People are meeting again. Over the past few weeks, not a day has gone by that I haven’t met someone from the industry for a coffee, meal or drink, and most days now it's three or four of those meetings a day, with most of them actually inside the restaurants, not just in the outdoor street-side structures that have sprung up everywhere over the past year.
Like so many others, I’ve been spending a lot of time working with colleagues to plan -- and rethink -- how we will work together going forward as our offices shift into full reopening modes. What an amazing journey it has been.
Ever since we decided to partially reopen our office last June, we’ve operated under the mantra that “we’re better together,” believing that face-to-face communication and collaboration were essential to our operation -- especially if you value creativity and innovation. Ever since then, we’ve had anywhere from 5% to 15% of our folks in the office at any given time, which has done wonders in helping us maintain key bonds through the crisis.
For months, I have been telling my team that we were going to be very rigid when it came to full reopening, and that everyone should expect to be returning to the office five days a week, just as they had pre-pandemic. Of course, many companies were going “permanent virtual,” but that wasn’t going to be us.
But then, after deciding to sound out employees for their views by doing one-on-one meetings with each and every one over the past several weeks (one of the best experiences I’ve had as a CEO), I learned the power of listening and the importance of flexibility.
I learned how hard everyone has been working through the pandemic, almost all of it remotely. I knew it from our business results, but it took on new meaning hearing it from each person. I learned how people’s lives have changed over the past year: changed family structures, new routines, new geographies, new passions, new hobbies.
I learned about the cost of commuting. Public transportation is one of the things that makes New York City great. But it also has been costing most of our employees hours per day, time that they have recaptured this past year and reinvested in time with loved ones, exercise, volunteering in their communities, taking courses, sleeping more, getting to know neighbors.
After listening to all my colleagues' stories and points of view, I changed my mind. I still believe that we’re better together, but I now realize that just because zero days a week together isn’t good, it doesn’t take five days a week to collaborate. A few days together smartly used can do it, so that will be our new policy.
I learned that many folks are worried about getting on jammed trains and buses after more than a year of keeping six feet of space from everyone, so we’re creating more flexibility for meeting times as people explore commuting at less peak times.
I also learned that while working hundreds or thousands of miles away from colleagues isn’t always ideal for communication and collective creativity, it doesn’t mean that folks have to be in the same cities 12 months a year. Going forward, we are not only going to permit folks to work from remote locations for a month or two a year, but we’re going to cover a portion of their travel and living expenses when they do it.
People are worried about being safe, so we’re making vaccinations a requirement for working in the office. It’s what science tells us to do, and is the right thing for both personal and public health and safety.
How are you preparing for the new normal of work?