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Re-Opening a Startup Office with the Director of Workplace at Robin

Re-Opening a Startup Office
Brendan O'Neil
Published on

Every organization is re-evaluating their workplace strategy as plans for returning to the office in 2021 are being made. We wanted to sit down with our very own Director of Workplace Experience, Alix Gregory, to hear how Robin is handling the shift. 

In this conversation you will hear about: 

  • How Robin’s offices will be shifting this year
  • What new resources the office will sport 
  • Polling for employee engagement and experience
  • Surprising employee feedback and input
  • How to plan to make the leap to new styles of work, like hybrid work

What was the role of the office for Robin and how do you see that changing in 2021?

Pre-pandemic, Robin had a binary opinion of the office. We had a group of people who worked mostly from the office, depending on it to get their work done. A second group was primarily remote. They didn’t want or really need an office to get their work done.

During the pandemic, that work shifted to the distributed, remote work style we’re now seeing. We still have some pioneers who (safely) come into the office if/when they need to.

Looking ahead, we need to set up our physical and virtual “workplaces” to accommodate more of these hybrid work profiles. Workplace leaders will want to make sure we're setting up physical spaces that accommodate both the people that are physically present and those that are not, since the expectation won’t be that everybody works the same way anymore.

“We’ve had a group of people who mostly work at the office and unless something comes up, they’re going to depend on the office to get their work done. We’ll also always have people who never want to come to the office. They might not live in the state, or they might not prefer an office. In which case, they don’t need to be there. We’ve always had that mindset.

Now we have all of these different profiles and need to set up our physical and virtual “workplaces” to accommodate that. Before COVID, I think we treated the fully work-from-home folks as “second class citizens”, and now their style of working is the only style of working today and will continue to be extremely important.

What are examples of spaces or resources you’re adding to the Robin office to meet new needs?

Robin’s always been excited about the physical office, but now the focus has shifted to how we can meld the physical and virtual offices together this year.

One example: we found that white boarding was hard to translate to the virtual world. Now we’re asking ourselves how we can create a similar experience in a hybrid environment with virtual tools that connect the people physically writing on the white board with the people virtually calling in.

We plan to adapt the virtual tools we’ve become experts on over this last year into our hybrid office model.

“It’s all about designing the physical space with remote people in mind. So where before most rooms had video technology capabilities, now every room needs great WiFi connection in order to bring your remote colleagues into the room with you.

Employees are expecting a new office experience. How will you make sure their needs are met?

A big benefit of everything that’s happened over the last year is that Robin employees are now much more interested in what’s going on with their workplace, they want to be involved, and they even want to help. This is the best time to get cross-functional groups together.

We’ve been sending employee engagement surveys for the entire company and we have a pilot group of people who initially wanted to come back to our office. We have a micro test group involved, as well as the entire organization. 

“Getting feedback from people and hearing their opinions on how they want to work when this is all over is easier than ever. This is the best time to get those cross-functional groups together. Start bringing people in while the energy is high and while they miss the office and crave all of the good qualities that came with it. This is the best time to keep that engagement and build involvement.

We have the executive and management teams stepping up and they’re the ones working closely with their teams to figure out what people need most while we’ve been physically separated. They’re the best representatives for what they’re people need and how they’re going to be able to do their best work.”

What employee feedback has surprised you during this planning process?

The most surprising piece of feedback at Robin has been that some people are worried that we will regress back to the strict, office-centric, work style we had before, which is not the case at all.

There’s no way that this system is going to be able to just regress back to where it was without something exploding. We’re doing everything we can to set up our office for the new way of working and make sure that people have options for where and how they want to work.

“There’s definitely this trepidation that people will be forced back into the office, which has never really been Robin’s motto anyway, but the pre-COVID world was much more set up for in-office work. And so I think the concern is that workplace teams aren’t going to be evolved enough.”

For companies leaning on a hybrid work strategy for 2021, where do you suggest they start in the planning process?

Employees want to be brought along for the ride and they want to take control of their work day and work week. Tools that enable them to accomplish what they want or need should be the focus, from accessing the office, to getting into software, and everything across the board. 

“The more that we can enable people to do the things that they want and need to do themselves with as few barriers as possible, the better.

I feel like my role is breaking down those barriers so that people have the shortest route to be able to do the work that they need to do.

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