Probably the biggest challenge of managing remote workers is creating a sense of teamwork. While multiple people may be working together on a project, most of the work is either done alone or conducted via online meetings. What's missing is the sense of camaraderie that develops when people interact informally.

Open-plan offices were designed as environments where that camaraderie could develop naturally and organically. While open-plan offices failed utterly to accomplish that (because open offices reduce rather than increase spontaneous interaction), the intention was positive. People who enjoy one another's company work better together than mere acquaintances and strangers.

Even if open-plan offices had worked as intended, however, there is still the problem of getting people from different organizations, located in different floors or buildings, to work together as a team. As a result, many companies have internal sports leagues and chess clubs, as well as formal team-building exercises and retreats.

Of course, none of those approaches make sense during a pandemic, and none of them work well when team members are geographically dispersed, which is frequently the case inside companies that embrace remote working. However, there is a simple, inexpensive, safe analogy to those team-building methods: online gaming.

According to Munjeet Singh, head of Booz Allen's immersive computing practice, some companies are looking at augmented reality and virtual reality (a.k.a. AR/VR) technology--originally developed for online gaming--for innovative ways for employees and clients to "feel connected again" in an increasingly online business environment.

Singh anticipates that companies will use AR/VR for

  • Virtual meetings and conferences that make you feel as if you're attending in person
  • Simulations where care providers "walk" through a hospital before it's constructed 
  • Training that's difficult to reproduce in real life, like medical triage in the ER

Some companies are already using AR/VR technology rather than Zoom or Google Meet. The editorial team at BoredPanda, for example, has taken to holding business meetings in a popular Wild West simulation game. Author and artist Viviane Schwarz recently explained on Twitter:

Zoom sucks [so] we started having editorial meetings in Red Dead Redemption instead. It's nice to sit at the campfire and discuss projects, with the wolves howling out in the night.

While the team has encountered some technical hassles, Schwarz says that

A perk of this is that when you agree that the meeting is over, you can all jump on your horses and do crime or justice, which is a lot less awkward than everyone smiling at the camera while they're trying to log off.

Other companies are using the popular world-building application Minecraft as a Zoom alternative, according to a Reddit thread devoted to the subject. One commenter pointed out that

In Minecraft (or other videogame-like environments), we get strong social cues such as what is everyone looking at. In a presentation, the viewers will see what the presenter is looking at. These things are subtle, but it feels much more social and somehow more real than a lone voice over a static slide. Discussions are more lively, the atmosphere less serious, more whimsical, and therefore more creative.

Another advantage of this idea is that online gaming environments are actually more inclusive than traditional team-building exercises, like "ropes" courses, that tend to leave out or disadvantage the non-athletic.