Where Should We Work Now? And What About After Work Rituals?

David Nour
David Nour

When Allstate Insurance invited employees back to the office in the summer of 2021, they expected a stampede of workers tired of isolation and eager to see one another. But a funny thing happened on the way back to work: Employees said, “No, thank you.”

So, CEO Thomas Wilson did something few businesses of Allstate’s size and complexity have dared to do: Instead of mandating a return to the office, he polled employees and let them decide how the company would move forward. The result? 83 percent chose remote, 16 percent hybrid, and just 1 percent preferred the office. 

Wilson went all in, sold off the insurance giant’s Northbrook, Illinois, headquarters campus, and fully embraced a new way of working. Now, when the company’s nearly 46,000 employees need to meet in person, they rely on hoteling, using digital tools to reserve a desk or conference room in one of the satellite offices. Allstate has been thriving throughout, with revenues jumping to $50.6 billion in 2021, up more than 20 percent from the prior year.

Other CEOs, like Horizon Therapeutics’ Tim Walbert, are finding success going in the opposite direction: mandating five days a week in the office. 

Welcome to the front lines of the greatest labor revolution since the advent of the internet, a work-in-progress, living lab for how we get things done. As CEOs report, they are still grappling with how to put work back together to keep them competitive while allowing them to hold on to their talent. It’s uncharted territory, to be sure, and every option has advantages and drawbacks. There is no playbook, no one right or wrong answer.

But there are plenty of ways to do it, as CEOs we interviewed attest. Read the rest of the CEO Magazine article here.

On a related topic, McKinsey published an interesting perspective on what it means to have fun at work. For many (particularly Gen Z) who started new jobs remotely over the past couple of years, the concept of an in-person happy hour may be as foreign as answering the phone (naurrrrr). But as employers nudge people back into the office, there’s something to be said for the revival of the workplace ritual.

A photo of three people laughing and eating pizzaMillennials, Gen Xers, and boomers have loads of experience with after-work activities. Before the pandemic, the boss or the office social butterfly would organize happy hours, trivia nights, or—if you were really unlucky—karaoke. The idea was to create relationships with colleagues outside the office that would translate to stronger professional ties.

All of that changed when the pandemic hit and work for many people went online, causing the humble (if not totally spontaneous) midday coffee run with your coworker to devolve into a scheduled, 30-minute virtual catch-up. Even when people returned to the office, they found that some of their cherished coworkers had moved out of the cities where they had once worked; others who grew accustomed to the flexibility that working from home afforded them have yet to return.

For as much as life has rebounded since the beginning of the pandemic, many who work remotely report feeling lonely, making the workplace ritual a newly compelling idea.

The best of these rituals helps define workplace culture. Rituals are what make us us. When they’re done well (inclusive and meaningful), they can help employees feel a sense of purpose or kinship with their colleagues, both of which can help reduce instances of depression and anxiety, as well as “quiet quitting”.

So how do you convince anyone who now prefers to work remotely to engage in these office rituals? For one thing, some of these rituals don’t have to happen in the workplace at all. Sending a weekly email or direct message that focuses on mindfulness or gratitude, for example, can help create the kind of goodwill fostered from in-person get-togethers.

And for those who want to get back to in-person activities, rituals can be centered on milestones like welcoming a new team member, acknowledging a promotion, or holding a send-off for someone leaving the team.

A final word of warning: think twice before making these rituals mandatory. Instead, take the pulse of what your team actually wants to do together. And ask your team to offer their own ideas and even take charge of planning something, making any rituals explicitly optional.

What’s your opinion on returning to an office and after-work rituals? David Nour 

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