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Why this small business founder is pro-return to office

The founder of LYS Beauty makes a compelling case for respectfully bringing staff back to the office.

Why this small business founder is pro-return to office
[Photo: jacoblund/Getty Images]

The biggest threat to widespread remote policies is stunting the professional growth among younger talent. 

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The pandemic has caused an insurmountable shift in the working world. Since 2020, many have taken to LinkedIn and other public forums in droves to vocalize their opinions on the future of work, ultimately weighing the pros of IRL workplace connection against the indisputable freedom offered through remote work. 

Still, flexible work continues to entrench itself into our economy, which is largely driven by major corporations like Airbnb, Lyft, and Dropbox that have permanently adopted remote policies. The push to return to in office has tipped the job market scale in favor of employees who are seeking  job changes to preserve their freedom and flexibility, fueling millions of openings in the U.S.   

Interestingly, despite growing up in a technological era, Gen Zers are not the ones offering the most pushback to return. A recent study from Apartment List, which surveyed 5,000 employed U.S. adults, suggests Gen Zers are enthused about flexible in-person structures. Only 36% of Gen Zers said remote work was “extremely desirable,” trailing behind 51% of millennials, 54% of Gen Xers, and 66% of Baby Boomers. 

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At LYS, our findings are in line with theirs. Securing senior talent with office expectations is challenging, despite finding many who are passionate about the brand and a great fit on paper. And in a high-touch and sensorial industry, the innovation and creativity required are oftentimes birthed through in-person interactions. 

But when skeptics of fully remote workspaces peel back the layers of the pro-remote debate, the threat coming into focus is younger talent that will likely bear the weight of the lasting impacts of a fully remote workforce. 

Without in-person learning, real-time feedback, and cross-functional collaboration, business leaders should begin preemptively planning for the knowledge gap that may widen in the years to come among underdeveloped junior staffers. 

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However, a thoughtfully curated hybrid work model may lend a sweet spot in creating a connected workplace without robbing younger professionals of continued learning opportunities. 

Here are my 5 key takeaways on the unspoken value of returning to office

Offices help connect cross-departmental teams

If you were on a sports team and only practiced together one day a week, how would you put a winning product on the field without understanding how all the pieces come together as one? The same rings true with interoffice culture, camaraderie, coaching, mentoring, and problem-solving. 

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Office structures help connect teams to a common business goal, so we kick off our in-office meetings with high-level updates, wins, and concerns across various business functions. 

Office exposure helps prevent burnout 

Burnout is running rampant. In fact, research from Nature Human Behaviour found that some remote workers reported working up to 10% more each week compared to pre-pandemic times.

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By implementing one to two in-office days for cross-functional collaboration, our team has a renewed sense of excitement and belonging surrounding work, versus the four virtual walls we put up on camera. In doing so, we are able to arrive at creative decisions, escalate approvals, and delegate tasks to help prevent burnout.

Connection breeds culture

Without an office or frequented hub, there is no way to cultivate office culture. Hybrid models sharpen soft skills, like conflict resolution, escalation, stakeholder-relationship building, and presentation skills.

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As a new founder, the first wave of hires lay the foundation for company culture, empowering their colleagues to buy into the bigger company mission. However, today’s landscape poses recruiting challenges from those unwilling to compromise. 

If a leading candidate for a role is not open to returning to office, I have to weigh the options while keeping the company’s best interest in mind. While one-off exceptions are feasible, I prefer to be fair across the board. What I do for one should apply to all.  

There is no substitute for in-person networking

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Social networking is valuable for stretching beyond your company walls, but it’s difficult fostering video-only working relationships. Plus, we’re all video fatigued. 

It may sound obvious, but coffee catchups, hallway chats, and office hours are all organic means of connection and networking that office exposure offers, and brings a refreshing human element to the workplace. 

In early career stages, I identified internal opinion leaders and scheduled biweekly meetings to build rapport, glean from their knowledge, and learn their communication style—ultimately opening many doors throughout my career from project leads to promotions. I have built forever friends that have evolved beyond our working relationship into angel investors, board members, and even bridesmaids. 

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Business acumen is built IRL 

The very business principles and deep industry insight gathered from continuous in-office exposure may become out of reach for burgeoning professionals hoping to climb the corporate ladder. Capturing of-the-moment intel across different teams provides business context that is otherwise lost in most virtual-only environments.

I have been able to build a solid foundation for my own entrepreneurial journey after working at another brand for 15 years, where I saw firsthand how it all works from finance and accounting to sales and marketing. 

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Ultimately, hybrid models intersect flexibility and compromise. But, once you get them in, you have to make it worth their while. With acknowledgement for the return-to-office pushback, particularly among professionals from underrepresented groups, the onus is on leaders to prioritize establishing a safe and positive environment for all employees to garner enthusiasm and trust—a conversation that commands its own attention. 

For now, our overall goal should remain fixed on cultivating cultural connection through meaningful work and collaboration, not control.

Tisha Thompson is founder and CEO of LYS Beauty. 

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