Last week the 10 Degrees team met up in person for the first time since March 2020 – Sixty three weeks of not seeing each other in real life human form.
We’ve always been quite a sociable team and that’s a side of things I’ve personally missed a lot over the last 14 months. We had a lovely sunny afternoon having a casual cafe lunch and walk around a local lake. It was relaxed, it was fun, there was non stop chat – and none of it was about work.
As we are, hopefully, coming towards the end of the pandemic period there is a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’ (urgh horrible phrase, I’m going to call it ‘the next phase’ from now on). Returning to the office? Staying remote? Hybrid model? Work from anywhere model?
Everyone has an opinion.
What can’t be disputed is that as a business, like many other agency or tech businesses, we were very fortunate that we could operate remotely during the pandemic. Overnight we went from being a fully office based business to a fully remote business. And I’m extremely thankful that that was a viable option for us.
However, Jonny and I have been very clear throughout that we always intended to return to being an office based business, which we communicated to the team back in October. Why? Well firstly, we have an office, we’re tied into the lease for the next couple of years at least, paying for that over the last 14 months has been incredibly painful, but as we were committed to return it was necessary.
Most importantly, the culture of the business is important to us. We could have a team of, no doubt highly skilled, developers based anywhere in the world able to output quality work for our clients. But that’s not enough, we want a strong team culture, a social side to the business, a bringing together of individuals who share similar values and are able to contribute to the business in ways beyond their technical ouputs.
We also believe that being together in-person brings out the most efficient and effective ways of communication: the ability to time a question at a convenient time because you’ve just seen that they’ve got up from their desk to get a coffee, the ability to read the body language of team mates, hear the sighing and realise that now may be good time to offer some assistance, the overhearing of a conversation that you are able to chip into and add some experience or guidance on. This nuance of conversational engagement is missed in a remote set up.
But for sure the world has changed and people’s expectations have evolved, so we knew that returning to life as it was wouldn’t be an option.
So should our next phase look like?
We asked the team to complete a survey to tell us how they were feeling about returning to the office, what their preferences were and what was better/worse about both scenarios.
Here are the results:
What’s better about being in the office?
- Better efficiency of some team meetings (eg whole team meetings or project kick offs)
- Easier to have conversations with other team members, ad hoc as well as planned
- Human interaction and social team time
- Facilities in the office (well equipped and comfortable working environment – with good coffee!)
- The ability to separate home from work life
- Better support for junior or new-to-role team members*
*This last one was important as it was solely identified as a result of the survey. Whilst we knew that team communication was not as efficient as before, there was a noticeable difference in survey results between junior and senior members of the team. Whilst senior members maybe were taking the stance that ‘I can do my work remotely no problem’, we were not recognising that we were not being (spontaneously and ad-hoc) available for junior members of the team when they needed additional support or guidance.
What’s better about working from home?
- Opportunity to be at home and get other things done around my work (e.g. housework, childcare)
- Quieter environment – less interruptions and distractions
- Easier to have private conversations with other team members
- Increased documentation because less reliance on verbal communication
- More family time / using commute time for other things
What challenges have you found from working from home?
- Reduced team spirit
- Feeling isolated / disparate from the team
- Maintaining morale / motivation
- Less socialising
- Lack of dedicated work space
What is your preference of new working arrangements?
We proposed 9 different working arrangements options to the team and asked them to rank them in order of preference.
- Working 2 days in the office, 3 at home, chosen by me
- Woking 3 days in the office, 2, at home, chosen by me
- = a) Working 2 days in the office, 3 at home, chosen by 10D, b) a 4 day week in the office at full pay
There was a clear team preference for a 2/3 day arrangement some sort. The other 5 options had minimal support. The 4 day week option was put in as a curveball to test the real strength of desire for working from home. I was surprised by the results, so it is an option that we will investigate further as it is not something we are in a position to implement at this point.
Retain and regain
So what’s the answer? How do we regain the things that have been lost from being a remote team, whilst retaining the benefits that individuals have identified? How do we ensure we have enough whole team time, if everyone wants to choose their own working days? How do you facilitate ad-hocness?
The survey results left me with more questions than answers.
One thing I was aware of when reviewing the survey results was that we were asking people to compare two situations that they had not experienced side by side. It had been over a year since they were last in the office together, that’s a long time ago, our processes have changed, our team has changed, being in the office again would be different to before.
I’ve also realised since, that 45% of our team have now spent the majority of their time with 10 Degrees working remotely. It’s what they know. One team member had only been with the team for three weeks before the pandemic hit! This has enabled me to see the results from a different perspective.
It’s hard for people to visualise what life in the office will be like again. There’s familiarity around working remotely now, and while they’ve all identified benefits to being in the office, there is understandably some hesitation.
It’s wasn’t a fair comparison to ask the team to make. And that’s why I felt that we needed a trial period.
The next phase
Subject to restrictions lifting on 21st June as expected, we will be returning to office life on Mon 28th June on the follow basis:
We need a period of time to compare the scenarios side by side. We need the opportunity to try out different things in real time. We need the opportunity to come together as a team on a regular basis.
I felt it was important that we have some social time together again on the Friday before returning to the office, but also important that the team get to come in and familiarise themselves again with the office before they actually come back to work in it. That any anxiety or hesitation can be addressed and alleviated in advance.
We’ve also rebranded since the office has been closed. Whilst the digital rebrand is complete, the physical rebranding of the office still has a long way to go! The office is going to look and feel different, reflecting our new brand, our new direction and the ‘next phase’… whatever that will be.