As we recently passed the two anniversary of the pandemic, necessitating those of us who could work remotely to primarily do so, quite a bit has changed. Some companies have begun to return to office work on a hybrid basis, and roughly three-quarters of companies suggest that the path forward will be hybrid.
Whereas in 2019 and years prior, all work was assumed to primarily take place in an office, now there is optionality. Employees have different visions for what works best for them. Whereas one employee may long for more work in the office, others never wish to step foot in an office again, avoiding commutes and maximizing time with family in the process. These differences of opinion run the risk of creating conflict. To alleviate that possibility, a framework can be helpful. That framework can guide employees to determine together when to work in an office. With that in mind, here are five Cs to determine when work is best done together in an office:
- Career Plan
A team may choose to connect when team members from different cities happen to be in the same city. This offers opportunities to bond, to break bread and to share experiences.
Connection may also come in the form of a firm gathering. Especially for firms where most work will be done virtually, outside of the confines of an office, some have elected to have all firm gatherings or department gatherings either in a city where an office hub exists or at a destination, such a Miami during the winter or a hiking destination during the summer. These are opportunities for connection that bond teams together. Colleagues can get to know each other outside of the work setting, and the next gathering may be the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps them looking forward to time with the firm.
Given the emphasis on virtual work over the past two years, there has been much call to evaluate where creative collaboration is best done. Most research suggests that when teams are called upon to create they do so best in person. Though online tools such as Miro and Mural offer worthy alternatives to the traditional white board, brainstorming in the same room together continues to offer greater chances to catch lightning in a bottle and draw out the best ideas for the company. True creation often entails developing something new. This might be a new innovative product, for example. Again, bringing together a cross-functional team in the same room where each can easily hear from each other, note all that is happening, and the like is the fastest path to success.
The office setting is often best suited for collaboration beyond creation, as well. One can think about a linear path in the collaboration process. As a new project or initiative is identified, the kickoff may best done in person. This collaboration can help mete out a plan, determine who will be responsible for what, and what sub-teams might collaborate on which details. There will likely be a period where individuals will have solo work to accomplish before the next collaboration is necessary. Thus, through the life of the initiative, it will be appropriate to work independently for a period and then to collaborate in person together. This can be a force multiplier to productivity, as during periods where independent work is appropriate, one can avoid the commute, perhaps leveraging a bit of the time that would have been spent doing so to drive the independent work to its conclusion.
At a time when so many people are leaving jobs as part of the so-called great resignation, it is all the more important to invest in one’s people. Better coaching, counseling, and career planning are key investments to make. An in person meeting is often best to read reactions to guidance provided, praise given, and constructive criticism proffered. These are conversations where trust can be won or lost, and it is best to be in person for more of them, if possible. Ironically, it is often the youngest members of our teams who appreciate the importance of in person career planning least but benefit the most from such guidance. It must be proven to them that these conversations are worth their while with the results that they might garner from more explicit planning sessions.
Last among these factors is the need to celebrate together. During the period of virtual work primarily, where meetings tended to stick to agendas that fit in 30 or 60 minute windows and then each team member spread like seeds to the next series of meetings with other people, many took for granted the need to celebrate all that we accomplish along the way. When a project concludes, when promotions are announced, when quarterly earnings are made public, among many reasons to possibly celebrate, taking the opportunity to do so forges bonds, while also making explicit the accomplishments of the team.
None of this is to say that these five activities can only happen in offices. None should wait for everyone to be in the same place at the same time to happen, of course, but in the balance, these are activities that are best done in the office. The framework is clarifying. It articulates a means of cutting through conflicting opinions of whether to meet in person or not. One can imagine colleagues debating whether an activity should be done virtually or if it rises to the level to warrant a trip into the office. One could determine if the activity aligns with the categories given, and if so, make the call to do so. Hybrid work is tricky as we have the unleveling of the playing field in earnest, but by setting up some simple ground rules together with sound explanations of why the path has been chosen will ensure that you are building trust across the team for the long term.
Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.