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Blog article 4 min read

How to compete with WFH

Preslea Jane

Written on

Empty offices are every company’s nightmare. Not only are they extremely costly, they’re also have a terrible impact on culture and morale. There’s no other way to say it: coming in to an empty office is a bummer.

What everyone's still struggling to figure out is a solution that pleases both employees and employers. Tools to give the workplace a fighting chance against the comfort of home offices.

We've heard about the zoom fatigue, the frustrating transits to and from, the faltering of company-wide mandates. What has been less talked about, but equally as impactful, are the limits that come from staying within the comfort zone of working from home.

It has plenty of pros, especially for caretakers, women, and minority groups for whom it's been proven to provide better access to continued work and income through remote positions.

However, there are benefits to coming to the office that we lose whenever we restrict ourselves to staying in one place.

What only comes with the office

The pivotal areas include socialization, career advancement, productivity, and the sense of belonging that comes from being with people.

If your company has distributed teams across countries, how do you find that crucial connection and get people out of those comfort zones?

From everyone we've spoken with, and at Planned as well, it's through in-person events. Those emerge as the most effective way to create excitement and FOMO, even among the most vocal pro-WFH folks.

A remedy for WFH restlessness

We spoke to employees from workplaces on both sides of the debate, to get their take on the pros and cons of both, and solutions that seem to be working. To no surprise, events are playing a significant role in strengthening remote teams.

Summer Romack is a former employee of in-office proponent Amazon and remote-first InVision.

While she appreciates remote work for the ability to manage her time in the ways that work best for her, she says that WFH falls short in recreating some of the most special parts of coming to the office.

“I do sometimes feel disconnected,” says Romack. “Especially if the team is geographically dispersed, we don't have the local news, weather, and restaurants in common. I have to be conscious to proactively check in with people on how they are doing. It does sometimes feel like groundhog day to go walk into my office and sit down to work.”

For Romack, the ideal balance looks like having more frequent meetings and events. Having the team come together for in-person engagement, collaboration and fun is key.

“I very much miss the informal conversations in the kitchen and the ability to go out to lunch or see my co-workers in person. I have to work hard to make sure I get out of my house so that I don't feel stir-crazy. If the team is geographically spread out, it can hard to be schedule meetings and to schedule even virtual lunches or happy hours. And there are no nice office amenities!”

The impact of in-person interactions

Another source who chose to remain anonymous spoke to the sense of disconnection in remote culture and work-from-home fatigue.

“You never fully connect with co-workers remote. I have been in jobs where you see people in person and they are completely different since you are getting 80% more communication signals via body language person that is missed remote.”

As for their ideal balance: an ability to focus on the deep work aspects of the job remotely for work-life balance, bolstered by in-person meetings for connection and socialization.

When it comes to meeting in person, events are the way to go:

“I’ve seen team building exercises be very effective such an escape room as you get to learn people’s personalities and their strengths.”

Revisiting WFH and SVB

The necessity for in-person interactions was clearly exemplified by the downfall of Silicon Valley Bank. It showed that not only are empty offices a major cost, they are a major threat, too.

For every remote work perk, there is a growing social gap that can’t be fixed with anything other than face-to-face connection. Lack of in-person communication creates a multitude of minor issues. These can spiral and spell the end when not adequately addressed.

At least, that’s the take from some former SVB employees, who see remote work as a primary reason for the bank’s downfall.

Repurposing the workplace

The pandemic certainly disrupted the workplace, which meant that it could be reflected upon and reconstructed. With what we have witnessed in terms of what works, what doesn’t, and what people expect out of offices in 2023: employee engagement and the revitalization of the workplace should be every company’s top priority.

Many companies are enforcing return to the office mandates, but it comes with risks for the same engagement they're trying to save. While the balance of power has recently shifted and employers have had the upper hand, employees have still been pushing back, as we saw at Twitter.

This creates the worst scenario: employees resist returning, those who show up experience empty offices, productivity chugs heavily along the bare minimum, the race to leave exceeds the eagerness to be present, there is no quality synchronizing and connecting with colleagues.

In essence, the mandate misses the point entirely, which is to enable people to collaborate better in person, while enjoying the process.

Instead, a more flexible, incentive-based approach seems effective in bringing people back to the office. Repurposing office space as event spaces, and gathering employees for social interactions such as office parties is a low-hanging fruit for optimization and utilization.

At an employee experience conference last week, PagerDuty's director of workplace experience Nathan Manuel spoke to the shift within workplaces to be geared toward events.

He said that PagerDuty has reduced seatings by 70% to make space for event space. And he thinks not even that is enough. Less and less, people are coming to the office for head-down work. Desks are underutilized, but meeting rooms are overbooked. This is a clear sign that the office has a new purpose: being a place to create connections, a sense of belonging, and FOMO. 

Eye-catching event ideas

If you're out of ideas for events but want to bring your teams together these warmer months, we have a curated selection of themes for events throughout the summer of 2023. Each event has a detailed outline with suggestions for decor, venues, entertainment, activities, and vendors, across North America.

These internal events can help bring life back to the office — by reminding people of, or even introducing them to, the reasons why they show up.

This summer, give your employees a reason to get together in person with incredible events.