Unsurprisingly, the COVID pandemic has created a flexible workplace that most management — as well as their teams — never thought possible. With better work-life balance, a less stressful and money-saving commute, and improved inclusivity — not to mention the positive environmental impact — the benefits of location independence are almost countless.
I can attest to them firsthand. Like many companies, my company has been fully remote since March 2020. But despite the numerous advantages of a work-from-home team, sustaining and satisfying a fully remote workforce comes with unique and unprecedented challenges. However, it wasn’t until my company recently hosted a two-day offsite that the critical importance of in-person interaction became shockingly clear. Companies need the best of both worlds in order to be successful.
Here are three reasons why a short offsite could be your holy grail for building corporate culture:
Build rapport faster
With in-person interaction, there’s an innate ability to establish and drive a trusting rapport that’s infinitely easier than online. There’s an immediate and genuine connection that can be made in a few hours, which can otherwise take weeks — or even months — online. With virtual meetings, there is always a beginning and an end, and usually an agenda. When you can interact with colleagues over a coffee, lunch, or even a mini-golf course like we did, without the formal conversation structure that often comes with online meetings, you can bring your “whole self” to work.
To help our people feel more socially connected while remote, we use Donut as a “virtual watercooler” to mitigate workplace loneliness and isolation. And, we all had a blast with a high-energy, fully interactive Virtual Game Show Extravaganza, hosted by Feet First Entertainment. However, despite the undeniable value that these platforms and services offer for virtual coffee, peer learning, and much-needed comic relief, genuine interactions also need to happen in the physical world to generate real emotional human connection. The value of “free-flowing interaction” can be challenging to measure, but when our team felt it at our offsite, they knew exactly what it meant.
Brainstorm more effectively
By creating an environment for sharing concepts and thoughts in a more fluid setting, ideas flow more easily, and creativity follows. Employees otherwise unable to engage in a remote setting have the unique opportunity to informally interact, while helping drive cross-functional collaboration. At the offsite, we didn’t exchange ideas only during our designated “brainstorm” session on the formal agenda. Instead, one of our most effective brainstorms spontaneously occurred when we ate lunch together, enabling our ideas to flow more easily — without a whiteboard or laptop in sight. In fact, one of the best ideas that came out of the offsite had been batted around for years, but never succinctly discussed nor, therefore, implemented. An innovative concept that sat dormant for ages suddenly sprang to life over a serendipitous, dynamic conversation over sandwiches and salads that was never planned on the itinerary. Sometimes, unscheduled brainstorms are precisely when the most creative ideas evolve.
Drive morale through employee engagement
In-person offsites make management suddenly both accessible and approachable. A humanized leadership team can increase employee engagement and motivation by making employees feel revitalized, reenergized, and motivated. One of the hardest-hit generations among the pandemic are those who are just starting their careers. For many entry-level and even mid-level professionals, the barriers to learning can become insurmountable. These days, there is so much friction for asking simple questions because you cannot just pop by someone’s desk, or see her in the kitchen or the elevator. A bubbling environment of learning and development has been siphoned into a Slack channel or a text message.
A company’s success cannot be fairly evaluated just by looking at revenue numbers. Instead, its ability to foster developmental, career-growing opportunities is just as important, or you will no longer attract — or retain — your best talent. In the office, passive learning is achieved by listening to a colleague pitch a client from the next cube or observing how a colleague prepares for an important presentation. In a remote environment, this can only be achieved with much greater intention. At our recent offsite, I purposefully dedicated a significant amount of time with our junior-level staff so I could truly get to know them better. As a leader, you must constantly be bridging the gap, so it’s a win-win environment for everyone.
Undeniably, the global pandemic has enabled many innovative companies to scale rapidly without stepping foot inside a traditional office. However, optimizing your best practices learned from remote working and integrating them with in-person offsites can help take your organization — and its success — to a whole new level.
Written by Sameer Bhalla.
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