Would You Pay $40 a Month to Have Strangers Watch You Work?

Research, she said, shows that remote workers, in general, value autonomy and independence, and that their productivity is adversely affected when they feel surveilled by managers. But, she said, when other people are working around you, like in a coffee shop, “It signals work and is a marker of work.” Physical co-working spaces have also been drawing more people in recent months.

At the start of a Caveday session, a facilitator puts people into smaller breakout rooms to set their intentions. In a recent cave, the facilitator in the Zoom chat also shared a link to a list of three-word quotes — including “trust the process” and “branding is essential” — and invited everyone to share which one resonated most. People also updated their Zoom displays with their name, location and what task they were there to get done.

Though fans of virtual co-working often invoke productivity as a benefit, the term is not universally embraced. (Mr. Redleaf, of Caveday, said that “we’re not productivity bros, we’re about having a better relationship to work.”)

Cal Newport, who helped popularize practices including deep work and focused work blocks, wrote last year, “A growing portion of my audience was clearly fed up with ‘productivity,’ and they are not alone.” Mr. Redleaf called productivity “the P word” and compared Caveday to SoulCycle, which combines elements of wellness with fitness. Ricky Yean, the chief executive of Flow Club, has called his company “basically Peloton for co-working.” A recent email from Flow Club noted that Benjamin Franklin was a pioneer of time blocking, before Cal Newport made it popular and Flow Club made it easier.

Like in an actual office setting, users of these platforms may start to recognize the regulars, and some may start to develop relationships, both personal and professional.

Anthony Ronda, 30, a software engineer in Hillsdale, N.J. who is starting a virtual tabletop game company, joins several Focusmate sessions per day and has found value in being accountable to another person while he works. He has also experienced a more personal benefit: He met his boyfriend on Focusmate earlier this year. The two plan to meet in person for the first time later this month.

Mr. Ronda said that they kept finding each other on the other side of the camera, as they were logging onto sessions at the same time; soon, they started scheduling times to work together and exchanged Signal phone numbers. “Obviously it’s not a dating platform,” he said of Focusmate. “It just kind of happened that way.” He does not plan to return to an office anytime soon.

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