Why Do We Keep Trying to Replicate "The Office" Online?

If we continue talking about "the office" when we look at working in a virtual environment, aren't we in danger of not letting go of our previous mindset? 

“We’re introducing flexible working. People can now work from home.”

One of the first questions that comes to mind when hearing this announcement (after a bit of relief for some, panic for others and “so what” from someone else) is “What will we need to do to continue feeling like we’re in the office together?”

I think we’ve been asking ourselves the wrong question all along.

We’re ready to move away from, “What do we need to do to feel like we’re in the office together?” and towards, “What do we need to do to continue enjoying working together and working at our best?”

Some of the answers to “How can we continue feeling like we’re in the same physical space?” are irrelevant because:

(1) We’re not in the same physical space, so why are we hanging onto the assumption that we need to feel collocated to collaborate and

(2) The question can leave us longing for a way of working which is “just as good” as the office, instead of taking the opportunity to improve how we work.

I know, I know.

The office is still the world we know best, so it’s difficult to stop designing current processes and ways of connecting that do not mirror the collocated space. I’m guilty of that myself. When I work from home and feel like connecting with others, I “go” to the Virtual Team Talk online co-working space, and place my avatar next to someone else’s little circle.

Just mirroring the physical proximity I associate with working along someone else, helps me feel like I’m no longer working alone. At the same time, I appreciate the ease with which I can place my avatar in another room and shut the door, without the fear of offending anyone. That’s certainly an improvement on the collocated space.

If we move away from trying to replicate the office and just ask,

What’s working well now that we can sustain?
What do we need to change to adapt?

we’ll begin to pinpoint what’s helping us to work well together. Then, if for some reason (of which there might be many), we decide that rather than being dispersed, we need to work shoulder to shoulder in Headquarters, we’ll have discovered new ways of working that can be just as useful in the collocated space.

The challenge is not, “How can we work together remotely?” The challenge is: “How do we work together well?”