Marc-Antoine is the CEO and co-founder of planned. He writes about personal strategy and event optimization.
During the pandemic, workers have quickly adapted to the life changes ushered in by remote working. With commuting out of the picture, they were free to spend time with their family and side issues. In a post-pandemic landscape, many find this freedom hard to let go. Flexibility seems to be the word of the hour, with even the best talent now pushing back on the mandatory office work culture.
While the debate often bogs down on whether we’re more productive at home or in the office, I think the most important question is, can companies engage staff and customers long-term without face-to-face interactions? Spoiler alert: no they can’t.
By 2022, 79% of remote workers will be far from their teams and have quit their jobs, according to Gallup’s State of the global workplace report. And it’s not hard to figure out why: It’s harder to care and easier to leave if you don’t build interpersonal bonds with your co-workers.
Yet two-thirds of employees say they are willing to look for work elsewhere if they are forced to return to the office full-time. And by embracing hybrid work, companies risk offering the worst of both worlds: forced commutes to vacant offices.
Of 73% of employees who say they need a bigger incentive than company expectations to return to the office full-time require a reframing of what it means to collaborate.
Make people want to get back together
So how do you get people to leave their pets behind and cope with that commute?
One thing industry leaders are exploring is rebranding the office as a space for employees to connect and collaborate. Companies like L’Oreal are redesigning their office spaces to be agile and welcoming – and find that employees are happier. In its Paris office, the cosmetics giant began offering on-site services to support the well-being of its employees, including gyms, medical services and nail salons. In Copenhagen, L’Oréal added office spaces where employees can meet informally, resulting in a 7% increase in employee satisfaction.
Other organizations have turned to in-person events as a way to balance their fully remote work culture. 2020, Drop box adopted a “Virtual First” policy while rebranding its offices as “studios” and restricting how its staff could use them. Employees are encouraged to use studios for intentional gatherings, such as brainstorming sessions, community-building events, and socializing—in other words, events.
Social is the name of the game
Frequent in-person events are becoming essential to a solid corporate culture. In fact, 84% of employees say they would be motivated to go to the office by the promise to interact with their colleagues, according to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index. After all, it’s easy to treat yourself to tasty snacks at home, but you’ll never bond with your colleagues from your home office.
We notice this directly with our customers, but also with our own team. Because my co-founder, Emeric Noël, and I wanted to build a personal company culture, we decided to give our team a budget to host social events every two weeks. We all play a part in coming up with new ideas to rally the team around new activities: inviting stand-up comedians, organizing wine tastings and bowling. Those meetings have become a cherished moment for all of us, and even an important asset when hiring. We are now getting candidates willing to relocate to cold, snowy Montreal to work from our office.
And that’s something we’ve seen our clients do as well: organizing smaller but frequent team events in a decentralized way.
Personal strategies are crucial to stimulation
Building a personal strategy within your organization is a multifaceted endeavor. It is a combination of time and budget allocation, enabling creativity and decentralization while maintaining control over budgets.
These are my recommendations:
1. Identify the groups that would benefit from face-to-face collaboration, both internally and externally. This can be harder than it sounds: not everyone needs/wants to be invited to everything, but you have to take into account silo-breaking meetings.
2. Identify the people within your organization who will handle event planning. This could be a centralized event team, occasional event planners (team leaders, office managers, customer contacts) or a combination of both.
3. Dedicate internal spaces to small events and collaborative gatherings. Go smaller more often.
4. Enable event planners to organize out-of-the-box meetings. Things as simple as inviting an outside speaker from time to time or organizing a small activity at the office can go a long way. Empowerment in this case means allocating budgets, guidelines and sourcing tools.
5. Make it clear to your management team that these events are a tool to bring people together, from customers to employees. Make it part of the strategy.
6. Get in the habit of sharing photos and testimonials after social events to generate buzz among your internal teams.
Hybrid and telecommuting models are here to stay, which is why I predict 2023 will be a groundbreaking year for corporate events. Companies struggling with disengaged teams can get ahead of the post-pandemic shift in employee attitudes by implementing personalized strategies that appeal to their employees. That simply means ensuring that your employees can connect with their colleagues, customers and partners, both in and out of the office. Of course, in-person events don’t solve everything, but bringing people together and reminding them why they work together can change the office dynamic for the better.
Personally, I’ve always considered that the biggest indicator of engagement with an employee is whether they have friends in the office. It’s about fostering an environment where people who can make connections, share ideas, and really want to be together in person.