The pandemic has taught us that we don't need to default to in person for every activity. Heeding quarantine orders, people set up shop at home and kept their companies afloat from their couches and kitchen tables. At first, this new mode of working was a major disruption for teams and companies. But over a year later, many have had a chance to find their work-from-home flow, and as a result have experienced a level of autonomy over their work-life in a way that they hadn't previously.
This virtual-first way of working has uncovered some benefits. Remote work can be great for:
- Getting more time back in your day that was previously spent commuting
- Working on heads-down tasks that require more focus: reading, writing, and creative thinking
- Leveling the playing field for connection across a distributed team
- Keeping meetings focused while moving side conversations and reactions into chat
We know that remote work isn't going away - ever. And coming out of the pandemic, we have a new opportunity to reassess when and why we bring people together for moments that matter. How can we continue to support the autonomy and flexibility that so many workers have come to appreciate about working remotely, while also acknowledging that there are some moments that benefit from in person connection?
The key to approaching in person time is to be thoughtful and deliberate about why we bring people together. In our work with hundreds of teams, across geographies and industries, we have found that these are four of the most relevant and useful reasons to work together in person.
- Emotional Intelligence: for courageous conversations and decisions that need emotional buy-in. There's a lot hidden in our body language that conveys our emotional state. Whether your arms are crossed, whether you're leaning back or forward in your chair, are all 'tells' that convey your state of mind. Your team doesn't need to understand how you feel about submitting your expense report (spoiler alert. we know). But decisions that require emotional buy-in, like a big team structure change or compensation and benefits decisions, when you need to understand how people might be reacting and processing information, is one reason to bring people together.
- Positive Social Influence: build team energy and motivate each other towards a shared goal. For some, being together allows us to feed off the energy of others around us. It's why we go to coffee shops to work or go to crowded bars to socialize - there's something about the collective energy that helps us sustain our own energy and gets our synapses firing. Some team members may not be energized by regular social interaction but may still value the unique opportunity to get together and interact in a way that helps us fight #zoomfatigue. Working in person gives us the opportunity to motivate each other and feel like we are working toward something greater. Big moments that require this kind of energy might be onboarding new team members, launching a major new initiative, or preparing for the financial close of the year.
- Get In Synch: speed up the time it takes to converge around ambiguous and systemic problems. Have you ever felt like a problem was so big and unwieldy that you just wanted to get into the room with the key players and focus on nailing down the path forward together? When we’re working remotely, we often work asynchronously which means team members are looking at the same problem, but at different times. For projects like building a presentation deck or writing a proposal this asynchronous approach to work is ideal, but at the beginning of a big piece of work when the problem statement is just emerging, and potential ways forward abound you can take a huge leap forward by getting people in the room for a brief, intense moment of collaboration and convergence.
- Relationship Building: cultivate and strengthen interpersonal bonds, build trust, and have fun together! We know that in person interaction and communication can help forge and maintain durable relationships for all the aforementioned reasons. It allows us to tune in to the emotional state of others, build on collective energy, and explore ambiguous and emerging ideas together.
While these are probably not a comprehensive list of every possible reason to gather in person, they do help leaders be more thoughtful about their choices for in person vs. remote working. It’s important that leaders embrace the opportunities of this shift to hybrid working, and resist falling back on biases toward doing things the “old” way just because they’re more familiar or more comfortable.
The next time you are facing a choice about meeting in person with your team, consider these fundamental reasons, and make a choice that supports your team and maximizes the value of your time together.