Author: Ken Tencer, Spyder Works Inc. CEO
2021 MBOT Chair
Summer has arrived, and with it has come an increase in vaccine distribution across Ontario. As we approach a welcome return to normalcy, important and necessary questions about the future of the workplace have been raised. We at MBOT believe now is the time to rethink and redefine the modern-day workplace—one that places connection, curiosity, and openness at its core.
For the past 18 months, we have learned to adapt; creating cozy home offices, relying on Zoom calls and emails to keep us connected, and leaning on Wi-Fi to keep us from total isolation.
Companies are having to decide whether we should continue working remotely full-time, return to the office full-time, or opt for a hybrid solution. But before we decide on the “best” solution, it’s important to reflect on the lessons learned over the course of this pandemic.
Some people, we’ve learned, thrive on working alone with no distractions, while others find the human connection offered by the office space to be a welcome reprieve from the isolation of their home offices. We can’t deny that those working remotely full-time struggle to serendipitously connect with their team and can become frustrated by the limits of technology. Everyone is different—everyone has their preferences—and that is important to keep in mind going forward.
As corporate leaders and owners, it falls on us to think about and balance what is best for our team, our customers, and our company culture all within the strict adherence to any ongoing health protocols to keep us all safe and well.
Returning to the office, full or part-time, is not just about returning to the physical structure of the office; it is also about the return of human connection. With people craving human interaction more than ever, the return to the office gives us an opportunity to reconnect with our colleagues in a meaningful way. It’s important for employees to have a sense of belonging, to be a part of a community based on shared values. Offices must design their space to evoke collaboration, banter, and insight. Employers can make in-office days worthwhile by creating occasions for employees to be seen, heard, and celebrated through activities that encourage teamwork, trust, and relationship-building.
Our return is also our opportunity to bond and connect through in-person conversation, reminding us all of the value of rap sessions that leave us feeling refreshed and inspired. We need to treat the return to the office as the return of human presence, of bouncing ideas off one another during coffee breaks, and of adding a comment on the whiteboard as we pass by. The process of sharing raw ideas, formulating concepts together, and having breakthrough moments has been diminished in our video conferences.
Virtual meetings have been a necessary substitute to keep projects moving forward, but the best exchanges happen spontaneously when you run into someone in the office or in the lunchroom. In-person interactions are the best way to connect, to foster relationships, and to network. Group dynamics also build energy that virtual meetings can’t always replicate. It’s possible but it’s not as easy or as natural.
People need to be celebrated for their success, and being together in an office gives employees a better chance at being noticed and standing out.
Socializing is good for us, even if we’re introverted at times. As social creatures, we rely on the support of our colleagues to get through tedious, and at times stressful workdays. Chats in the hallway give us a break and a chance to recharge and communicate with our colleagues in a way that doesn’t require computer screens.
Let’s use this return to rethink how we foster relationships in the office, to engage in topics that transcend work, and to take this opportunity to listen to our team members with openness, empathy, and curiosity; and, of course, take every ongoing precaution to remain safe and healthy.