Back to the Future
My wife and I love to host dinner parties. We enjoy the challenge of preparing new dishes that test our cooking skills and push us beyond our comfort zones. Frankly, it’s a bit stressful—the perfect weekend activity for a couple of type-A personalities. On Wednesday, I experienced that same anxious feeling I get just before guests arrive—only this time, I was at the office and the guests were employees. It was our first day with everyone back in the office together.
To be clear, our offices were never empty during the pandemic. Many of our employees worked onsite throughout the crisis, and I’m grateful for their grit and determination in keeping COVID out of our facilities. As we approached a 100% vaccination rate, we began inviting more employees back to the office. But yesterday was different. It was the first day everyone was back under the same roof at the same time, and I felt responsible for making it a positive experience.
We started the day by acknowledging everyone’s contributions over this difficult period with a gift. Everyone received my favorite t-shirt design—an image of Gottfried Leibnitz’s original calculus equation with the words “change happens.” Leibnitz, the inventor of the math of change, also gave us the word optimism. He’s a personal hero of mine. We also included a new water bottle (helpful, as we’ve officially banned single-use plastic bottles in the workplace) to encourage water cooler conversations.
Of course, we had a meal together. It was too many to cook for so we brought in our favorite neighborhood fare, Rocklands Barbeque. I’m happy to support a business that provided us with an outdoor conference room throughout the pandemic (we used their picnic tables and heaters on a daily basis during the dark days of COVID). Sitting down with everyone, hearing their stories and seeing the connections that don’t happen online was heartwarming. I said a few words, but the purpose of the day was to create a shared sense of pride over what we have accomplished.
So, what next?
Well, I don’t exactly know. Many of us have grown comfortable with our home offices, and have fully adapted to the new technology of remote work. But web cameras cannot fully replicate in-person conversations and interactions. Throughout the day Wednesday, staff members reconnected with peers, attended in-person meetings, joked and shared stories. These interactions go far beyond collaboration; they create trust and understanding of one another.
Yes, I made fun of the hybrid office in an earlier post, and I still don’t believe we will fully return to the work habits we abandoned last year. But “Office Wednesday” was a refreshing change of pace. The commute in, the loud open workspace, and the interruptions from excited peers weren’t as bad as I remembered. So while we haven’t determined the perfect balance between in-person and remote work, I can confirm that the office will always be a part of More Vang culture. It’s good to have everyone back.