Work today doesn't work

A 'wake-up call' for office culture. The remote work revolution. The Great Resignation. Workers of today want something far better.
Screen grab from a video showing a man reading a newspaper with the headline "Workers happily return to the office"
Vishal Punwani, Co-founder & CEO
January 10, 2022

Note: This is the second piece of a 3-part Series. Read ‘Part I: Human Compatible’ here, and ‘Part III: Building a Workplace that Works for Everyone’ here.

Hey y’all, Vish here. I want to talk to you about the ‘Workplace Metaverse’. Or what's sometimes called the 'Metaverse Office'. That’s our vision for the future of work here at SoWork.

In Part I, I described how when the pandemic hit in early 2020, like many other teams, we were relegated to being Slack/Zoom Corp #9,866,342, and it just didn’t sit well with us. Our teammate bonds began slipping, and we began to lose the intangibles that being together in Boston brought to our team. Something just felt…off, as it does for probably millions of teams around the world.

So we decided to do something about it. Inspired by the social bonds we built in our MMO gaming days, we built a hacky version of ‘social, online work’, which we shortened to ‘SoWork’. Within a couple of weeks, it completely transformed our team for the better, and we’ve never looked back.

Read about that origin story and transformation in Part I here.

Work today doesn’t work.

A ‘wake-up call’ for office culture. The remote work revolution. The Great Resignation. Workers of today want something far better than what WFH is today, and thankfully, it’s coming across loud and clear. Many are simply leaving jobs that don’t offer permanent remote work. Most are frustrated with the technologies being used at work. And as the workforce becomes more and more Millennial and Gen Z dominated, it’s clear that we need a workplace that helps employees just as much as it helps businesses.

2020 completely changed peoples’ relationship with work, for better and for worse. The good news is that people have found routines that suit them. They’ve left city centers to be closer to loved ones. They’ve gotten pets, had kids, and bought houses. Heck, I’ve personally done almost all of the above, and I’d never in a million years go back to being tethered to an office. It’s almost a laughable notion when I look back. The world spun madly on, and employees found much better balance, saving hundreds of commuting hours per year while at it.

But while personal lives are thriving (as much as they can be during a global pandemic, surging inflation rates, record high housing costs — hint: mostly in the business-centric cities, and maddening student loan debt), workplace connection between teammates is sharply falling. New teammates don’t feel connected to their teams. Camaraderie and shared purpose are just not being forged at the rate they were in-person.

But, the solution isn’t to go back to a physical office (we made a very popular commercial about how ridiculous that notion is — dare you to not absolutely head-over-heels love it). The real solution is to address these significant cultural downsides while ensuring employees maintain their life benefits mentioned above.

Within 2 years, every company will need to have a permanent, enduring presence in the Workplace Metaverse. — Vish, and then 2 weeks later Bill Gates, I’m just saying 🤷🏽‍♂️

So what happens if companies don’t set up shop in the Workplace Metaverse, purpose-built for teams to thrive? Well okay, since you asked…

Your best employees will leave for more flexible companies.

If you put arduous ‘hybrid’ plans in place, or decide to move back to the office because of the problems that distributed work comes with, you will eventually lose your best employees to companies with more flexible policies. And every single one of your best employees would be wise to consider taking offers from these other companies. After all, they worked hard to develop their skillsets. Why shouldn’t they feel valued in ways that work for them? Many employees value remote flexibility just as much as pay.

Flexible work will more and more become a sign of a healthy, strong company that has great process and employee-friendliness figured out, and is more equitable for underserved employees.

You won’t be able to compete for the best talent.

Life is hectic. Many of us have work to do, skills to develop, kids to feed, spouses to deepen relationships with, kittens to pet, travel to be had. Competition for our time is incredibly high. And when the best talent is out on the job hunt, there is unfortunately zero chance offering a job that requires a 2-hour commitment just to commute back and forth from the office each day is going to go well. As noted above, we’re moving into the era of workplace flexibility. It doesn’t mean great work doesn’t happen: it does, and it will. But it won’t happen from cubicles.

Photo of a man sitting behind his laptop at a computer, surrounded by coworkers angling for his attention.

This guy loves the office environment. How many of us have experienced the ‘shoulder-toucher’? (Wait, are YOU the shoulder-toucher? 😱)

You won’t get to tap into the rich, diverse, global talent pool.

This is one of the more interesting parts about moving to the Metaverse office. Imagine what it does for your global talent hiring ability. Or even your in-country hiring for that matter. The second you hire someone from outside of your zip code, your new hires are either commuting to your physical workplace, or they’re 100% digital, distributed teammates.

What are the chances that all the perfect people for your company just happen to live in your zip code? (Hint: they don’t). By making workplace amazing in the Metaverse, you can still tap into the global talent pool without losing what makes in-zip-code special.

And forget about your company for a second — imagine what this does to the earning power for talented folks around the world who can now tap into the opportunity to work at your company. In the Old Work World that would have been a pipe dream for them, but the New Work World enables this dynamic to create wealth all over the globe.

You won’t be part of the community where work will happen.

Twitter is a buzzy place these days, but it didn’t start out that way. Neither did Discord, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, or really any other system that changed how we connect and do business. The Workplace Metaverse takes this to a completely new level. In the Metaverse, businesses can backstop community-formation, meet new employees, sell their products, and contribute to a lively, thriving, workplace ecosystem.

Your employees will be less happy, thriving, and connected.

Companies are powered by high-performing teams doing impactful work. And teams are made of people who — in order to actually feel and operate like a team — need to feel deeply connected to their teammates. High performing teams need to talk about the hard things, have healthy conflict, hold each other accountable to doing great work, and push each other to grow. And people can’t (and won’t) engage in this kind of work without feeling like they’re meaningfully connected to the other humans they work with.

Distributed teams need human-compatible tools to work together, bond, connect and deepen their relationships. And the pre-pandemic tools from the past, like Slack and Zoom, weren’t built from the ground up to provide this need that teams have if they’re really going to be a team.

If you go back to the physical world, then you ask your employees to make sacrifices they shouldn’t have to make. Why ask them to commute for hours? Why take away their time with their loved ones? Why constrain their geographical choice of living so they can be chained to your office? The ‘9–5 til 65’ mentality needs to go — it just ain’t right.

You’ll have an unnecessarily bloated bottom line.

Doing distributed ‘right’ saves you the insane cost of physical office infrastructure. It’s hard enough to deliver as a business — why make it harder on your team? Forward-looking companies have spent the better part of the past 2 years canceling physical real estate — Pinterest, Salesforce, and Dropbox for example — what else could they do with that money? What else could you do?

You won’t be doing your part to improve planetary health.

Us Millennials and our less-cool-but-still-kind-of-cool Gen Z siblings are two generations that want to have impact. We want to create a world much healthier than the one we are inheriting, and the most important way we know how to do this is to tackle the causes of climate change. And hint, hint, we generally pick where we work based on value-alignment.

As it turns out, much of what happens to our planet is dictated by what happens in the business world. Excess business travel. Crowded downtown cores. Overpopulation of commercial hubs around the world. Skyscrapers, parking lots, and smoggy commutes. All of this is driven by our current business infrastructure and habits. You can change all of this. Yes, you can bring dolphins back to Venice 🐬.

While every team in the Metaverse makes a difference, at scale, things start to get really interesting. Imagine when it’s not just Boston companies moving in, but the whole Northeast. And then the whole US. Then Europe. Then Asia. What happens to the demands on our physical infrastructure, like roads, buildings, and parking lots? What happens to our carbon footprint due to corporate activity? What happens to the efficiency of businesses in one connected digital World? It’s every kid’s dream to one day save the world, and with a Metaverse office, we might actually be able to band together and pull that crazy dream off.

So come with us. Move in, or just follow along and cheer from the sidelines. Let’s actually save the world.


Note: This is the second piece of a 3-part Series. Read ‘Part I: Human Compatible’ here, and ‘Part III: Building a Workplace that Works for Everyone’ here.