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Amber Stark

Virtual Working Spaces More Relevant than Ever

Earlier this year, SIOP shared its seventh annual Top 10 Workplace Trends list. Based on member surveys, these are the issues that were expected to have the most impact on the workplace in 2020.

Eight months into the year and “Virtual working spaces,” which tied for No. 9 on the list, has certainly earned its spot.

“As remote work has become the new norm for many workers, finding a way to stay connected to colleagues and the organization is critical. Indeed, in data collected as part of an NSF Rapid Response grant on the rapid transition to remote work, Dr. Tammy Allen and I found that many participants cited the loss of connection as the worst part of remote work. For example, one participant said, ‘I am an introvert and yet I really miss the hellos, how are yous, catching up about family and the weekends, the laughter in the office, the banter, the fun,’” said Dr. Kristen Shockley, associate professor of psychology, University of Georgia. “Virtual working spaces on Zoom or Teams may be one way to mitigate these concerns, especially if there is space for non-work-related discussions. Another option is the Donut app on Slack, which allows coworkers to be randomly paired with other colleagues for quick chats, mimicking the experience of ‘bumping into’ people in the halls.”

Virtual coworking space can help limit workplace distractions while creating a sense of community for employees. In virtual coworking space, employees can join multiple chatrooms with coworkers (some work related, some common interests), see what meetings others are attending, and work on projects together. Virtual coworking comes at a low cost for employers and provides employees with flexibility, but they do have disadvantages. For instance, it is more difficult to foster employee engagement, and a lack of engagement can spiral into a lack of commitment, employee burnout, and attrition. Zoom fatigue, the emotional and physical exhaustion that accompanies hours of video conferencing, is also a potential threat to be aware of, particularly for people who spend most of their day in online meets.

I-O psychology practitioners and educators have found many methods of optimizing the remote work experience over the last several years. Some of them are simple procedural “hacks” such as conducting video meetings to increase accountability, engagement, and professionalism. Other, more substantive interventions include mapping career development paths to guide training and development for virtual employees.

SIOP has published resources on several aspects of remote work, including a 2014 white paper on Telecommuting by Shockley, which provides a readily accessible grounding in the psychological impacts of remote work.

To create this list, SIOP asked its members for their predictions based on their expertise as well as interactions with clients and colleagues. After the responses were compiled, members selected the top 10 issues organizations are likely to face in 2020. Nearly 1,000 members responded.

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