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Interacting with your coworkers in person can be hugely beneficial, and while nothing can fully replace it, forcing people back into the office isn’t good for the business or company culture. This week Chris and Gina discuss why return-to-office mandates are misguided and share ways to create meaningful engagement for teams both in and out of the office.  


Gina Trapani: It’s funny. We were debating about talking about this topic. And in my head I was like…

Chris LoSacco: ‘Cause there’s a lot of it right now.

Gina: “Ugh, there’s so many, like, hot takes on return to…” like, it’s not even, we’re not even hot anymore, they’re dead cold. (Laughs)


Gina: Hi everybody. Welcome to the Postlight podcast. I’m Gina Trapani, I am the CEO of Postlight, as always I’m joined by president of Postlight, Chris LoSacco. Hey, Chris.

Chris: Hey Gina!

Gina: How are you?

Chris: I’m great, how are you?

Gina: I’m good. We just got back from a business trip. We traveled. For business.

Chris: We traveled.

Gina: We got on a plane. We went to a place and there were humans. We shook their hands.

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: We shared microphones. We talked, we presented. And then we got back on a plane and came home.

Chris: But it was such a novel idea to have 3D avatars interacting in real space.

Gina: It was amazing. People are short, they’re tall.

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: They have backs of heads. 

Chris: It’s so funny when you get used to somebody’s head and shoulders, and then you see them in real life and you’re like “Wow, you are much taller or much shorter than I expected you to be.”

Gina: You know, I’ve been really trying to… I have this policy, personal policy, I try not to comment on my colleagues’ appearance, right? ‘Cause, you know, the way you look…

Chris: I appreciate that. Yep.

Gina: …it’s just not that important or interesting. But it is impossible. Impossible! Not to meet somebody in person for the first time that you’ve been on video calls with for months, and not be like “Oh, you look…” (Laughs)

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: “…different in these ways in person,” because your brain just, like… ‘cause you’re mapping the 3D meatspace version with the, like, box on Zoom. It’s impossible.

Chris: That’s exactly it. Like, you walk up to someone, you’re like “Oh, I had no idea you were 6’5”.”

Gina: (Laughs)

Chris: And it’s like, you know… it’s just hard not to comment on that. I also had the experience where there were some people who… I mean, obviously I know and I have worked with them, and have had several meetings with them. And yet still couldn’t match their real face to their video box face.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: Which is a fascinating phenomenon.

Gina: It really is. You’re like, “Oh.” It’s like a whole picture gets filled in. You’re like “Oh, I see, at different angles, it’s very different.”

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: It’s good though. Being in person, there’s a lot of good there. It felt…

Chris: There’s a ton of good. And there… you know.

Gina: Full experience.

Chris: The information density’s so high, and, you know… it brings to mind this question, there was also this New York Times article that you sent me about the… what do they call it? The return-to-office whisperers?

Gina: RTO. Our favorite, acronyms.

Chris: RTO.

Gina: Return to office. “The RTO Whisperers Have a Plan,” is the name of this article.

Chris: Right.

Gina: Which we will link in the show notes. This article caught my eye for a couple of reasons. It’s about a niche group of consultants who have sprung up in service of the executives, leaders at businesses who get up in the morning, take a shower, put on a suit and shave and make sure their hair’s cut, and get in their cars and drive to the office and park in the lot, and go in and look around, and feel crestfallen.

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: Absolutely crestfallen.

Chris: At the empty rows of desks. 

Gina: Because they are surveying a wasteland. (Laughs)

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: Like, an empty space of desks. And these leaders and these executives, they’re thinking to themselves, “What do we have to do to get people back in this office?”

Chris: Right.

Gina: “Business is tough, and we all gotta be back here together. Nothing’s working. We mandated it, and people don’t listen to the mandate! And we made it optional and offered free lunch, and nobody came!” And so these consultants – and of course I love this, right? ‘Cause we’re consultants – said “We have the answers for you.” 

Chris: Yes.

Gina: “We’re gonna get your people back to office. We are the RTO Whisperers.” So I just… I love this. I love the whole premise of this article. Good job, New York Times writer, for absolutely sucking me in.

Chris: (Laughs) Yeah. The premise is great. Maybe, if I can put a slightly more positive bent on it…

Gina: (Laughs) Please do, because I’m in a very cynical mood today, Chris.

Chris: I mean, we were just talking… there is value in being in the same physical space. Right? And I think there are executives who are out there, who are saying “I’m missing this value. It is…” I mean, there are some who are like, “Command and control. I am going to make a decree and I expect that people are… they’re not working if I can’t see them working.” You know? And I think that we all… or at least, you and I kind of look at that and chuckle, and say, that’s…

Gina: Incredibly misguided.

Chris: …outdated, very misguided. But then there are actual, tangible benefits to being in the same physical space with the people you’re working with. And I think there are some executives out there who are like, “I don’t wanna miss out on those benefits anymore.”

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: The world has opened back up, like, we’ve got an opportunity to recapture some of the magic of being in the same room with someone and it’s not working, and people are just not coming back. There’s that part of it too. It’s like, it’s less “How do I make sure I’m getting my eight hours of productivity every day?” and more like, “How do I unlock something that feels lost right now?”

Gina: Can we unpack just for a minute: why does a leader who thinks that everyone needs to be back in the office to ensure that everyone is getting their work done, why is that misguided? Why do we think that’s misguided?

Chris: Well. The quality and quantity of your output is not defined by the hours you work.

Gina: And the desk you are sitting at.

Chris: And the desk you’re sitting at.

Gina: And the data shows, over and over, that people actually work harder and longer when they do it from home, right? (Laughs)

Chris: I mean, what you just said is true.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: But I would say, it’s not even that we need people to work harder and longer necessarily.

Gina: Right. I do think, though, there is a class of leaders who are like, “People are at home playing video games,” and it galls me. Like, it gets me so angry. You know, I’m someone who worked remote for years and years and years before the pandemic, and so had a lot of experience with it, and so I just… I think there’s a sense of, like, “If they’re not within my line of sight” – this is what I think is misguided and very old-school in a bad way, I think there are a lot of good old-school things, but old-school in a bad way – “if I cannot see my team sitting at their desks and typing, then they’re off, they’ve got another job, they’re walking the dog, they’re doing their laundry, they are playing video games, you know, they’re on reddit.” There’s this, like, assumption that work isn’t getting done if you can’t see it getting done. And that is garbage. (Laughs)

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: I think we both agree that that’s garbage.

Chris: We do. I feel like we could even go down a whole tangent here about how actually allowing some more flexibility in the workday to do some of the things you just said, right? Doing laundry, walking the dog – heck, even playing video games…

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: There is an argument to be made that, for some people, the flexibility is hugely impactful to the overall quality and quantity of what they’re doing. 

Gina: Of their work.

Chris: Of their work.

Gina: Yeah. I mean, this is the thing, I should say. When you’re in the middle of deep creative work, when you’re debugging a problem, taking the dog for a walk or doing a few dishes is actually a huge boost.

Chris: Right.

Gina: Like, I’ve experienced this. 

Chris: Right.

Gina: Like, you can be like “Oh, I got it!” Right? (Laughs) Like, “I had a minute to step away and I thought about it,” right? Like, not everybody gets their work done sitting at a keyboard. 

Chris: You know, we are talking about knowledge work.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: We are talking about people who are designing and building software. It’s different than someone who is, you know, working on a factory floor, where…

Gina: Serving coffees, or… yeah.

Chris: That’s right, where it’s like, you know, it’s a through-put problem. Our kind of work is different than that.

Gina: Yes.

Chris: And allowing for detours in the day, besides being very personally helpful… I mean, there were all of these… there’s an article that came out that was talking about a bunch of CEOs who were mandating return to office, and it was all men. And there was one woman, and she was like “Look around.” 

Gina: (Laughs) Yeah.

Chris: “Do you see what’s going on? Do you see why these mandates are coming out?” And it’s because you don’t… you know, they didn’t appreciate that very typically, women take on more of the household burden, and having flexibility in their day is actually a huge thing. You know?

Gina: Yeah. And also, it’s easier for me to work from home and not feel like I’m in a male-dominated office or industry. You feel safer if you get to do it remotely.

Chris: Absolutely.

Gina: Like, there’s also that data, right? You have underrepresented minorities and women saying, like, “Actually I’m better, I’m more effective at my job if I’m able to do it remotely, because the office culture and vibe is not always the most friendly to me.”

Chris: Right. This was in the New York Times article. I don’t know the data source, but it says “Surveys show that 81% of Black and Asian knowledge workers prefer remote or hybrid work.” 81%. 

Gina: Mhm.

Chris: I mean, you don’t get much clearer than that.

Gina: That’s right. And that’s all the reasons that we know, right? It’s control over your environment, it’s being able to walk into your kitchen and eat leftovers for lunch and have your own space and set up things the way that you want, you know? It’s just, it’s gaining all the time that you’d have to spend on your commute, time you’d have to spend getting dressed and buying clothes… like, all the things. All the things that come with office life. And yet, we got on a plane this week and went to a place and was in a room with a bunch of folks, and we had a long meeting, and at the end we did a retro of the meeting, and it was like, “What are the good things about this meeting and what were the bad things?” And what was the top good thing that a bunch of people all voted?

Chris: We were all in person.

Gina: “We are all here together.”

Chris: “We’re all here together.”

Gina: We are all here together. It’s so nice to be all here together. Right? Because we are social animals on this planet, right?

Chris: That’s right. Even the most introverted among… you and I are introverts…

Gina: Yes.

Chris: But it still… it feels good to be able to work, you know, face to face, right?

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: Standing alongside one another, sitting alongside one another and just… just having a conversation, as opposed to looking at a grid of boxes on screens.

Gina: Yeah. I mean, our work lives are very meeting-heavy, so we spend a lot of time on the video calls. I think when you’re doing deep knowledge work that requires focused time, if you’re writing, if you’re designing, if you’re coding, you don’t wanna do that in a room full of people.

Chris: Yes.

Gina: Unless everybody else in that room is also doing it. This is why reading in a library is so incredibly pleasurable, right? Because everybody is quiet and reading and doing a thing, you feel like you’re part of a thing.

Chris: That’s right.

Gina: It’s not always. But our jobs just require a lot of conversations, and it’s nice to do it, you know, standing. And all the things happen. And it’s so funny, I forget, like, “Oh right, there’s that moment of awkwardness when you run out of small talk.”

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: And “Oh yeah, I kinda have to go to the bathroom and I’m gonna have to excuse myself,” you know? Or like, “I really wanna get a cup of coffee right now, do you want a…” Like, there… (Laughs) You know, like there’s that…

Chris: Yeah!

Gina: You know, and you kind of forget. You’re like, “No… this is about being, just, like, a human in the world.” You know? It’s not transactional. We don’t have an agenda. We just happen to be standing next to one another. That’s all I… you know, you’re like “Where are you from? How’s your trip? What’s going on?” You know?

Chris: That’s exactly it. Again, I’m gonna go back to that New York Times article. They called it, like, “weak ties.”

Gina: Mm.

Chris: And when people don’t work in an office, when they’re working 100% remotely, I think the article said there’s a 38% decline in weak ties. This idea that you can make connections with people that don’t have necessarily direct correlation to the project you’re working on, you know?

Gina: That’s right.

Chris: And those weak ties are directly applicable… first of all, they feel very satisfying, just as, again, social animals, right? But it’s also…

Gina: Even as an introvert, very satisfying. And mutual. Yep.

Chris: Yes. Weak ties are correlated with career advancement. And people who have more weak ties, that can help you advance your career. There’s professional advancement that happens, and it’s very interesting, actually, to draw the correlations between people who are ambitious and people who want to be in the office, you know?

Gina: It is really interesting. Um, a colleague of ours shared with us that his son is, it’s like his first job, or one… first or second job. And it’s hybrid, he has the choice to go into the office or not. And my, our colleague said, “I have advice for you. Get dressed and go to that office every single day. Just be there.”

Chris: Mhm.

Gina: Just be there, observe who’s there, you know, talk to them. Just to make yourself visible and create those weak ties. You know, I had, at this meeting that we went to, met a bunch of people, many of whom I haven’t had a chance to work with yet, but I had a couple deep, great conversations…

Chris: Me too.

Gina: …with folks who, I was like, A, I can’t wait to work with this person. And B, if they, you know, sent a quick email over to me and said “Hey Gina, can you help me out with this or that,” or “I need something,” or “Do you need something?” or if I had a need, I feel like we laid that groundwork, right?

Chris: Exactly. Right.

Gina: Where I would be very comfortable, and I would be happy to help, right? And I think that they would be the same, because we had that great conversation. Otherwise it would be like “Oh, let’s set a time to meet!” and then you do the call, and you’re like, “Oh,” you know? And it feels more obligatory, right? So you’re, like, you’re kind of greasing the wheels of those relationships. Because we’re relationship people.

Chris: That’s right.

Gina: You know, like you said, we’re social animals. There is no formula. I mean, I think that… this article, you know, one of the theses is just, like, there isn’t a formula that’s going to magically make all your employees… like, if you’re a leader who really wants all your employees to come back to the office, (laughs), there isn’t really a way to do that.

Chris: No.

Gina: That works everywhere reliably, right? So much has to do with your culture, and… you know, the top-down mandate, I think we all agree, and this is something that you and I very purposely never did at Postlight, we never said “You must come to the office. If you want to keep your job, one of your requirements of your job is coming in to the office.” That made no sense, right?

Chris: We never even were considering that, really.

Gina: We never considered it, right? First of all we knew that folks were doing amazing work, and in fact working, you know, more… we were telling people, like, “Hey…” (Laughs) Sign off at night. Like, have dinner with your family. Take some time away. Especially deep in the pandemic, right?

Chris: Right. All boundaries went out the window, which was not good.

Gina: All boundaries went out the window, that’s right. Not good. We were concerned about, right, where people were at. And even when it became, you know, easy to come back to the office, it still doesn’t… it just doesn’t feel right, right? Folks should be able to have control of their lives, and if the work is there and we see it, it’s not a requirement. But I do worry, now, about our team members forming those relationships.

Chris: Right.

Gina: And how do we create opportunities for them to form relationships. You know, the carrot versus the stick approach is way better.

Chris: Well, but carrot… you’re saying carrot to return back to the office?

Gina: Yeah. Like, “Hey everybody, we’re having an event, we’re all gonna get together and watch, you know, play a game together or watch a movie, or we’re gonna have lunch together.” Or, “It’s all hands day. We’d love to see you, we’re all gonna be in the office.” Or “We’re gonna do a happy hour.” Like, you know… events where people have a reason, like “Oh yeah, if I go to the office I’m gonna get, I’m gonna see people. Others are gonna be there. I’m not gonna sit in a room all day on video calls,” right? Because this is the other thing. As a person coming back to the office, like… I’m just gonna be on video calls all day? (Laughs)

Chris: Exactly. There’s no value.

Gina: What’s the… right. Exactly. 

Chris: Something that has been interesting at Postlight is that we’ve had teams start to self-organize and come together. It’s not every day… it’s not five days a week. But it’s…

Gina: Right.

Chris: You know, some, one team is like one day a week. You know, it looks like they tried to be in the office together. Another team it’s a monthly, they have a monthly day in the office and it’s on the calendar. It’s on our calendars too, which is kind of cool.

Gina: Mhm.

Chris: That wasn’t a mandate. That was self-organized by, you know, the team lead, saying “Hey, there’s value in us being together.” You know?

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: We’ve also… we’ve done some trips to, like, get groups together.

Gina: Mhm.

Chris: Which has been great, when we’ve been able to do them. Just having a targeted week, or a targeted couple of days, where it’s like “We’re going to make a concerted effort to be in person.” And so those kinds of things can really, really help. But we’ve talked about remote weeks on the show before.

Gina: On the show before, that’s right. Yeah.

Chris: But I mean, there’s another half of this, which is… you get so many cultural benefits when people are in the office, that you don’t have to try for. So how do you replace that when you do have to try for it, you know? And this is something that I think we’ve put energy into, right?

Gina: Mhm.

Chris: Is, how do you establish a digital working together culture?

Gina: That’s right.

Chris: It’s not the same as being… sitting in a room with somebody. But it does provide some of the same benefits if you’ve got stronger digital connections with people, you know.

Gina: For us, the thing that worked for us is creating that virtual space, that digital space, where everybody is. It’s not a brick and mortar office, but it’s that place…

Chris: Yes.

Gina: That everyone is there, and is live, and can see one another and talk to one another, right? For… it doesn’t really matter what the tool is. Like, for us it’s Slack. We once did an all hands in Minecraft. Remember the Minecraft all hands?

Chris: That was a lot of fun. It did devolve into people just fighting each other with swords, though.

Gina: It was amazing that it devolved into people fighting each other with swords. (Laughs)

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: But we also, like, built a bunch of stuff together, and you know, like… it was…

Chris: It was great!

Gina: That was a lot of fun. And there are a bunch of new and interesting tools, actually, about… you know, ways for people to be in a real-time… we had people organizing, like, Animal Crossing… you know, in Animal Crossing you can, like, share your island code and everybody flies to the island and swaps fruit or whatever. Like, you know, playful spaces that aren’t just straightforward work video calls, that people can be in together that don’t necessarily require travel or a commute. I don’t know what we would have done without that sort of real-time ability to see and talk to one another. Because email just doesn’t quite do it. 

Chris: Email doesn’t feel the same.

Gina: It feels like a letter.

Chris: That’s right. And you can…

Gina: That someone wrote hours ago and that you’re opening now. You know?

Chris: I mean, you can still accomplish quick messaging with iMessage. But that doesn’t feel like a place. Right?

Gina: Right.

Chris: And that’s what’s interesting about our Slack instance, is that it feels like a place that I am a part of, that I… we’ve had people tell us, like, after they resign and they leave Postlight, you know, what is the single biggest thing you miss? And they say “The Slack instance.”

Gina: “Slack.” (Laughs)

Chris: Which makes total sense to me. Because it’s like, that’s where the community is.

Gina: It’s the living, breathing, right. Group of people doing things together.

Chris: Right. Something else that comes to my mind when I think about return to office is, like, there’s the carrot incentives, right? Like free lunch, that you can get people in.

Gina: Right. Free yoga classes…

Chris: Which work a little bit, but maybe not that much. Right.

Gina: Right. Right.

Chris: There’s the draw of a team, which I think is real. You know, we are a software agency, right? In our context, I think the draw of a client is also really real. And being able to get somebody in the room and say “Hey, we wanna work with you in person and have a higher-fidelity interaction” can be really beneficial. And it can… ‘cause it can really help the team, right? To be in the room. But it also helps the client to be like “Oh, I’m interacting with the people who are working on my project, versus just having Zoom calls.” And we’ve gotten really good at having Zoom calls. But it’s different when you’re in the room at the whiteboard, you know, jammin’ on stuff. And invite… so inviting client interactions, and having client workshops, and we should be honest. It’s not 100% foolproof.

Gina: Right.

Chris: Because even clients are still grappling with, “How often do I want to be in the office or not?”

Gina: That’s right. I just wanna say something about… you said, mentioned the whiteboard. Man, I will get on a plane, train, automobile, scooter, boat, ferry…

Chris: (Laughs)

Gina: …paraglider… I will, if you tell me, “You and the 10 humans,” or however many humans, “are gonna get together in this room, and we have a giant whiteboard…” Can you just smell the markers?

Chris: The Expo dry erase markers?

Gina: Can you just see the Post-Its? 

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: And we’re just, we’re gonna sit down, and we’re gonna talk to one another, and we’re gonna make a big, nice big list on the whiteboard about what we’re doing together. Man, I… sign me up. That is…

Chris: I know.

Gina: And this is probably the consultant in me coming out, but like, I just, there’s… you just get clarity in a way that you just can’t get on a, in a Miro board. And here’s the thing, we love these, you know, a digital board, for sure.

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: There’s something about, we did a whole episode about analog tools. There’s something about handing out a bunch of Post-Its in different colors. Physical Post-Its, and markers, and say “Write down in three words your biggest priority.” Right? We did an exercise just yesterday, we were doing this with some of the leaders.

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: What are our biggest priorities? And let’s put ‘em up on the board, physically stick ‘em on the board. And then, like, we have stickers, and we put the stickers on one side. And that sounds like a waste of paper and dead trees and all that, but there’s something about it that’s like, “Ah.” We are the high-fidelity, like, where… there’s a clarity of communication, and this feeling of, like, we’re all in this together, and working together. So, I love a good whiteboarding session in person. I will never not love a good whiteboarding session in person. 

Chris: I’m totally with you.

Gina: I’m just… it’s a wonderful thing. And it’s just not… you don’t get that… it’s not quite fully replicated digitally. In a lot of ways, the digital thing, you know, version is better, ‘cause it persists and you can continue to iterate on it in time. You know, the whiteboard gets erased. The Post-Its come down and get thrown out.

Chris: You can copy and paste.

Gina: You can copy-paste. You know, you can read people’s writing digitally. Right.

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: You know? But there’s… it’s less about… the digital version is about the artifact that you come out with in the end, but the in–person version is about the act of doing it in the moment, right? And there’s a difference.

Chris: Totally agree with you.

Gina: Both of those are useful.

Chris: This is what I was going to say.

Gina: Having a living, breathing document? Yeah, is useful. Having just a couple hours where you’re writing, you’re putting ink on paper and then sticking it to a wall?

Chris: Yes.

Gina: That’s also useful!

Chris: Yes. There’s a place for both. I hope what people take away from this is not, one is better than the other.

Gina: Either/or. Right.

Chris: That’s right. I think what has worked for us, and what our guidance would be for other organizations… I mean, everybody’s dealing with this to some extent, is get really good at the digital tools, like make sure you can work really effectively, and make sure you have a place where your culture is represented in the digital realm. Right?

Gina: Mhm.

Chris: For us, that’s Slack. I think you could make other choices. But figure out how to get your culture digitized, for lack of a better phrase. 

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: But then, just because you’re… you’re not gonna do a five-day in-office mandate, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t value the in-office, or the in-person time. When it makes sense. And figuring out how to find the right ways to incentivize that, partially because you think it’s valuable, but also partially because you wanna… you wanna arm your teams to be able to say, “This is when it makes sense for us, and here’s where it’s gonna be high-leverage, and so we want to be able to do it.” And if that requires a little bit of travel and a little bit of spend to make sure the kitchen is stocked, to make sure the kitchen is stocked and we’ve got Post-Its on hand and the whiteboards are clean, those things are important too, because you want to be able to have that option, to be with other humans when it’s needed. When it’s really gonna level up what you’re doing.

Gina: I think that this conversation, though, is bubbling up again because we are in an economic downturn.

Chris: Mm.

Gina: And I think that there are leaders saying, “My business is no longer performing, and we are in… we are under a lot of pressure.” And so now, I believe… this is why there’s this, they’re hiring consultants to get their employees back in the office. 

Chris: You’re so right.

Gina: Do you remember when Marissa Meyer took over Yahoo?

Chris: Yahoo. Right. 

Gina: Yahoo was in a bad spot. She came in as CEO. And one of the first things she did was said, “There is no room for flexibility here. We are in a crisis, and therefore everyone needs to be in this building.” And it was a very controversial edict. I think a bunch of people left.

Chris: I remember.

Gina: This was several years ago now. And it didn’t go so well. (Laughs) But it did… I think there’s something related to the economic softness and the downturn, and… and this is what I think upsets me the most, when I hear that leaders are desperate to get people back in the office ‘cause their business depends on it. Because implicit in that is this idea that your employees aren’t getting their jobs done. And I think that’s what upsets me, because ultimately, if you don’t trust your employees… (Laughs)

Chris: Yeah. No.

Gina: …to get their jobs done? That’s your problem. 

Chris: That’s your problem.

Gina: It’s a lack of trust. Right? You have to trust that your people are doing their jobs. It doesn’t mean that you have to see them, right, sitting at their desk in their office. I think the point that you were making earlier, which is, like, you have to give your teams the options and empower them, and say “This space is here for you. All these tools are here for you.” If you’re meeting with a client and you want to work with one another, do that, and then leave it up to the teams to self-organize and decide, “This is a quiet heads-down workday, we’re all gonna focus and not do meetings, but this is a day that we’re gonna get together and collaborate,” that’s trusting your people to make good decisions. Right? It’s a little bit of a babysitting thing, like “All these people need to be back here because I need to watch them, that they’re doing their job.” That’s what bothers me so much about the fact that this consulting niche… you know, even exists. Right? Like, I just… I just am like, this is leaders taking this the wrong way. You know, a downturn is not the time to tighten the screws on your employees, right? This is the time when you trust your employees and say “We’re in a bind.” Like, “How do we do this better together? Let’s figure that out together.” Versus, like, a top-down mandate.

Chris: Yeah.

Gina: I didn’t mean to go into such a big rant. But… (Laughs)

Chris: That was a great rant. It was very well-said. 

Gina: (Laughs)

Chris: We should wrap this up. I do want to ask you one more question, though. Is there an answer to the buzzing office as a sales tool? Meaning, it can be so impactful, and we know this firsthand, right? Pre-pandemic? To be able to bring someone into our office in New York City and see a bunch of designers, with… I mean, at the time it was Sketch, now it’s Figma.

Gina: Right.

Chris: Up on their screens, or see engineers writing code and talking to each other, and you… there’s a feeling you get. I don’t know how else to describe it. Where you’re like, “Oh, there’s something good happening here.”

Gina: Yeah.

Chris: And that was… oh my God, when you were talking to a prospect, and you could bring them into the room, literally, with the team, and say “Look at what you could get,” like, that is a very impactful thing, and we just don’t have that anymore. So… what are your thoughts on that? Like, what’s the answer?

Gina: I mean, you know… there isn’t a direct replacement for that. Right? Like, we’ve tried a bunch of things. We had… you know, hold events, you can do live webinars, you can set up, you know, situations where you’re interacting online, but you’re not just gonna have that ambient, buzzing office five days a week anymore.

Chris: Yep.

Gina: Like, that’s just… and for, in our business, where we are selling solutions, custom solutions built by teams, and we say the words “We’re very collaborative with each other and with you,” it’s hard to show that. I mean, we’re simple animals, humans, ultimately, right? We just wanna see… we wanna see what we’re going to get. 

Chris: Right.

Gina: And that’s a thing we’ve struggled with. There isn’t a way to say, like, “Here, look at our team, buzzing… working away at their desks.” It’s a challenge. I don’t… we’ve had, you know, we’ve gotten folks back into the office for events and things, and that’s nice, that’s good. But that, like, day-to-day… I mean, at one point, Chris, I think I turned to you and said “Oh, the office… 2019 is over.” (Laughs) 

Chris: 2019 is over.

Gina: It took me, like, three years to get to, like, “Oh, that’s not gonna happen… like, we’re not gonna be competing with one another for conference rooms anymore.” 

Chris: Right.

Gina: That’s not where we’re at anymore, culturally and as a company. And I’ll admit that there was some sadness there for me, because I love our team and I like chatting with people in the kitchen on a Tuesday morning.

Chris: Yeah. And feeling that energy. 

Gina: As I’m getting my coffee. Or feeling that energy, right? I don’t feel like I gave you a good answer, but I don’t feel like there’s a direct replacement for that. I do think there is… you know, going back to what you said earlier, like, creating those opportunities to be in that space together that are fewer and farther between…

Chris: I think that’s the best we’ve got. Yeah.

Gina: I think that’s the best we’ve got, right?

Chris: Trying to… not replace that experience, but to approximate it, let’s say, with a workshop with a session where you’ve got a dozen people together…

Gina: Mhm.

Chris: And trying to create that… like, the event that we went to this week that was a lot more than a dozen people, but it was… it wasn’t the fully buzzing office with everybody, but there was a ton of energy behind it.

Gina: Ton of energy.

Chris: It was a whole team that was oriented around going after the same thing, and if we had walked a client through… or a prospect through one of those days, that would have felt really, really good. I mean, the other thing… I remember, we’ve said in pitches, “We’re gonna be in your Slack. We’re gonna be working right alongside you. You’re gonna be in Figma with us, leaving comments.” And that… again, it’s not the same. It is not the same as walking into an office and seeing everybody live. But it does feel… it can offer some of those same benefits, where it’s like “Oh, we’re gonna be… we’re gonna be working alongside each other.” And that feels really good. And it’s true. That is the way we work, we work right alongside our client teams. Or right alongside our clients… you know, our teams.

Gina: That’s right.

Chris: So, I mean, I think that’s as good as we’ve got for now. It’s gonna be interesting to see what the future holds too. 

Gina: Yeah. I mean, look. Trust your people are getting their work done, and create those opportunities, those reasons to get together. Like, I’m really looking forward to that trip, and we have another one coming up. Really looking forward to it. There’s a reason… we’re all gonna be there, and it’s gonna be great. Right? Like, I’m feeling that. Those are the ways to get people together and to create those relationships. Those difficult-to-measure connections, those weak ties, are definitely beneficial. And just the reality of our world right now, the knowledge world that we work in, is… there’s gotta be those reasons, those opportunities, those events. You know? That everyone will drop everything and say “Yeah, definitely, I’m not gonna miss that. I don’t wanna miss that.”

Chris: “This is worth it for me.” Yeah.

Gina: That’s right. Well, we’re never tired of opinions about return to work. Clearly. 

Chris: (Laughs) It’s true. 

Gina: Because it’s April 2023.

Chris: We would love to hear from listeners.

Gina: We wanna hear… we wanna hear your stories. We wanna hear all your stories. I love hearing, like, “Well, my office, there was a mandate, and then they backed it off, and now they buy us breakfast every Thursday,” like… send us a note. We wanna hear it. And I’m curious… I wanna hear from the few folks who disagree and say “No, no. I need to be with my people in order to really get things done.” I wanna hear that too. We love to hear from folks who argue with us. (Laughs) And debate us.

Chris: I would love to hear that. If somebody can succinctly say, like, “We did return to office and it was hugely beneficial, and here’s how we did it and here’s how it worked,” I would love to hear that story too.

Gina: I wanna hear the top-down mandate success story, because I just… have not heard that one.

Chris: I don’t know if that one’s there. But we’ll see.

Gina: Yeah, no. We’ll see, we’ll see. Get in touch, Thanks for listening, everybody.

Chris: Thanks, y’all.

Gina: Bye.