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Blog article 4 min read

A case for in-person: SVB employees blame collapse on remote work

Preslea Jane

Written on

To everyone who has been saying that in-person connections are essential to good teamwork: SVB just made your point.

Between the pandemic, inflation and recent rounds of tech layoffs, many companies have been in cost-saving mode. In many aspects, remote work offers the perfect savings opportunity - let's scale back on offices, perks, and team outings, everyone loves their home office after all!

But last month, SVB proved how dangerous the lack of in-person work could be. Beyond the debate of 'office versus home,' here is what you need to know about sustainable hybrid work and strategies to bring people together while keeping costs down.

The downfall of SVB: inefficient connection of remote teams

There has been a constant stream of dire economic warnings over the past year. As soon as we think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, something new comes up. This time around, it was the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. While the worst case scenario was avoided, people are clutching their company wallet’s a little tighter once again.

If there’s one thing SVB taught us, it’s about the importance of in-person connection. Some employees of the bank have argued that the downfall could have been avoided altogether if it hadn’t been for remote work.

The bank was making risky moves and expanding aggressively, while promoting remote work in all areas of the company, where crucial decision-making was occurring. 

Quoting remote-work expert Nicholas Bloom, the Financial Times piece reads, "It is harder to have a challenging call over Zoom. It makes it harder to challenge management... Ideas like hedging interest rate risk often come up over lunch or in small meetings.”

On top of that, its aggressive hiring pursuits proved challenging with remote onboarding, with employees painfully aware of how decentralized the decision processes were.

This is a good reminder that online communication will always be limited, no matter how much Zoom meetings and Slack channels may improve. In-person connection lets you get to know your colleagues, how they work, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Most significantly, it creates serendipitous problem-solving opportunities that can’t be replicated online.

As well, engagement suffers when you’re isolated and work on your own, and it seems this spread to executives of the bank as well. The overwhelming feeling was that there was an excess of optimism from prior success and a lack of the attention to detail necessary in such high stakes.

While remote work itself isn’t entirely to blame for SVB’s downfall, a lack of communication and focus through their remote work is a likely culprit. The way their CEO handled, or didn’t handle, the panic of the impending downfall, is exemplary of how we can imagine communication was going prior.

The main takeaway: communication is compromised in remote settings and needs to be supported with in-person connection, whether that’s coming to the office or organizing in-person events for employees.

Pro-tip💡 You can create a meeting and event program tailored to your company's needs and workplace situation. Download our whitepaper for a breakdown of expert tips on how to implement an in-person strategy for maximum budget efficiency.

Not a perk, but a necessity

We said it in our whitepaper, and we’ll say it again: “After witnessing the value of in-person connection, and what is lost without it, events are no longer perceived as a perk but a strategic way to engage with employees and clients.

Whether you are full-time in the office, a few days per week, or fully remote, in-person meetings and events are a way to engage with coworkers, teams and clients in a way that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

As Laura Thompson, senior events professional of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, emphasized:

Unfortunately, these jobs and what we do are the first things to be eliminated. Yet, coming out of a pandemic, it’s still so important to be connecting and gathering and being in-person. You realized how that was so needed during those two years, but then we go straight into a recession, and people’s jobs are being cut and events are being cut.

Now is not the time to neglect meetings and events. Not when it can be a source of vital connection, workplace engagement, and numerous returns on investment — short and long term.

Re-envisioning what in-person looks like in the workplace

This prompts the age-old question of how to achieve more with less. Our recommendation is with a well-designed meeting and event procurement program. Establishing a list of policies and tools to help everyone in your companies to book events at the right price.

Recently, we're seeing a new sense of urgency when it comes to making the most out of internal spaces. Optimizing these existing real estate expenses through events creates many opportunities. 

When the office is transformed by introducing new experiences, teams are incentivized to show up, share ideas, engage, and connect. Post-pandemic, these incentives are key to creating an ongoing sense of connection with smaller, more frequent meetings and events in an environment that feels more inviting than the traditional, cold office.

Companies can leverage solutions like Planned's internal spaces to empower employees to book office meeting spaces more easily, to source additional vendors such as caterers, and to track meeting space utilization.

This way, the preliminary cost of putting on extraordinary events is reduced without compromising the result. At the same time, it maintains and even increases the level of positive experience, and thus ROI.

Come together in-person so that SVB didn’t die in vain

Could SVB have been saved with a proper meeting and event program that congregated their widely spread out team, however intermittently? Potentially.

The thing is: daring ideas made in small meetings, with the potential of great success, become dangerous when made remotely. The potential of SVB was undermined by its neglect of in-person connection, and its initial success made it susceptible to that neglect.

We can speculate on SVB, or we can accept the need to be in-person for greatest workplace efficiency. It’s been a shocking story with a simple solution in hindsight.

Teams who create their ideal balance between remote work and in-person events will have the upper hand, profiting from flexibility, proper communication, and productivity.