Why encouraging a come-back to the office will ultimately save the business culture
Since the Spring of 2020, we've been living with both feet in the virtual world (or shall I say both butt cheeks). Many businesses are experimenting with a "halve-sies" option for office workers and trying to discern the best split.
Getting back to part-time in-person work, worship, and the real world is the remedy to the imminent weariness with a 100% virtual existence.
How are other companies managing the mix of at-home and in-office hybrid models? Apple's bringing employees back to the physical office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays and encouraging the product teams to come in 4-5 days a week. Albeit the mandatory in-office hybrid work model faces the feedback of disgruntled employees, Apple is not backing down. Deirdre O'Brien, Apple's SVP of retail and people, says, "in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future."
If one of the most successful companies of all time is signaling the importance of in-person collaboration, there must be something to it.
But, most of our businesses aren't like Apple. We don't have the $5B office park with the orchard, meadow, pond, two-story yoga room, cafes, on-campus medical and dental services, etc. So, why come back to the rinky-dink cubicle? It's not the cubicles we're coming back to – it's the community. The epicenter of our culture from which we ultimately thrive or die lies within the context of daily connections with real people in the flesh.
Even though Pew research said, "productivity was up," so is depression and anxiety due to our isolation. And, of course, productivity would be up because we're exchanging the commute to and fro and all the essentials of getting out the door (grooming, putting on pants, shaving, etc.) for more productive hours! But we all know that merely transactional businesses are far from transformational. We shouldn't just be looking at productivity being up. The more appropriate measurement is of innovation, creativity, and the condition of the body of our organization as a whole.
Sure, we may live with our families, a partner or spouse, or a roommate. But that's not the connection I am talking about. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity, Discover the Upward Spiral that Will Change Your Life, believes we underestimate the fleeting "micro-moments of positivity resonance" like the eye contact of a co-worker or the collective laugh in a meeting. I mean, we all need a Cheers where everybody knows our name, and they're always glad we came. Frederickson boils it down to a prescription of a 3 to 1 ratio, "for every heart wrenching negative emotional experience you endure; you experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you." The positive instances relative to the number of negative instances determine whether we "languish or flourish." Her words, not mine. She makes a distinction in the concept of flourishing, "Flourishing goes beyond happiness…." she says. "Sure, people who flourish in the world experience success, happiness, and satisfaction. But they don't just feel good; they do good in the world."
And, there's science to back up the fact that we need these real moments of bonding, of seeing one another as human. It's like our empathetic and emotional energy field will slowly evaporate unless we fuel it with positive resonance. This means we need to get back into the company of our co-workers and our community.
So, people who flourish not only make their lives better, but this whole flourishing thing is contagious. If we positively give of ourselves, we receive it back from the world like a boomerang. That's not the reason to give it, but it is the true nature of giving.
Transcending self-interest and working toward the greater good happens more easily IRL.
Further, self-compassion leads to loving ourselves, and we can't give what we don't have. When we develop self-compassion, we find the limitless source of the stuff, and then we can throw that kindness, generosity, and love around like glitter.
"When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It's micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health." [New York Times, 2013 "Your Phone or Your Heart.]
Zooming all day is wearing on workers, but there's no doubt that freedom rings in this time of teleworking. I encourage my clients to offer a balance. Moreover, I work with clients to achieve the inevitable pay-off of unifying their employees under an intentional pursuit to protect and strengthen culture.
In an Op-ed in Human Resource Executive magazine, Tim Brackney eloquently states, "Culture is the underpinning of community, and the ability or inability to translate the corporate soul to an increasingly itinerant workforce will define which companies win and which lose in the long run."
In summary, separating ourselves from the greater community has a deleterious effect not just on our holistic culture, but on our health, our brain function, our creativity, our ability to collaborate, to forgive, to see eye to eye and our overall ability to flourish.