One of the biggest challenges within a remote work environment is how to encourage the natural collaboration that would happen inside of an office environment. This is one of the things SME has been trying to figure out for the last couple of years. We know that most people don’t get their best work done in a cubicle so we’ve shunned opening a corporate office, but we wanted to figure out a way to capture those water cooler conversations and ad-hoc brilliance that comes when two people start hashing out a problem in the hallway.
We just figured out a huge shortcut to getting all the benefits of an office without actually having one; Sococo.
Sococo virtual office is a game changer
Jay Kelly, our VP of Operations, saw a sponsored post (proof that they work) on Facebook for Sococo, a tool that creates a virtual office for your company. The name is a shortened version of Social Communications Company. Jay brought it to the team and suggested we try it out. We tested it out with three employees one Friday afternoon and it is absolutely changing everything for us.
How Sococo works
The company gets a virtual office building. Inside every employee gets an office. No more arguing about those offices vs. cubicles. The number of offices available depends on the subscription option you select. The company also gets one or more conference rooms. The layout literally works just like an office would.
Employees can pop into your office to start a conversation
You can open their door if it’s okay to pop in. If not, simply shut the door and other team members have to knock before they enter. For us, a shut door means we are busy and we’d prefer not to be interrupted. We might be in another off-Sococo meeting or head down working on a project.
You just double click an office to pop-in and start talking with the team member. Sococo uses VOIP and your speakers to give instant access for conversation. You can also share your video camera and even share screens for ad-hoc collaboration.
This has been really helpful for that quick question or feedback on something you are in the middle of. I was working on a client document and popped into Tracey’s office and asked for some quick feedback before I got too far down a path. I captured the feedback and immediately started adjusting the document. Typically, I’d finish the document, assign a task in Basecamp, wait for Tracey to review and then have to find time to get back to it. I was able to get the feedback in the moment when I was in the right brain space to receive it and it cut at least two days out of the feedback and editing cycle. The whole process took 10-15 minutes. That’s just pure awesome!
Teams can meet up in a conference room, share screens and video anytime
Sococo also offers conference rooms where the team can meet to hash out the latest project or hold general team meetings. Every office and conference room has the ability to quickly share one or multiple screens with whomever you are talking to. This is really cool because I can share my screen with the group and others can share their screen at the same time so we can bounce back and forth between them, as needed. You can also share your video camera so you can all see each other. This is literally just like being in a conference room, we can see each other, we can see a virtual projector, and we can talk just like we were sitting next to each other. We don’t have to set up a conference line or even dial in. We just pop into the conference room and we’re talking to who ever has arrived. Plus we can see who is there before we pop in. We can also see if others are already using the conference room and select another one.
You can also add a non-user to a meeting by sending them a link. They enter their phone number and Sococo calls them and adds them to the conversation. We haven’t really tested this out much. You have to pay a nominal fee per minute and we’re still testing it internally at the moment.
Ad-hoc conversations with the click of a mouse
There is a lobby and an office we decided to call “water cooler” where employees can jump over to if they want to chat about randomness. This is where we can chat about Orange is the New Black or what we are making for lunch. If you aren’t working on anything important and you’re open to a random conversation you can hang out in the lobby or at the water cooler. This signals to the team that you aren’t busy and are cool with chatting about nothing in particular. This is great for those times when you feel like you need a little socialization or just want to throw up the flag that you are open to running into someone to chat.
Why is this better?
First, Sococo is the first platform I’ve seen that truly mimics a real office environment. It also doesn’t require setting up dial-ins or web logins to collaborate. This makes it so quick and easy that it is resulting in way more collaboration and interaction with the team. Finally, it’s fun. The feedback from the team has been overwhelmingly positive. We are all raving about how awesome it is, how it has helped us get a project done faster, and how funny the latest office prank was.
Here’s what my experience has been since we started using Sococo.
- I’ve popped into multiple offices to get quick feedback on the latest rapid prototype I’m working on. Within minutes I have feedback from multiple people on the team and can work on the next iteration.
- It’s making getting projects completed with feedback so much faster. I’ve gotten immediate feedback on client documents while I’m actually working on them. This is eliminating the old mantra of “finishing” something, posting it, and then waiting for feedback. Instead, pop in, get feedback, ask questions, boom, keep working.
- We’re talking about the random stuff that we were missing before. I’ve chatted about everything from my love for the Biggest Loser to how tough my latest work out was.
- We can see when other team members are in meetings together. Just this morning I saw that the whole client services team was doing their daily stand up in one of the conference rooms. It made me smile because meetings aren’t happening in the ether anymore. They are happening in a physical location we can all see and appreciate even more.
- We’ve started pranking each other. There is nothing funnier than popping into someone else’s office, screaming something random, and then popping back out before they even know what hit them. When their door is open, of course.
What would make it even better?
Nothing is ever perfect. There are some improvements I’d love to see in the future, but I say all of this with the spirit of love that I have for Sococo.
- We’d love an editable “white board” option for our offices and conference rooms. Matt mentioned he really wants a “library” where he can post great things to read for the team. This would create the experience of walking into a conference room and seeing what someone else left on the white board and/or the do not erase section of the board. This could also be used to document notes and/or take aways from the meeting that anyone could edit.
- It would be awesome to customize your avatar with your picture or a caricature of yourself. This would add a little bit of each person’s personality to the mix. We’ve laughed about how we are basically just naked circles popping in and out of offices.
- I really want to decorate my office! I want to be able to choose my desk (a swinging chair with an ottoman for me please), hang posters, put up some of my favorite quotes, and even a random meme occasionally. This would allow team members to get a real feel for each person’s personality and how they design their own space.
- Allowing administrators to “design” their office layout/look/feel would be amazing! This way you could create collaboration spaces wherever you want and layout your offices in whatever order makes sense. It would also be cool to have modern, traditional, and non-traditional themes. For example, I’d love to have our office on a private island and be able to put my office beachfront in a cabana.
- The design of the office layouts could definitely be more real and graphic. In the screen shot you can see that it looks more like Super Mario than Halo.
Sococo is changing the way we work. I could see this working for any combination of remote and in-office company or even fully remote workforce. I’d love to see it in a larger company. I’d envision each “department” having an office and being able to scroll through and pop in to an office in another department being really useful.
Have you ever used Sococo? What did you think? Are you using something else to collaborate when workshifting? Leave a comment and share with us.