70 percent of executives plan to get employees back to their desks at least part-time by fall 2021, according to a LaSalle Network survey. In fact, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs are already well on their way to getting their people out of homes and back into commercial office spaces.
My question to these corporate giants: Why maintain the status quo? A Gallup poll indicates that almost half of America’s workforce wants to continue working from home. What began as a strategy to avoid Covid-19 transmission has become a lifestyle.
I blew up the conventional notion of an office for my information technology consulting firm. As executives, we could attempt to force people back to traditional office spaces (and lose a lot of talent in the process). Or, we could lead with the creativity, collaboration, and compassion that will drive competitive advantage.
As the founder and CEO of Windward Consulting, I believe executives have a fleeting opportunity to reinvent the modern workspace. To leverage this opportunity, I’m taking my once conventional corporate office and transforming it into a collaboration destination. This new vision of a workplace focuses on a collaboration-first approach to workplace practices and a holistic assessment of workforce well-being.
Create an Environment Where People Can Do Their Best Work
As leaders, we need to tune into what employees want and how they can be most productive, especially during this time of workplace transformation. In short, we need to listen to our people.
My workforce doesn’t want to go back into the office full-time, and during the pandemic, they proved that they can be productive from anywhere. They don’t skip a beat working remotely.
But are we missing out on human connection? Absolutely.
I actually like Zoom meetings, but the platform is too rigid for fostering the kind of office banter that builds camaraderie—and online happy hours only go so far in developing a cohesive team. Ideally, teammates should gather to talk, laugh, and bond—yet be empowered to work from home.
What will foster our unique approach to working remotely and retaining company culture is a new kind of flexible gathering place that transcends offices and coworking spaces: a collaboration destination. It’s not a place to work. In fact, we won’t even plan to have enough desks for everyone to be in the office Monday through Friday.
The collaboration destination is a small, collaborative space (think 3,000 square feet) that’s heavy on conference rooms and technology and light on desks and office supplies. It’s like our own private Starbucks—inviting, eclectic, and full of ideas. Heck, maybe we’ll even have a full-time barista.
A collaboration destination is a perk, not a requirement. It pushes past a hardline, office-centric culture and cultivates authentic connection and ingenuity. But designing and building a collaboration destination is just a first step. It can’t exist on its own. Instead, it must become the central theme around your workplace culture and be supported by a progressive remote program and a comprehensive look at workplace well-being.
Forget Remote Work Policies—Institute a Remote Collaboration Program
Collaboration destinations hinge on granting your workforce control over the processes that affect them most. With schedules and office arrangements that work for your employees, they will have the freedom to innovate, collaborate, and really perform.
Though I lead a remote company, I refuse to create a remote policy. The “three days in, two days out” hybrid approach taken by companies like Apple is senseless. These stringent schedules are solely focused on placating leadership and creating policies just for the sake of it—not on maximizing productivity and striking work/life balance.
Unlike some of the companies instituting remote policies, I want to give people control over their work lives. I don’t care about three days at the commercial office versus at the home office, and Zoom calls are perfectly suited for making announcements or walking through processes. This isn’t the forum for making connections anyway.
Instead of mandating remote policies, develop a remote collaboration program. Our remote collaboration program has been shaped by tradition-breaking ideas from leadership and employees. It is inclusive of everyone across the organization and addresses our workforce’s wants and needs in terms of schedules, meeting frequency, equipment, and more. While our program won’t work for you and your people, I urge you to collaborate with your workforce to figure out what will.
The collaboration destination was actually born out of our remote collaboration program, and in turn, is also supported by it. I’m incredibly unproductive in the office. I do my best work sitting in solitude at home. But, I like gathering, and I heard the same thing from my employees. So we decided to take the best of the office environment by creating a destination where people can get together when they want to. It’s a break from seeing the same walls, an excuse to chat about the latest Netflix binge, but most importantly a spot for innovating and thinking big with colleagues while getting a really good cup of coffee.
Consider Employee Problems Your Problems
For a collaboration destination to function, leadership must monitor employee well-being. Because you won’t be able to keep tabs on your employees for eight hours a day (and who wants to do that anyway?), you have to be particularly attuned to their mental and physical health.
How many of you see employees working from their kitchen tables, taking calls on their couches, and shushing antsy kids that are running amok? If you think that’s their problem and not mine, then you’re fooling yourself.
As leaders, we have to understand—and more importantly accept—that people will care for themselves and their families first. They should. We also have to address the resulting business implications. Employees aren’t going to do their best work if their backs hurt from hunching over their laptops on the kitchen table. And they aren’t going to be able to concentrate when their kids are bouncing off the walls.
We need to collaborate with our employees. Listen to them. What kind of equipment do people need? Do they need a loan to renovate their homes to create a home office? Do they need to adjust their schedules due to childcare?
This out-of-the-box thinking isn’t as scary as it sounds. Addressing people’s personal needs will only make them more focused, creative, and loyal employees. And providing them with a gathering place to get refreshed and renewed will help reinforce this.
The Future is a Collaboration Destination
Over the last year and a half, my opinion on the importance of company headquarters has changed dramatically. I used to want my team physically around me Monday through Friday. But, it’s time to push beyond the status quo and think about the holistic environment we’re creating for our people.
Even post-pandemic, gathering spaces are important, but they have to be used in the right way. Because the pandemic shook the professional landscape, leaders can now break long-entrenched rules and start identifying the best way forward for their companies and employees. For my company, the way forward means leaving our office behind. It means providing flexibility for my workforce while maintaining a sense of culture and a drive for collaboration. It means embracing a collaboration destination and the culture to support it.