I don’t miss commuting to work. At all. About seven years ago, I was working at Facebook in Menlo Park, California. Every day, I’d drive from my apartment in Oakland. Most days involved three hours in the car. The worst days were more like four. I really don’t miss that.
I was thrilled to join the team at CloudApp (a remote-first company) in 2016. From there, my longest car ride was a five-minute trip to drop my kids off at school. And getting that extra time with them is a huge perk.
But I, like many others, am getting a little sick of remote work. Sitting in our bedroom offices might be convenient, but it’s not fun.
The workplace has radically changed. It’s only been two years, and our way of working hasn’t fully caught up to the way things are structured in the modern workplace. We’re all disconnected. We’re trying to figure out ways to work better together, but there’s nothing in the remote world that's filling the creative and personal gap of in-person interactions. The most successful companies will be the ones that find new solutions to help their employees enjoy work again. Company leaders have to build a more prescriptive and proactive hybrid culture — and we can’t forget to have some fun.
Problem: “I Feel Like I’m Stuck in a Zoom Prison.”
Ever look at your calendar and just groan? The average manager has to juggle team employee check-ins, all-hands meetings, customer calls, and — if you’re hiring — dozens of interview calls.
It’s hard to leave your home office, and if you go into the office, you’ll probably spend most of the day in a conference room anyways. That’s what I call a “Zoom prison.”
Solution: Define what actually needs to be a meeting
I would never suggest that you get rid of every Zoom meeting; that’s not practical. But think of how many times you hop on a “quick call” that ultimately could’ve been avoided with some creative, asynchronous communication. Some ideas:
- Could you pre-record a product demo video for customers that answers every major FAQ?
- If a customer is experiencing a bug, could you send an annotated screenshot that points them to the remedy?
- Internally, could company-wide updates be condensed into a weekly podcast that leadership prepares for on-demand viewing?
Get creative to eliminate Zoom fatigue and allow colleagues to work/view content on their own schedules.
Problem: “My Email Inbox Is Out of Control!”
Go to your calendar: It’s filled with Zooms. Go to your inbox, and holy moly there are 100 unread emails since last night! How can anyone keep track of what’s important and get unburied?
Solution: Get some help to build a priority inbox.
At CloudApp, I hired an executive assistant to help with my leadership team’s inbox problem. Every morning, our assistant goes through the executives’ inboxes, deleting the junk and sorting the good stuff into a priority inbox. I know firsthand that my team has loved that.
Not everyone can bring on a new employee or contractor. I get that. There are plenty of SaaS tools out there, like Superhuman, and apps, like Spark, that are dedicated to tackling overcrowded inboxes. Try one out.
Problem: “I’m Feeling Burned Out.”
Remote work has saved the stress of commuting. However, driving while listening to a podcast or sitting on a train with a book can be therapeutic. And maybe someone’s only time alone. Many people seem to take those commuting hours and put them towards work, starting earlier and finishing later.
Solution: Institute more aggressive shutdowns and turn-off points.
Research from the Mayo Clinic shows that you’ll lower your chance of burnout significantly if you spend 20 percent of your time doing what you love. Give your employees some time to chill out and pursue their passions!
There’s always buzz around the four-day work week, but we might not be ready for that just yet. Try instituting mandatory shutdowns of apps and networks during certain hours. Consider, no matter how wild it sounds, forced vacations and PTO to help people unplug.
Problem: “I’m Losing Touch With My Customers.”
I used to get asked to join five or six sales calls every week. Not so much anymore. Because their calendars are so filled, leaders aren’t always in the trenches with customers every day. I myself notice I sometimes lose touch with CloudApp’s sales and marketing position.
Solution: Build a customer advocacy group.
You know how the president has a daily briefing on all the top issues? There’s a way to mimic that — but not every single day, as we’ve already touched on Zoom fatigue.
Build an ad-hoc “customer advocacy group” that consists of a small group of employees that are customer-facing. Empower them to fill you and your leadership team in on the issues facing customers. Condense those five or six calls you used to join into one monthly briefing.
Problem: “I Can’t Make New Friends in the Office.”
We’ve lost a lot of the spontaneous things that used to make the office fun: water cooler chitchat, impromptu bump-ins, unscheduled deskside catch-ups, etc. New employees especially don’t have the same chances to make meaningful friendships in the workplace.
Solution: Make coworking and co-playing a priority, virtually or IRL.
Much of the world is still longing for those social and personal interactions, especially with colleagues and friends. Not only did the work shift to a primarily virtual setting, but so did our social interactions. Take the metaverse, for instance; people are still craving a more personal connection, even when it happens remotely.
A recent study from Brigham Young University found that workgroups that played video games together for 45 minutes were more productive and that gaming together translated into working skills, such as collective problem solving or working together to accomplish a joint task, while building a friendlier connection amongst teams by bringing out a different side of their coworkers not traditionally seen in an office setting. I recently sent a few of my team members Oculus VR headsets so that we can add another layer of personal touch to our virtual interactions.
There are other ways to get creative to help combat isolation and give remote employees the chance to bond with others. Companies that are re-allocating a budget previously used for one central office location can test out new solutions.
Consider offering to pay for coworking spaces, once or twice a week, for remote employees. If there are pockets of employees in the same geographical areas, you’ll have an even better chance of fostering some opportunities for engagement.
Problem: “I Miss Having Fun With My Coworkers.”
We’ll probably never get back to the days when the entire office is filled to 90 percent capacity. There have to be new ways to get the bulk of your organization together, in one place, for morale-boosting and team-building activities.
Solution: Organize big-ticket company outings, twice a year.
Most companies, I imagine, have shrunk their rent budget significantly over the past few years. Leaders need to re-allocate these funds, rather than view them as a money-saving opportunity.
I envision a shift, where a company’s event budget swells from the runoff of a shrunken office budget. There will likely be new companies that emerge as a sort of “AirBnB of Office Retreats.” Every six months, companies can get everyone together, create a good reason for the remote people to fly in, and have some fun and talk about their vision of the company’s future.
Not every leader can control the things I outlined above. The most important thing, however, is that HR teams and company leadership shift their mindset towards the workplace environment. Most companies have taken some steps to adjust to the hybrid model, but we’re lagging behind on opportunities for engagement, creativity, and relaxation.
Employees will always come and go, but the best organizations will keep their talent because they remember that sometimes, amidst it all, work can still be fun.