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Navigating the workfrom- home culture

By Marc L. Goldberg

SCORE certified mentor

Question: What are we missing in the work-at-home culture that we get from the office?

Answer: Leslie Cohen, chief operating officer and head of asset management at Samuels & Associates (a Boston-based real estate development and management company) recently communicated with 100 or so employees who were all essentially working from home. We can all learn from her message: “In the nine months since the launch of a new work from home (WFH) culture for many companies, the future of the office has been hotly debated. At first, business leaders wondered how we would work remotely. Then we wondered why we ever went into the office. Now the pendulum is swinging again, to a recognition that remote work has productivity benefits, but the lack of in-office collaboration, culture and mentoring can’t continue forever.

“I recently visited the Samuels & Associates (S&A) office for the first time in several months. As soon as I walked through the door, I was energized in a way I had not felt in months, despite the fact that I was the sole occupant of the space. When we moved our offices to The Fenway in 2016, we spent close to a year designing the interior to reflect our company culture and personality — creative, fun, vibrant. I was immediately inspired by that vibe, one that my home could never replicate.

“That got me thinking about how we would intentionally move forward to learn from our WFH experience — both what worked and what didn’t — when we return to the office setting.

“With the benefit of new perspective, I see that pre-COVID we took the office for granted and perhaps had a more simplistic view of the office as the physical location where we completed tasks, showed that we were present and working hard, kept our work “stuff” (both physical files and mental entanglements) and conducted meetings (some more useful than others). It’s also where we wasted a lot of time waiting for meetings to start, to physically catch up with the person we needed and restart tasks after unscheduled interruptions.

“Our reasons for coming to the office pre-COVID didn’t always prioritize what I now realize was the truly important stuff: collaborating, strategizing and innovating. Mentoring, learning, growing. Building our workplace community (a truly big one for S&A — our THING is community).

“Though it still seems far away, with the pandemic numbers at a new all-time high daily and with kids still remote or hybrid learning, which impact our timing of reopening the office to all, I’m starting to plan for how we learn from this moment in time and create what our partner Elizabeth Lowrey at Elkus Manfredi calls the “hybrid office.” One where people gather intentionally to: “ Collaborate: For S&A, Zoom has created a new mindset around meetings — task-oriented functions are managed offline, meetings start on time and are focused and agenda driven, and collaboration and information

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sharing are the priority. Bringing this mindset to in-person meetings is bound to yield even greater results as it relates to creativity and innovation.

Learn: An office offers an environment for continuous learning and mentorship as daily interactions expose you to your colleagues’ strengths, different viewpoints and problemsolving skills. This is an area that has simply not translated in the Zoom era — try though we have.

Relate: Our eclectic and diverse team loves and take great pride in all we do — and so much of that is creating great communities for others. But that shared sense of purpose is the foundation for our own little community at S&A. The simple things — like having lunch together, walking to one of the great coffee shops nearby, post-weekend catchups, a celebratory drink after reaching a major project milestone — matter too. The community of people at S&A and our shared experiences in and out of the office make the already meaningful work we do even more enjoyable.

Contribute: Never again will we measure a team member’s contributions by how many hours they spend at their office desks. Tasks can and should be done everywhere. But the ideas, inspirations and “aha” moments when a logjam breaks or a problem is solved — the moments that make our work meaningful — those contributions are undoubtedly going to remain closely tied to an office where people collaborate, learn and relate.

“Our physical office environment will likely evolve when we return, making it easier to do the things we now realize we want and need to do together. We’ll rely less on our cubes, offices and dedicated spaces. And we will rely MORE on our spaces to meet, eat, collaborate. These spaces are open spaces, flexible spaces, creative spaces, inspiring spaces. A place to bring our best selves and contribute in the most meaningful way to our mission and vision. I can’t wait.” Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, certified mentor. Source: Leslie G. Cohen, COO, Samuels & Associates. For free and confidential mentoring contact SCORE — capecod.score.org, capecodscore@verizon.net, 508-775-4884. We go where you are!

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