Last August, Zoom (famous for helping us connect during the pandemic), ironically recalled their workforce to the office. You’ve likely noticed this trend of companies bringing their teams back to IRL too. I know that, in my network, people are being urged to return to on site work 2-3 times per week.
While I support the argument for boosting engagement and collaboration, I can’t quite understand the decision to impose a set amount of days per week. I anticipate that workers who thrive in remote work environments might become less engaged, or just leave. And will the problem of lower engagement magically be solved, just by having people back in the same physical location? I doubt it. After all, disengagement and lack of cohesion in teams existed pre-pandemic. Perhaps a collective pause is required to bring more creative solutions to the forefront.
In our recent focus groups at Osedea, our team has been clear: they wish their colleagues would be there more in person… but on the flip side of the coin, unilaterally, everyone appreciates the extreme flexibility we offer.
In this piece, I share my reflections and our learnings about shifting work dynamics in hopes that it may help you in your own reflections.
Gregg Popovich, legendary head coach of the San Antonio Spurs takes his team after every game to a great culinary experience. Now, NBA players (many of them millionaires), can certainly afford their own dinner. But, as quoted by former Spurs guard Danny Green in a 2020 ESPN article about Popovich mindset, “dinners help us have a better understanding of each individual person, which brings us closer to each other…and, on the court, understand each other better.”
Indeed, nothing spells team bonding like living memorable and unique experiences together. This is something we were really good at in Osedea’s early days when our team was smaller. Each year, we planned a five-day all-inclusive vacation with our team. The goal was to receive training and bond—boosting engagement and collaboration. You can read more about our 2018 trip to Lisbon here.
As we grew in size, the logistics of arranging regular team trips became more challenging. So this year, we channeled the mindset of our team trips, and applied it to the launch of OsedeaFest: two action-packed days of inspiring training sessions, delicious dining, and exploring our city. The result? A spike in team engagement and connection, as per our results in Officevibe and our team’s feedback.
There are certain activities that make more sense in person, while others don't. For instance, last summer we resumed in-person interviews. It gives us a chance to connect and make the candidate experience more memorable. Similarly, client demos are a great opportunity to develop rapport and offer a positive collaborative experience. Now, whenever we organize certain types of rituals we ask ourselves: is this better in person, remote, or does either work fine? We now organize our in-person days around this, instead of just assigning an arbitrary number of days people are required to be physically present.
Our team reports loving the flexibility we offer. Some team members like me (thank you, four-minute commute!) come to the office most days. Others are regulars, but without set days. Others still are rarely there in person. However, when we have a day of interviews, we never have to beg our team to show up or negotiate their presence. We know that they respect the process, even if they’re the type of person who prefers remote work.
One comment that I hear a lot from other company leaders is that they worry that if they go fully remote, their team will be disengaged with their company. If you think being there in person for communication will prevent you from having a disengaged workforce, I invite you to think again. We have to challenge ourselves as leaders to think differently and find innovative ways to communicate and engage the team.
Here are some things we’ve done to enhance communication and engagement:
- Engage your audience by exploring meaningful mediums. Our daily team newsletter ran for three years before it started to lose impact. We shifted gears to a highly engaging medium: an internal podcast. Once a week, we broadcast an episode showcasing different team members. It’s a great way to create a personal connection with audience members and the team can listen whenever it’s convenient for them.
- Revamp existing communication rituals. We had been running our quarterly update the same way (in traditional video conference style with slides and various presenters) since our inception. To make the presentation of this important content more dynamic, we switched things up this fall with a virtual talk show style format.
According to Indeed, hybrid work is here to stay with more than 42% of posted jobs across industries including hybrid in their offering. But hybrid work can be so much more inspiring and rewarding for your team than a monotonous rule of a set number of days per week at the office. Flexibility and a tailored-to-your-team approach may be stronger differentiators to attract talent and offer rich professional experiences. So, before hopping on the return-to-the-office wagon, I urge you to ask yourself, “can we do better?”