Businesses across the country are opening up, many without a solid plan for office attendance. This being new territory for everyone, no one knows what’s exactly right for their company. Some businesses will remain fully remote. Others will try to bring everyone back into the office. Another subset will settle on a hybrid approach.
Our company decided to go completely remote during the pandemic. What does that look like now, when employees are itching to stretch their legs and see old co-workers face to face? Recognizing the need and an opportunity to help others, we hosted our very first work Forward event in the second week of June.
Friendly faces and new company swag greeted employees as they entered Guy Fieri’s Tequila Cocina, a restaurant in downtown Boston. The event kicked off with a breakfast at 8:00 AM. Some people mingled and chatted through the morning meal. Others grabbed food, chose their booth or table, opened their laptop and got right to work.
By 9:30 AM everyone was working. Some took advantage of separate spaces for meetings, while others hunkered down wherever they sat. Around 11:30 AM, the group gathered for a speech from CEO Craig Powell about what the event meant to the company and everyone overcoming the pandemic and helping others do so.
Following the speech, coworkers ate lunch together before settling back into work mode. As they continued through their workday, restaurant staff passed around snacks, smoothies and other treats most employees wouldn’t be used to in office or at home. At 3:30 PM, the event began drawing to a close. Coworkers turned off their laptops and stuck around for drinks with coworkers or started their journey home.
This was our first pop up office, with plans for many more in cities all across the country. In this first effort, we learned a number of things.
A large piece of our working forward strategy has been partnering with businesses in innovative ways to help them during the opening-up process. Following COVID, many restaurants could use help. If you have a large group, communicate with businesses beforehand. Let them know what you’re looking to accomplish by bringing people together to work in their space. Odds are they will welcome the business and will do their best to accommodate company needs as requested.
Before reaching out to businesses, consider the size of the place and the needs of your employees. Work can be challenging if you’re not in the right environment. Say your employees need a space separate from the main work area for private calls? Or a third of your employees need a large area to do a training together? It’s unlikely that a local coffee shop is going to have both side rooms and a small auditorium. By choosing Guy Fieri’s Tequila Cocina, we had those options available to us, in addition to the essentials: Wi-Fi, outlets for charging, bathrooms.
It also helps to choose a location that’s convenient to most employees. A small-town coffee shop may seem idyllic, but if it’s a two-hour commute for most employees, it’s probably not the best space to host a Work Forward event. That being said, you don’t have to host everyone in the same spot. Departments and smaller groups should be enabled to work together as they like.
It’s been a while since everyone has been together in one space. Give them a little something to remember the day. Provide meals to make eating decisions uncomplicated. But, perhaps most importantly, don’t make attendance mandatory. The move from the home office to in office will take time. Dragging someone back in against their wishes is not the recipe for a happy and engaged employee. Let everyone in the area know about the event, and that you’d like them to come, but to not worry if they can’t.
No two employees are the same. Some of them will show up with their minds on meeting coworkers for the first time in ages. Some will show up with their minds on work. And that’s okay. Expecting every employee to rally in a giant brainstorming session that redefines the company would be asking too much. It took time for employees to find their own balance when working from home. It will take employees some time to adjust once they’re in-person as well.
Our Work Forward event was a successful combination of meeting coworkers and getting things done. If your company is looking to do something similar, reach out to a place that will fit your needs, invite everyone without requiring their presence and set expectations your team can meet. Using those simple guidelines, your pop-up office will be a success too.