Online Meetings vs. Back to the Office

In mid-June, we began the process of returning to the office by asking our team members to come in one day per week at minimum.  Some team members have chosen more, and those who have greater health risk in their homes have not returned yet.  I’ve written in prior posts that we want to regain lost energy and vibrancy of being together while leveraging the benefits of working from home.

One person said to me last week that “we aren’t eating lunch together in the kitchen, or playing ping pong together.  It’s not the same and isn’t all that fun having to wear masks when we are close enough to each other to have a conversation.”  I completely agree!  Things are definitely not the same as they were pre-COVID and it’s impossible to know if or when things will be safe enough to not wear masks.  So why go back to the office at all?  We have several clients that are shutting down their offices and will work completely online moving forward.

For me, I have found online 1×1 meetings to be great.  It’s very quick and easy to have individual Teams meetings with my colleagues, and we have web meetings (via camera) even for very quick issues.  If someone has a quick issue for me, they will typically send me a chat message, ask about my availability and within seconds we are speaking face to face.  While we might have a couple moments about the weekend’s activities or other chit chat, it seems we get to business faster via web meeting than we do in the office.

I’ve been able to use web meetings for all sorts of things.  Over the past 3 months, I’ve held initial meetings with potential clients via Zoom.  We interviewed several potential vendors online, and all of our interviewing (until we’re ready to hire the person) is done through our computers.  Our most recent hire spoke with six different Howard Tech staff via a web camera before ever visiting our office.  Having shorter and more “productive” meetings is a huge win for me!

At the same time, it’s coming at a cost.  Howard Tech is a relationship driven company – with clients, vendors and especially within the team.  For the gains I feel with focused and concise meetings, I know we are missing out on connecting with each other.  I don’t know how to quantify it, but we have lost something.  For business leaders, it seems critical that you consider this (perhaps hidden) cost as you evaluate the relative pros and cons of the new normal for your company.  We want to leverage the benefits of working from home, while regaining some of our lost energy so are implementing a gradual return to the office plan.  We moved to 2 days per week in the office in mid-July and plan for the team to return 3 days per week in late August.  That might be our balance, 3 days in and 2 days at home, I’m not sure where we will ultimately end up.

I do know that relationships and connecting matter.  How are you seeing this play out in your work from home scenarios?  We are working extra hard to try to maintain the team connectedness, even while working via a web camera.  The Howard Tech leaders have built a great team and we hope that all of our staff will stay with us indefinitely!  That might be unrealistic, but this is one of the reasons I want us to work closer.  It’s easier to be disconnected from colleagues when working remotely, and those without close team/office relationships will have an easier time leaving the company than those that feel “part of the family”.  There are plenty of reasons why I’m looking for more togetherness but team chemistry and employee retention is at the top of the list.

Some people want to open business back fully immediately while others are more cautious/concerned than I am.  We’re trying to make smart decisions on safety, serving clients well and keeping our awesome team together.  This is tricky and challenging!  Hopefully you are making great decisions for your own team.