions with your coworkers—it's about working alongside your remote teammates and making space for the small, everyday conversations that build strong relationships. With so many ways to cowork, it's easy to set norms around it that make sense for your team's culture.

Remotion creates comfortable coworking environments that keep distributed team members connected, without the hassle of maintaining always-open spaces.

The case for virtual coworking: build a connected remote culture.

Regularly coworking with your hybrid or remote team can help you build the social cohesion that makes work feel less like work.

Here are the biggest reasons we think coworking is an effective way to create a close-knit remote culture:

1. It fosters casual conversations.

Building a connected remote culture is all about fostering 1:1 or small group organic conversations. Virtual coworking makes space for those conversations. When you spend time together outside of agenda-driven meetings, spontaneous chats naturally occur, as they would in an office.

2. It's more inclusive than scheduled social events.

It can be draining for introverts to have to participate in scheduled, purely social conversations. Coworking allows the team to spend time together and occasionally chat without having to constantly be "on," making it more inclusive for introverts and extroverts alike.

3. It's easy to say yes to.

Purely social events are important, but if your team is busy or on a tight deadline, it's tough to find the time for social chats without it feeling like an obligation. Coworking is much easier to get your team onboard with because it doesn't take time away from getting work done.

4. It improves remote collaboration.

Coworking can lead to unblocking and shorter feedback loops. Quick questions get answered easily and in the moment, without a having to schedule a meeting or go back-and-forth in messages.

5. It's scalable.

Coworking works for teams of all sizes and is a great way to scale your remote culture as your team grows. It's helpful to create opportunities for teammates from different functions to get to know one another.

6. It creates shared momentum.

The feeling of togetherness is motivating!

Get started with virtual coworking: choose the type most aligned with your priorities.

It takes intentionality to make virtual coworking feel natural and energizing enough to stick—it's not as simple as leaving a Zoom call open all day.

Here are a few of the ways we've set coworking up for our team. We recommend choosing one to start with. If it works, make it routine and experiment with other types from there.

Best practices for virtual coworking.

Keep group sizes small.

Limit your coworking sessions to 4-6 people to keep things from getting distracting and help make introverted teammates comfortable chatting.

Signal boost coworking.

Set a norm of letting the entire team know when you're hopping into a coworking room or session.

Make it routine.

Once you've figured out what kind of coworking works for your team, make it a regular, opt-in event. Set up a recurring calendar event to do it at the same time each week to maximize the impact.

Set expectations ahead of time.

When you're first introducing coworking to your team, share what you're imagining in your calendar invite and at the top of each session to get everyone on the same page. For example:

Let's try virtual coworking! We'll work independently on our own projects with our cameras off, but we'll share space and listen to music together — like we might work side-by-side at the office.

Listen to music together.

Play music while you work to create a shared environment and add a little bit of personality to your coworking session.

Set up Coworking Rooms in Remotion.

Most of the above is doable with any video chat app, but much easier with Remotion—which we designed with a lightweight, smooth coworking experience in mind. Easily set up Remotion rooms that your teammates can hop into for different styles of coworking.

We'd love to hear how coworking goes for you, or what practices you've found helpful on your team — let us know @remotionco on Twitter.

Want to try coworking in Remotion, our virtual office? Get free access today.

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