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I remember the COVID crisis like it was yesterday. Overnight, work from home became a mandate. Initially, I took a liking to digital work.

However, soon enough, I began craving the energizing buzz in my office. I missed the spontaneous brainstorming sessions by the coffee machine. I missed working with my colleagues. This was when I stumbled upon virtual coworking applications.

As a former product manager, these tools helped me find my groove during the pandemic and later on. Here’s how to suss out whether joining a virtual coworking group is your next best move.

Virtual Coworking vs. Virtual Collaboration

Several applications like MS Teams and Slack are leaders in the virtual collaboration space. These are great for hopping onto meetings. However, most of the actual heavy lifting that moves the needle in your work happens in solitude. What if you could work alongside somebody, just like in an office?

Virtual coworking applications (aka social productivity apps) pair you with a random stranger. The session kicks off with setting goals for the session. Then, the two of you shall begin work on your individual tasks (with the video on). This mimics an office setting and forces you to take action on your tasks.

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How Virtual Coworking Improved My Productivity

The virtual coworking space features several popular tools like Focusmate, Flown, Flow Club, Caveday, and others.

I came across Focusmate in a book called Indistractible by Nir Eyal. The concept of virtual coworking intrigued me, and I instantly signed up on the platform. 

I’d have these complicated product roadmap presentations to prepare, and I often got stuck in the procrastination loop. By virtually coworking, I felt extra accountable and motivated to make steady progress on my overdue projects.

These tools also have tons of exciting features to keep you motivated. For instance, Focusmate has a user profile that displays how many sessions you have completed. My profile displays that I’ve completed over 600 sessions. 

What worked for me was building an effective starting routine that helped me overcome the anxiety of tackling a huge project. Finding that ideal product-market fit before a board meeting might seem daunting at first. However, breaking down these projects into bite-sized chunks and gaining an extra boost from virtual coworking helped me overcome procrastination.

Benefits of Virtual Coworking for Remote Product Teams

As product managers, ideation and execution are your bread and butter. Getting into your zone on demand is a skill that can do wonders for your productivity.

Improve Flow

Tapping into that “flow” consistently is critical to your success. Virtual coworking applications can help ritualize attaining the flow mental state. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, often dubbed the father of flow, mentions that the flow mental state is when you get so deeply immersed in a task that the mere experience of working brings you delight.

Coworking applications can mimic an office setting and help you reduce distractions while attaining that sweet flow. Imagine being so engrossed in your user story mapping that you lose track of time. Virtual coworking can help you tune into that flow.

"For most of us, collaborative work easily crowds out deep work,” says Taylor Jacobson, Focusmate’s Founder and CEO. “This is especially challenging for product managers, who need both to excel at their roles. Focusmate is uniquely powerful at getting us into the state of flow we need for creative work and deep thinking, and also at protecting the longer blocks of time necessary to do so."

Focusmate really did get my creative juices flowing during my product management days. Consequently, I kinda gamified work, and taking up new challenges became fun.

Accountability Partners

I met some accountability buddies on coworking websites, and they helped me go the extra mile at work. Given that extra product ideation or market research can put you on the fast lane for a promotion, it stands to reason that virtual coworking can help you establish the right processes to maximize your chances of success.

Office-Like Camaraderie

Product management can get stressful at times. It’s not easy to constantly be on edge and develop new disruptive ideas. Coworking applications make you feel less alone and can help you get started on huge projects.

You may wonder if all these little gimmicks work for a few days and then lose their magic. The real magic lies in getting started with your tasks. When you get out of your comfort zone and take that first step, you’ve already won 50% of the battle. Virtual coworking helps me transition from “thinking” to “doing”—and once you get started, it gets a whole lot easier.

One Piece of Advice

If I can make one suggestion, I would encourage you to use virtual coworking platforms with people who don’t work at your company. In fact, the ideal coworking group should all be relative strangers who work in totally different industries.

Sound counter-intuitive? I know. The temptation is strong to invite your ‘work spouse’ or other close colleagues.

But here’s why I advise against it: I tried going down that path, and soon enough, you’ll just end up with an additional set of meetings. Meetings don’t help you make progress on your individual tasks. On the flipside, when you meet people from different walks of life—for instance, coding or music production—you can gain inspiration from them to tackle your product management quests.

Would You Try It?

Working from home doesn’t have to feel isolating. Virtual coworking applications can replicate the best parts of an office setting (i.e. not the commute!) and boost you to smash milestones along your product management journey.

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By Joshua Solomon

Joshua Solomon is a former product manager at a top telecom firm. He has amassed a great wealth of experience in roadmap creation, user story prioritization, cross-functional collaboration and other nuances of product management.