In our first conversation with our co-founder and CEO, Sean Grundy, he shared his reflections on the Bevi team’s remote experience. Today we’re talking about our planned return to the office later this summer.
Even though the Bevi team adapted quickly and made great strides while working remotely, we’re excited to get back to the office and see each other around the water cooler again.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, who’s planning his own return to office this summer, captured the importance of this when he said, “For us, it’s still very important to physically be in touch with one another because collaboration isn’t always a planned activity. Innovation isn’t always a planned activity. It’s bumping into each other over the course of the day and advancing an idea that you just had. And you really need to be together to do that.”
Though we couldn’t get Tim on the line, we’re thrilled to share another conversation with our own slightly less successful CEO. We discussed the importance of in-person collaboration, balancing remote work with it, and how to encourage safe, social interactions in the office.
I know Bevi is planning to welcome employees back to the office starting 2 days a week in September. Why do you think in-person collaboration is so important?
The reason we think it’s important to get people back together at least two days a week, first and foremost, is because I think friendship at work is important.
When you actually genuinely care about the people you work with, I think you’re more motivated to do your job, and you go out of your way to help other people, especially people in other departments. Plus, work gets a lot easier, and it gets more fun. So I think it’s important to foster an environment where that friendship can happen.
And then I also think that you can do some jobs extremely well remotely, primarily jobs that require a very discrete set of tasks and maybe a standard set of tasks. But I think for more creative work, or if you’re trying to improve at a rapid rate, it becomes really important to overhear conversations or to jump into meetings you didn’t necessarily plan to go to. When you’re in person together, you learn a lot just from listening to a colleague talk to a customer on the phone, or chatting with an engineer about what they’re doing, and physically looking at whatever they’re building or designing.
I love that friendship is emphasized as part of your return plan. What’s the friendly chatter like on Slack? Is the Bevi team ready to get back to in-person?
I think it really varies throughout the company. For the most part, I think most people are excited to get back and see their colleagues. I hear primarily from the more stereotypically extroverted roles within a company, like our sales team, that they can’t wait to get back together.
So overall, I think people are psyched to see their colleagues again when it’s fully safe to do so. I think for some others, candidly, there’s probably some trepidation about changing what has now become a routine. Especially for people that maybe joined during the pandemic, and have never been to our office, it’s probably a little overwhelming. It probably feels like the first day of work all over again, to have to go in and meet everyone. So I think there’s probably a little hesitancy there as well. But for the most part, people are ready.
For those thinking about how their routines might change, how do you plan to balance the flexibility of remote culture with the opportunity to get back into the office and take advantage of face-to-face collaboration?
We really are seeking that balance of some time remote and some time in person. And to be honest, we’ve always kind of operated that way. We had some people that always worked from home for a day or two a week. Some people prefer to be in every day, but it was generally always okay to work from home when you wanted to.
Now that we’re formally defining it so that everyone can have clarity, we decided on two days a week in person minimum, and Wednesday will be mandatory to make sure there’s at least one day of overlap for all the teams. We want to have enough time in the office that your day isn’t just booked up from start to finish. Otherwise, you don’t have time for any of the serendipity that comes with chatting with colleagues you didn’t expect to chat with.
What are some aspects of remote culture that you’d like to see continue moving forward?
If you’re working on some kind of individual project like a budget, I do think it’s really important that you can just stay home for a day or two and not be in the office getting sidetracked or peppered with questions or have dogs jumping on you. It’s nice to be able to have that control over your schedule. So I think that’s really the benefit that we’ll keep, that ability to have time for you to focus on your own work and be home whenever that’s convenient for you.
What have you missed the most about your team that you weren’t able to recreate outside the office?
There were a couple of things that were difficult or impossible to recreate remotely. One is proximity to customers. When we’re in the office, there are customers stopping by to check out new prototypes we’re developing or to try out our machines and make decisions about whether or not to get our product. And those regular conversations face to face with customers are just incredibly helpful for everything from product planning, to learning how to sell better, and just to develop empathy for our customers’ experience and understand what we need to do to improve. So I think that that kind of closeness to the customer has suffered a little over the last year. And I’m excited to gradually get that back.
Another issue is that we like to have challenging conversations about things like what channels should we sell through and what departments should we invest more or less money in. And in those conversations, even though at a high level we’re all on the same team and we all want the company to succeed, people take different stances. And there are situations where essentially some people win the debate, you know, some people get their way, and some don’t get their way.
In-person, I feel like the conversations were more intense, and I also felt the team would get closer after having them. We could really argue points, and hash out issues, but then all go out and get a drink together, and it would all be fine. Remotely, there’s just less debate. People feel less comfortable challenging a colleague in a remote setting where it’s not easy to smooth over the conversation after and say I’m sorry.
The screen definitely adds a layer there and can make even casual conversations a little more fraught. Several studies have shown that those unplanned in-person conversations that occur around a coffee machine or water dispenser can actually boost productivity. What’s the most interesting conversation you’ve had around a Bevi?
Well, there was the one time someone told me about an expensive business problem very casually while getting a drink of water. That one probably should have been an email.
But I do feel like that’s often where you get to know your colleagues, right? Like, that’s where you hear what someone’s working on that day, whether they’re pitching a new customer in a new market, or whether they have a pricing idea that might be really good and broadly applicable, and I think that those casual conversations go a long way.
You also learn about people’s interesting out-of-office skills. The other day, I found out that our colleague, Yvan, is a master of cutting fruit. He cuts fruit like a professional dessert chef. So that’s the kind of fun thing you learn about your colleagues when it’s a little more social, and that contributes to the familiarity and friendship we talked about earlier.
Are there any specific design plans at Bevi to encourage renewed, safe social interactions like that?
So the biggest factor for us definitely is, first and foremost, keep things safe. So we do have basic safety protocol being applied in the office, which is, you know if you’re not at your desk, you should have a mask on, desks should be more than six feet apart, etc.
But with that in mind, we are planning to encourage safe social interactions in a few ways. One is still TBD, but either free breakfasts or free lunches on days that everybody’s in, where we’re possibly going to encourage people to pair up for random meetings with other people in the company, just to get to know a little bit about what they’re working on.
For the most part, we’re still figuring out the specific plan, but another very big one for us is a staff retreat. The retreat was a huge part of Bevi culture prior to COVID, and it was something people really looked forward to. It honestly does wonders for building empathy within the company so that people understand and respect each other’s jobs. It’s also just a good time.
Zooming out and looking forward a bit, what do you think the next year of work will look like? How about 5 years out? How do you think work will change and why?
If we take a look at the companies in our customer base, for the next year hybrid work is definitely going to be the norm. And we’re seeing companies that are actually excited about hybrid work, kind of like we are where we’ve taken a stance that we think it’s a very productive and efficient option. But we’re also seeing companies that would like to be back full time, and I think they will have a hard time selling that to their employees. People are so used to working remotely that I think in some cases, companies will use the hybrid model as a transition period.
As we look farther out, say five years down the road, I think I take a contrarian view here because I’m expecting things to go back largely the way they were pre-COVID. One going theory is that COVID essentially accelerated a trend that would have happened anyway, over the course of 10 or 20 years, which was many companies working entirely remotely and having a lot more flexibility around when they’re in the office or not.
I’m predicting that companies that are together more in person will generally do better than companies that are remote, and I think that’ll lead other companies to essentially go back closer to the way things were.
I think there’s a lot of recency bias right now where the last year has started to feel normal for us. So we view a deviation from that as a big aberration. But I think, really, the last year has been the unusual period. I’m expecting people to continue to be creatures of habit, and I’m expecting them to get back to the habits that they had over hundreds of years prior to this period.
So my guess is, five years from now, we’ll probably see people working from home, I don’t know, one day a week or two days a week, but otherwise being in the office.
Jack Neary conducted this interview and wrote this article. Follow his blog here for more great content.