Guest Blog: Briony Morgan, Verve

14 Oct 2021 | 10.31 am

Guest Blog: Briony Morgan, Verve

Employers should consider PlayStation breaks

14 Oct 2021 | 10.31 am

There are three key challenges coming with the return to the office, says Briony Morgan of Verve

You remember how it used to be: a quick coffee with your colleague in the morning, the serendipitous moment of water cooler gossip, and the quick afternoon dash out to the shop for a breath of fresh air and a chat. We longingly look back, our glasses rose tinted, at the office culture highlights we used to enjoy. 

It didn’t seem so easy back then, but after more than a year and a half of an uphill climb to maintain what little is left of our office culture, it’s tempting to think that once you get the band back together — sweatpants back in the gym drawer, bums on ergonomic seats, and meeting holds marked ‘in person’ — that the rest will take care of itself, but the reality is in stark contrast, and there’s no going back.

So how can we create a sense of community, common purpose, and engagement among employees as teams partially return to bricks-and-mortar offices? There is a bumpy road ahead for all, regardless of an organisation’s choice to opt for ‘virtual-first’ or ‘hybrid-first’ working, or an employee’s choice to return to the office or work from home. 

Here are the three important challenges to look out for, to smooth out the next leg of the journey.

Remote Detachment 

In a survey carried out by Front, 69% of workers said that they feel detached from the team, despite 84% saying that their company has added one or more new messaging or digital communication platforms since they began to work from home.

Teams have never been more connected, and yet they have never felt further apart. As some of the team members return to the office, this detachment gap is set to broaden, as those who are able to get together will naturally bond and are more likely to adopt an out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude towards colleagues who remain remote. 

Team-building and bonding must become a key focus area to breach this gap, and with the focus here on the inclusion of remote workers, leadership buy-in to hybrid and virtual team events will be crucial.

Absentee Leadership

Inevitably, the contingent of workers who remain at home will include managers, and though many will do an excellent job at directing the team remotely, with a year of experience under their belts, others will struggle with the new setup. 

Ultimately, the aim of the business here must be to avoid absentee leadership — a problem named not for physical absence, but for absence of commitment to the role.

The HR director tells us that common traits of the absentee leader include include a lack of direction for employees, delayed decisions, a lack of performance feedback, a lack of rewards, and no attempt to motivate employees — all things that might be easily exacerbated by the difficulties of governing a team in two parts, which in turn means that a percentage of borderline managers may now tip over into the absentee category if there’s no intervention. 

Policies of virtual open-door manager hours, coffee lotteries, and daily virtual check-ins, regardless of location, may help to fend this off. 

Work-life Culture Erosion

Those at home will feel that their at-home working experience has eroded their participation in the company culture, and those in the office will miss the consistent contribution of the at-home individuals. Those working at home will have less work-life separation, and those in the office will likely experience a lack of some of the balance that they enjoyed at home. 

No matter what happens, at the beginning there will be an element of the grass being greener on the other side until a natural balance restores itself. You can help to induce that balance by creating opportunities for your company culture to assert itself for those in either location, for the team to enjoy activities or solutions built into the working week, which are attractive if you are at home or in the office. 

A great example of this hybrid culture-balancing is the gaming break. PlayStation and many other gaming companies allow for remote team gaming, so why not introduce a 30-minute PlayStation break a couple of times a week?

Naturally attractive, low in pressure, and high in fun, the gaming break can be an easy way to allow mixing without feeling forced – and who knows? You might even see some additional value from bringing gaming to the table. After all, it does improve the ability to problem solve, raise productivity, and reduce stress. 

Briony Morgan (pictured) is an Account Director at events, marketing and creative agency Verve, which has offices in Dublin, London and Amsterdam

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