I guess we are never returning to the office

I guess we are never returning to the office

Earlier this year, I wrote a summary of our internal reflection within the team on getting a new office space. Fast forward to the end of 2022, and I have some new thoughts on this.

Part of my thinking has been that once customers return to the office, we – the consultants and advisors – would return to our own office, respectively. But we don’t need to. Our work has now fully transformed to both digital and in-person work.

Meetings everywhere

We do a lot of meetings. Not so many internal – unless they are part of a customer project – but moreso with customers, their partners and their stakeholders. Some people are still remote, some have returned partially to the office. Meetings, however, are fully digital.

I’ve agreed with a few clients that we should meet in person when it makes sense. Perhaps a full-day workshop warrants the trouble of everyone meeting in the same place. We can then disperse and continue virtually for a month or two.

I try to pack meetings for Mondays and Tuesdays. This way, I can ensure I have a high-level of energy and enough time to work on any outcomes from those meetings during the week. Fridays are often helpful for short internal meetings to close the week and coordinate the coming weeks.

About 95% of my meetings are online. Of those meetings, half are meetings where everyone has the camera on. Everyone has the camera off for the other half, and it’s somehow mutually agreed. The remaining 5% are meetings we agree will be best done in person. Not everyone is based in the same city – the clients, our staff, and our partners. Sometimes, these meetings still involve people dialing in remotely – and always audio-only.

A fun anecdote, at least for me, is that when I send meeting invitations, I dutifully add “audio only” in the notes if I feel like I’m driving or taking a long walk outside during the meeting. Otherwise, I might be the only one with no video, which is also weird. It’s as if we would need to classify our meetings – talk (no video, no excessive screen sharing), talk and share (video: optional, sharing screen: on), talk and share, and build (video: on, sharing screen: on)

We don’t have the time to work in the office

Somehow, life changed during the pandemic. I now drop the kids off at daycare and school, usually around 8. I then drive back home and start working around 8.30. I only stop for lunch and when I pick up my youngest child from daycare around 4 pm.

I could physically make it to the office at 9 am every day. But why? Usually, the first few hours are filled with meetings. And they are all virtual. I would have to find a small room or closed space at the office to attend those calls. And my colleagues would do the same.

One great approach we’re using that works well is to schedule a single Friday each month to meet at the office in person. It’s great to see people and share ideas, but this also partially forces people not to book customer meetings and deep dive work for that day. In a way, it’s our expense to do business by not doing business on a single day.

It’s more valuable than just a day’s worth of billable hours. Sharing ideas, catching up on life and general topics, and discussing strategy and the future are things that never really happen in a large group in a cohesive way when you’re online.

I actively dislike the radio show-style meetings

Lastly, many online meetings with ten or more participants quickly devolve into a radio show-style session. Someone is controlling the airspace, half of the audience is mute, and you’re not sure what the desired outcome will be.

Perhaps this also happens with in-person gatherings, but less so. It’s also easier to ask everyone for their opinion when you share the same space. Not so when you have 10 or 15 little thumbnail videos. It’s hard to read the participants that way.

We opted to change all our shareholder and strategy meetings to in-person sometime in 2022. Perhaps we’re still getting about an equal amount of decisions and results, but at least it’s much more fun and enjoyable.

If not in 2023, then when?

I guess there is no need to get everyone back to the office in 2023. Or ever. Work happens wherever; the results and communication are the only things that matter. Being visible when remote and “only a click away” is challenging but doable.

I’m enjoying it when I get to do face-to-face meetings these days, but that’s the rare exception – and perhaps that is why those meetings feel the best right now.