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4 Tips for Bringing People Together in the Office

Workplace experience lab
Jessie Miño
Published on

For this month’s Workplace Experience Lab, we scheduled a chat with Doug Binder, author of the recent book Gather: The Business of Coming Together. We discussed how Binder sees the evolution of the office as a place where people gather for collaboration, connection, and socialization. Think work, team meetings, and live events. 

Doug has been an organizer of company events for over three decades and knows as much about organizing business events as anyone, so we invited him to the WorkEx Lab this month.

We began by asking Doug about the pandemic's impact on the workplace. “Productivity has excelled due to the pandemic because people were not commuting into work and not getting distracted or interrupted at the office,” he says. But those in-office interactions can also be very positive when you're sharing ideas with colleagues or just having very human encounters. Serendipity in the office is a very real and valuable thing,” Binder explains.

Why We Gather, According to Binder

Humans want to gather in the workplace, as countless surveys have shown, not only for collaboration but also for building community and culture. While people enjoy the comfort of their own homes, they’re craving social connection. The office can give them that. Celebrating diversity in the workplace is key to building a stronger community and enriching the company culture, as it fosters an environment where everyone feels valued and included.

“Gathering together supports personal growth,” Binder says, “because you learn from other people, and you can gain from teaching and mentoring others, too. People need and appreciate celebration; things like a colleague’s birthday or business milestones should be celebrated collectively.”

Binder points to a widespread sense that something has been missing from our work lives when everyone works remotely. Technology, especially remote technology, has made it possible for us to collaborate in ways we never would have pre-pandemic, when being on Zoom all day would have been inconceivable. “Technology can deliver the sight and sound of the office,” Binder says, “but not that sixth sense of being in a room and sensing the vibe.”

Binder offers an example “If you’re presenting in a meeting room, you can sense if people are getting the message or not, then adapt what you’re doing. You can’t sense that vibe so well on Zoom. For me, I’ve missed live events the most, the magical sound of applause and laughter – you feel that stuff viscerally in your bones and in your heart.”

Your office is a place to get work done, yes, but it’s also a place where you can establish company culture and build intentional relationships amongst your teams — something most of us have truly missed.

Of course, there will always be the need for hybrid meetings as flexible schedules allow for work-from-home days.

What Else Are Teams Looking for from The Office?

The simple answer? Collaboration and connectivity.

When you center your efforts around how your teams can do their best work together and collaborate in your office, you’ll begin to see some wins. 

By partnering with others, teams automatically gain access to a broader resource pool, diverse knowledge bases, and a wealth of life and professional experiences. You can start to shift the mindset to collaboration by thinking of ways collaboration and creativity have helped your teams and the business in the past, what worked, and what can be replicated today. 

How to Bring People Together in the Office Through Events

Bringing teams back together in the office requires intentional effort, continuous communication, and collaboration. It’s creating a workplace strategy that makes sense now, and then re-evaluating and reiterating as needed, stepping away from the “set it and forget it” ideology. Fostering civic engagement and mutual respect among employees can strengthen team cohesion and contribute to a more connected workplace. We find ourselves in an ever-evolving workplace environment that requires workplace leaders to adjust and pivot when the time - or your employees - calls for it.

When you experiment with new collaboration efforts, your workplace analytics can help you evaluate what worked best.

As we navigate the evolving landscape of work, investing in strategies to strengthen team cohesion and connection will be essential for success. Work has changed. People have a new awareness of how they work best, the types of spaces they need, and the types of experiences they can’t get working remotely. Employees intuitively know that the office is necessary to maximize their productivity. Now more than ever, workers need the office as a place to come together and feel productive and engaged alongside other teammates.

1. It’s About Them, Not You

The office needs to be more than just a place where you take virtual meetings in a meeting room or pod, by yourself. Bring life into your workplace by creating events your employees will enjoy and will want to come to the office for. Bagels or free lunches aren’t cutting it anymore. Now, we’re not recommending taking those away, but is that all that is driving your office attendance?

The mistake Binder sees people make most often when organizing events/gatherings is beginning and ending with a notion about what they’re going to do, such as an agenda of sessions or a schedule of speakers.

“Instead, organizers need to begin by thinking about what the audience needs and wants. As organizations struggle to bring people back into gatherings, whether meetings in offices or other events, the audience holds more of the cards. You need to provide them with a clear reason to come into the office, because, otherwise, they can just access what they need remotely.”

On a cadence, special events or experiences can help motivate your employees to make an effort to be present. If they don’t attend and they begin hearing from other employees how awesome the company-sponsored cooking class was, if they’re local to the office, they’ll likely attend the next event even if out of pure curiosity.

Not enough space or need a headcount before the event? Use Robin and encourage your teams to reserve their desk or update their work status before company events. Here are some event ideas that help with bringing people together:

  • Yoga/meditation sessions
  • Cooking classes or competitions
  • Interest-based workshops
  • Volunteer days for local charities
  • Vendor pop-ups
  • Movie Screenings
  • Trivia Nights
  • Outdoor activities (i.e. afternoon walk/hike)
  • Office Olympics
  • Art exhibitions to celebrate cultural diversity and unity

Your events, like your office, need to have a purpose. Ask your teams what they want to see and use their feedback to build an event they’ll love. Data from these days in the office can help you make confident decisions.

While a catered office lunch may seem simple, 57% of employees say the most appreciated work perk is free food.

2. Make People Feel Something

Binder believes the pandemic has “rewired people’s brains and motivations” around work, pointing to “quiet quitting” and “the Great Resignation” as prime examples. To succeed at organizing gatherings, according to Binder, “you must put yourself in the audience’s shoes. Empathy is a much bigger deal now than it was before the pandemic because we’ve all been through so much. It’s not so much about what we say or what we do at the gathering that matters: people largely remember how you make them feel.”

In the past few years, the line between home and life has gotten thinner. We’re all human, and we’re all looking for a way to connect. Provide meaningful opportunities for your teams to engage with one another in the office. Fostering an environment of understanding among employees is crucial for creating a more empathetic and connected workplace.

3. Reward & Incentivize

It’s not surprising that in our economic landscape, we’re all a bit more mindful of costs. In our Return to Office 2024 report, commuting costs were the top reason employees hesitated to travel to the office. Workers spent an average of $8,466 annually, or about $700 a month, on commuting to the office, accounting for gas, car maintenance, the income lost due to commuting, car insurance, and more, according to a 2023 survey from Bankrate

Rewarding employees when they take action to come to the office is another way to ensure their activity becomes a repeated action. Offsetting commuting costs & expenses tied to being in the office can help big time. At Robin, we tried something similar and increased office attendance by 40% in one quarter. 

Consider things like covering the cost of the daily commute to get people back into the office.

You can also gamify these actions as a starting point to engage your teams. This doesn’t have to be a monthly occurrence unless you choose it to be, but if attendance is low, launching a contest for folks who are close to the office can be a fun and interactive way to incentivize them so they can shift their mindset and perspective of the office as a productive destination vs. an obligation. 

For March Madness, we tried something similar at Robin. Employees received points for different actions they took, and at the end of the month, the employee with the most points received a prize.

4. Give People Choice

In addition to a desire for “experiences,” people also want more control of their time and choices. So, at a typical conference, you might have the general sessions, two hours, where you need people to be present in order to listen to the leadership team, learn about the product, or watch the demos. “But after that’s done,” says Binder, “give people options where they can go to the beach or go to a class or maybe have a one-on-one meeting with the VP of product marketing.” 

Giving people choice drives better experiences and more engagement. Hybrid work is all about flexibility when booking your desk, coordinating your week, and choosing to attend events. 

Prioritizing employee well-being and work-life balance is crucial for bringing teams back together in the office. To accommodate employees' personal needs and preferences, offer flexible working arrangements, such as flexible hours or remote work options. Encourage employees to take regular breaks, disconnect from work after hours, and prioritize self-care. Providing access to resources like employee assistance programs or mental health support can also contribute to a healthier and happier workforce. 

According to research published by Gensler, 63% of U.S. workers favor a hybrid work setup, while 12% seek exclusive in-office presence (25% opt for entirely remote roles). Therefore, embracing a hybrid model enables firms to cater to diverse worker preferences, ultimately enticing staff to spend more time in shared spaces. 

Hybrid work environments blend elements of remote and in-person interactions, allowing employees to split their time between home and office settings. With carefully crafted policies, businesses can leverage this arrangement to bolster employee satisfaction, decrease real estate expenses, and stimulate interpersonal connections. 

The Role of Workplace Technology in Enabling Collaboration

Binder views technology as an important enabler of new ways of working and gathering. “Robin, for instance, is great at helping people find and book workspaces to do their best work, and also supports communication around events, meetings, and other gatherings.” People need the capability to plan, which technology enables, but Binder also champions “the capacity of gatherings to deliver serendipity, surprise, and delight.” 

The right tools can help you give your teams an overview of the office - from what desks are available to activities taking place that week. The easier it is for your teams to access the office, the more likely they will come in.

Building Community and Purpose in the Office

In the end, the goal of the office should be to make people feel valued and to offer them a clear purpose within an organization and culture.

“Technology can help foster all that purpose and collaboration,” Binder tells me as we conclude our conversation, “and I think Robin is at the hub of what’s going to be the evolution of work over the next few years.”

The office is changing, but it certainly isn’t going away. You have to find a way to build a lively workplace and enable a seamless experience for all of your people so they can find value in your space.

Embracing employees from diverse backgrounds and fostering friendships are crucial in creating a welcoming office environment. By encouraging connections among employees, we not only celebrate diversity but also build a stronger, more inclusive community. Collaborating with other groups to achieve common goals and recognizing that shared values among employees contribute to a unified and purposeful workplace are essential steps towards this aim.

Turn to your office data to decide what's working and what isn't for your teams.

Employers should invest in workplaces that not only help people work better but also provide workplace experiences that bring their employees into the office more often, making the office a compelling place to be. By fostering a collaborative environment, organizing team-building activities, prioritizing well-being, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, and recognizing achievements, you can create a cohesive and engaged team that thrives in the office environment.

Looking for a way to help you manage all of your initiatives and team engagement in one place? Robin can help! Let’s chat if you’re curious to explore what you can accomplish with a unified workplace management platform.

featured report

Return to Office Report 2024

Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot
Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot