Flipside Workspace was a virtual work platform thoughtfully designed to be a comprehensive digital workplace. My former company Duncan+Coleverria, Inc. (D+C), created this platform, which was fully operational from 2012-2017. We developed it in a metaverse environment to simulate the experience of working in an office setting.
So what does that mean, exactly?
As consultants who worked out of our homes, we needed to figure out how to spend more time consulting and less time and money traveling and commuting to our client’s offices.
Essentially, we needed to reinvent how we work.
My business partner, Anna Marie Etcheverria, and I built Flipside Workspace to create a better way to work from home. But this was more than a virtual office; it was an entire business district. Even better, Flipside Workspace was built by teleworkers, for teleworkers. So we understood what was missing about working in a real office. We worked with a company out of India (Indusgeeks) to develop the platform and bring our vision to reality.
In 2010, we officially moved our D+C office to Flipside Workspace and worked exclusively in this virtual environment. We used our experience working in Flipside Workspace and what we learned from participating in an intensive start-up accelerator program to refine this collaborative space. In 2013 we opened our virtual business environment to other consultants, remote and teleworkers, and businesses.
I’ve posted before about what it was like to work in a digital workplace and why I loved it. We created a professional-looking AND feeling virtual world environment with a business park, meeting spaces, offices, and retail areas. We even had a community mail room and library. And yes, we were represented by avatars.
Critical Elements for a Successful Digital Workplace
We made the painful decision to shut down the environment in 2017. I know we missed our moment. But, going through the pandemic and experiencing the rapid shift to work-from-home on a global scale makes our experience unique. Working in Flipside Workspace, and then outside of it during the pandemic, is quite helpful in understanding what it takes to make a digital workplace a success.
Of course, defining what a successful digital workplace means for your company is an essential first step when designing a virtual or hybrid environment.
For us, success meant the experience of working from home matched the positive experiences of working in an office. Understanding the core elements required to simulate this office experience in a digital workplace was vital in creating Flipside Workspace. It came down to three crucial elements: productivity tools, various communication channels, and designing for spontaneous connections.
Productivity Tools & Resources are Essential
Of course, one of the most obvious things to simulate about working in an online office is to have the tools and resources available to help employees succeed. We did that by offering the latest productivity tools in critical locations throughout the environment. Offices, conference rooms, and public spaces had whiteboards, projectors, and other productivity tools to make collaborating with others easier. We had a resource library that shared information about the other professional members in the space. Oh yes, did I mention we opened the environment to consultants and small businesses?
The Ability to Communicate Actively and Passively is a Must
The details in the space that allowed us to simulate the office experience most closely were the intentional use of active and passive communication channels.
Active communication means we are intentional about needing to communicate. Today, the online version is the meeting we set up on Zoom or Teams, which replaced the meeting in the physical conference room. But it could also be email, phone calls, and document sharing. The common thread is that we are actively communicating through words and voice.
The problem is that there are a lot of passive visually-oriented communications that happen throughout the day, including at in-person meetings. For example, we notice who is sitting next to whom or who is late. We even see who is having small group conversations before the meeting starts. It is these communication nuances that a platform like Flipside Workspace can simulate in a digital workplace.
But it can also go beyond simulating and make it even better by making conversations more inclusive. We conducted a study between video and Flipside Workspace. We discovered that people preferred communicating in this digital workplace versus video conferencing. Of course, this survey was pre-pandemic, but it does raise the need to select tools and communication channels that foster inclusive conversations.
Allowing for Spontaneous Conversations is the Secret Sauce
Of the three must-haves, this one is most often overlooked – the water cooler talk. When conversations are remotely scheduled, there is little room for spontaneous discussions when you “run into someone” in the hall or the water cooler.
Because of the intentional way we designed the voice capabilities, casual conversations could occur easily. Like in real life, the closer you walked toward an avatar, the louder that person’s voice became. This intentional design for spontaneous connections allowed for moments of serendipity that are often missing when working remotely.
Arguably, it’s these moments that are most critical in fostering creativity and nurturing corporate culture. After all, those water cooler conversations are often the sparks that ignite ideas and create connections. I think this is the crucial element that is missing for many companies that are calling people back to the office.
8 Ways Flipside Workspace Supported Online Collaborative Teams in a Digital Workplace
It wasn’t until after we shut down Flipside Workspace that I came across the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) article “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams.” The year was 2020. I went back to school to get my Master’s in Business Administration. My in-person cohort had just moved online due to the pandemic. This article was required reading for one of our classes. Although written in 2007, it seemed just as relevant as ever.
As I read the article, I quickly recognized how our platform supported each element.
Below is a summary of how Flipside Workspace supported online collaborative teams and created the framework for building a corporate culture for a flexible workforce.
HBR Collaboration Recommendations and Flipside Workspace Digital Workplace
(The eight suggestions listed in the HBR article for collaboration success are in bold, followed by how Flipside Workspace supported these.)
1. “Investing in Signature Relationship Practices” – We thoughtfully considered various communication options for public and private spaces to facilitate social and professional relationships.
2. “Modeling collaborative Behavior” – We worked out of our own branded office space for five years.
3. “Creating a ‘gift’ culture” – Our network library expanded the talent resources available to our community.
“Ensuring the requisite skills” – Welcome packages were sent to facilitate onboarding. They included tools, tips, and FAQs to optimize user experience in the space.
HBR Collaboration Recommendations and Flipside Workspace Digital Workplace
5. “Supporting a sense of community” – We offered and allowed our members to hold community events.
6. “Assigning leaders who are both task- and relationship-oriented” Our partnership with a virtual assistant agency made access to administrative support easy.
7. “Building on heritage relationships” – We included “gathering spaces” adjacent to our private conference room.
8. “Understanding role clarity and task ambiguity” – We included the latest available project management and collaboration tools.
5 Key Learnings From Working in a Digital Workspace
Finally, I offer five critical learnings from working exclusively in Flipside Workspace for five years. These takeaways come with the benefit of hindsight from working in a digital workplace and switching to a Zoom-only environment before ultimately shutting down D+C in 2021.
As you work to create or work in your digital workplace environment, in whatever form it may be, I hope you keep these considerations in mind. To learn more, check out What Five Years Working in a Digital Workplace Taught Us.
If you’ve liked what you’ve read here or learned anything new, please comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts.