Our team has been working from home for over two months, and I’ve been stunned to observe how well the model is working. I’d like to attribute its success to Kind’s uniquely entrepreneurial culture, and I do believe this is playing a role in sustaining high levels of productivity, teamwork, and ingenuity. And other company leaders assure me we are not alone. They tell me that, generally speaking, their teams are working hard and nothing has fallen apart. Many of us are questioning whether an office culture is necessary.
Maybe there are even benefits to this new remote work setup. At Kind, some team members deal with five-hour round-trip commutes to our office each day. Not only is this detrimental to their health, sanity, and our environment, but it also cuts into their productivity or time with family. The smooth transition into our new work-from-home normal tells me there must be room to improve and rejigger these suboptimal scenarios of old.
But before we declare remote working a modern-day success story, we should be careful not to assume that what worked for the past two months will also work for the next two years. Because long before COVID-19, Kind had been building a reservoir of goodwill, made deeper each day through impromptu conversations in the hallways, laughs shared around a conference table, and late hours together burning the midnight oil. Every day, we added to the kitty that we are now privileged to draw from. The well is sustaining us reliably for now, but what will happen when it dries up?
As we consider the post-COVID-19 workplace, in which the rules will have changed for good, leaders should consider the appropriate calibration for creating a durable social fabric that can handle the wear and tear of time apart. Here are some of the primary considerations I am taking into account as we prepare for the future of work at Kind.
Deepening bonds and social trust. When team members jibe well together personally, they work that much harder, because they are motivated to not let their peers down. Retention is often higher, because team members don’t want to leave friends or projects they’ve built together. As social fabric is strengthened, trust is deepened—allowing for the open communication that brings good ideas to the surface. On the flip side, lack of social cohesion diminishes trust, which hampers open communication and stifles progress. Disagreement, selfish behavior, and attrition can be the unfortunate outcomes. We need to create concerted ways for team members to continue bonding. While it’s normal for leaders to like to be very productive with their time, I like to lead meetings with some minutes of complete nonsense instead of the agenda. Joking around with my team helps build those personal connections that are more important than ever right now.
Maximizing creative output. Sometimes our best ideas emerge during impromptu conversations in the hallway, kitchen, or lobby. The change of environment or exposure to team members we don’t interact with on a daily basis activates new pathways of thinking and sparks creativity. Cross-departmental collaboration allows for novel patterns of recognition and problem-solving through the power of analogies. Now we need to consider how to reconstruct these pathways to creativity. When COVID-19 goes away, the work-from-home genie will not fit magically back into the bottle. It may make sense to reallocate budget from office-space overhead to weekend retreats and multiday team-building exercises that bring cross-departmental teams together and foster the cross-pollination of ideas.
Onboarding new team members. This will be the greatest challenge of all. Because if it’s true that we are drawing from a preestablished well of goodwill, and carrying already formed relationships with us into our more remote work life, new hires will be at a distinct disadvantage with none of the legwork in place. We will need to invest in concerted solutions for deliberately integrating new team members into the workplace culture and helping them to develop real bonds with their teammates. It’s already important in the time of COVID-19 and will be even more so as we consider work-from-home as a long-term cornerstone of the workplace structure. Solutions may include setting up buddy systems, mentorship programs, and social mixers to foster friendships and lasting connections.
Daniel Lubetzky is the founder and executive chairman of Kind, a global snack company based in New York, and founder of the Kind Foundation.