Maintaining Spontaneous Office Interactions in Remote and Hybrid Teams

Maintaining Spontaneous Office Interactions in Remote and Hybrid Teams

It’s becoming clear that the vast majority of people prefer working remotely. 

As McKinsey Research findings show, 60% of employed Americans worked from home during the “great catastrophe of 2002” vs. 25% a few years prior, and most want to continue doing so. 

The benefits are significant: 

  • We can work from "anywhere," 
  • Avoid mind-numbing commutes
  • Perform better every day
  • Spend more time with family. 

And it’s not just the working people. It’s the companies too. They want their teams to perform well at all times, no matter where they are. 

That’s why 63% of high-growth companies are now using hybrid work models. 

But hybrid working has its flaws. 

Yet we have not yet perfected how to best work remotely, as our current "ways of remote working" come with high costs. 

We are all working more hours AND feel more distant from our colleagues.

How Remote Work Affects Us Psychologically 

Is there anything you miss particularly about office life? We know we do. 

We miss the energy we had from roaming the halls in the physical office and spontaneously bumping into the colleagues we didn't normally work with daily. 

Of course, these conversations were nothing groundbreaking. The topics were often very light.

We didn't dive deep into the New York Times' "36 questions that lead to love" or debate our perspectives on free will. Instead, we'd chat about the upcoming football game, weekend travel plans, or last week's happy hour. 

Sometimes, we would learn about one of our teammate’s work and offer (somewhat useful) advice. But at the end of the day, these interactions left us more energized and connected to our broader company.

When we take a look at our "spontaneous" interactions at work, we can see that they shared three specific characteristics: 

  1. They weren’t planned
  2. They were pretty, brief
  3. They were transitory

You should pay attention to the last characteristic. All of these conversations were occurring in liminal spaces like the hallway or stairwell.

Why Do We Need Liminal Space?

Paul Levy, the senior researcher in innovation management at the University of Brighton describes these spaces well:

"Liminal spaces are beyond formal definition. As soon as we try to design them too tightly, they tend to flee elsewhere – the stairwell, the bus stop, the dead space at the back of the building.”

Why do we like these spaces so much? Well, Mr. Levy feels that people enjoy liminal spaces because no one has control of what goes on there. No one can really monitor and supervise what we say there. Liminal spaces are thresholds. 

Places of transition. 

They’re the embodiment of the spontaneity we desperately crave. 

That relates to the #1 problem we hear from users who have recently shifted to remote working: the feeling of "disconnection" and lack of "real" social interactions.

A virtual team meeting can be productive and even fun. But every team meeting over Zoom feels awkward, tiring, and artificial. 

Zoom Fatigue and How It Makes Us Feel Disconnected

Zoom fatigue may be a cliche phrase by this point. But it’s a real condition. 

It even has its own Wikipedia page. What’s more legitimate than that?

The term was popularized during the “you know what” during which the use of apps for team collaboration and video conferencing increased dramatically. 

The phenomenon of Zoom fatigue has been contributed to a literal overload of nonverbal cues that happen rarely in normal, casual conversation. 

OK, Zoom is not all bad. It helped us immensely with remote and hybrid working over the last few years. However, the novelty of Zoom has worn off, and we all need better and more genuine ways to interact remotely. 

The theme of our latest design sprint at Kosy revolved around these spontaneous interactions: how can we generate the benefits of spontaneous social chats (boost moods, create new connections, and share info) in Kosy while not requiring a lot of effort from our users (e.g., meetings, text chat)?

The ‘Intent” Of Social Interactions 

Social interactions when working remotely require significant "intent" - the act of chatting with someone requires action such as sending a text message or scheduling a meeting. 

It’s more difficult to replicate the random fleeting encounters such as hallway collisions, elevator chats, or coffee machine catch-ups in physical spaces. 

To structure the thinking, we mapped interactions in Kosy on a spectrum of intent:

  • Low intent - overhearing a conversation and joining in;
  • Medium intent - going to the social room;
  • High intent - scheduling a meeting.

To start, we prioritized ideating solutions that enable low intent conversations. We found two key constraints are inhibiting Kosy users from having these conversations. 

First, it isn't easy to truly understand if someone is available or willing to chat. 

Second, the conversations themselves are often more awkward - there are fewer conversational hooks to get started and weaker time boxing, so it doesn't feel nice to walk away.

Contextual Status as a Potential Solution

Context is key. A huge unlock for spontaneous interactions will be improving the "contextual status" of who is truly available to chat, what they are up to, and where they are located (from home or the office). 

At Kosy, we have invested a significant effort in the last few months in improving contextual status. Kosy users now see which apps their colleagues are working on, where they are sitting and with who, and whether or not they are "in-between" meetings, in our virtual hallway. 

There’s much more to come in this space, including the ability to "go live" and broadcast conversation topics for others to join (a la Clubhouse).

To further ease the friction of starting a remote conversation, we have built "conversational hooks" into Kosy that subtly introduce topics of conversation. Hover over a teammate's avatar, and you'll see their current location and a fun fact about them. 

Closing Thoughts

We know we will have made a material impact when our users feel more socially energized from a day working in a Kosy office than from a physical one. We hope to bring people closer together and more connected than ever before.

Do you want to see whether your team will become more connected with Kosy? Why not give our platform a try?

With Kosy, remote and hybrid working can feel as close to normal work life as possible. If you’re interested in our virtual office, then you need to give Kosy a try