2020 saw the closure of cafes and restaurants all over the world. The typical refrain ‘let’s catch up for a coffee’ has fallen out of use between business people, unless they are suggesting an at-home beverage during a video call. But as we begin a new year and a return to “normal” office arrangements still seems difficult, some business people are finding new ways to meet outside of the office to exchange ideas and generate leads while remaining socially distanced - and even get some exercise in. As reported last year in USA Today, cycling, hiking and even swimming are some of the new and innovative ways that professionals are meeting with associates.
A bike ride along a car-free trail with a colleague or business contact is a great way to have a conversation while remaining outdoors and active. Believe it or not, in a Californian marketing firm, keen swimmers are meeting up to do laps and talk through strategy, with the breaks for swimming a good opportunity to digest information and come up with new ideas to take back to the group!
It has long been recognised that a change of scenery and removing yourself from the traditional office setting can spark creativity and generate more out-of-the-box thinking. Companies often take teams offsite for brainstorming sessions and team building exercises. Breaking up the routine can cause new ideas to ferment, and some of your best and most innovative initiatives may come out of a non-traditional meeting format.
For communications and marketing professionals engaging with clients external to their own organisation, the possibilities of different and creative methods to meet and discuss ideas are many. Moving away from office-based meetings and focusing instead on site visits and walking tours could spark more innovative solutions for company communications than would be thought of in the boardroom.
More broadly, organisations are recognising the need to remain flexible in their approach to work in the future. Beyond the pandemic, working from home - or from any other non-office location that suits the individual - is predicted to become far more widespread. A Kentik survey of networking professionals worldwide found that 47% reported feeling “more productive” while working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic times.
The BBC recently asked a group of professionals to make predictions on the future of work, and their thoughts revealed the hybrid work future that we can expect to see in the coming years. Eric S Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, noted that ‘in the near future, some organisations will adopt a hybrid-work model, with certain days in the office and others remote. Other companies will use video communications to be completely remote. Both models will enjoy increased productivity and deeper collaboration, and the ability to attract a more diverse workforce.’
However, working entirely from home is not appealing to all. Jeanna Lundberg, co-founder and CEO of Respaces, says ‘if I ask my friends if they would like to go back full-time to working from one office, five days a week – most people say no. They like skipping the obligatory commute, feeling trusted by their bosses, and having the freedom to customise their days to their personal needs. But they also complain that the home office is cramped, boring, and lonely after a while.’
Robin Dunbar, Emeritus Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, agrees that the workplace is an important social environment. ‘Without face-to-face engagement, and those casual meetings round the coffee machine, the ‘flow’ that makes things work, and work fast, will be missing. Work groups quickly lose focus, and the sense of belonging – and of commitment to the organisation and its aims and objectives – is very quickly lost.’
The balance of maintaining crucial social contact in a work environment and of addressing employees' desire for flexible and different working solutions is a challenge that all modern organisations need to be considered as they move into the “new normal” of the future. Although the working lunch will definitely return post-pandemic, the opportunities afforded by more interesting business settings will be worth watching.
Photo by Rokia Biko on Unsplash