I found this discussion to be very interesting, and I also thought often about the difference between extrovert and introvert employees as much of the difference of opinion came down to something like this on the side that was opposed to remote offsites:
“Exactly. And remember, we’re talking about hybrid or remote teams here. A lot of people sign up for hybrid or remote work for a reason. Requiring them to join an offsite could be disruptive in a bad way. To get real for a second: think about what offsites mean for parents, or caretakers with strict schedules, people with disabilities, or even just different personality types. When you think about team building and fostering trust, one size definitely does not fit all. And when companies plan activities without all of these various needs in mind, they are distracting at best, and at worse, can really make people feel less included in the group.”
I am on record talking about the fact that I am not in favor of remote off-sites, team-bonding activities, huge company parties, or any other activities that feel, for me, like forced interaction. I have zero desire to sing karaoke, throw axes, or even play “two truths and a lie” with people just because we happen to work on the same team. I hate all of that to my very core. We work together, I don’t need anything more than that to work with you. And yes, sometimes that means I don’t even like you, but I will still work with you. Then I’ll go do the things I like to do, with the people I choose to do them with.
I’m sure if you asked a more extroverted employee, they would say the opposite. They probably don’t feel comfortable working with people they haven’t spent time hanging out with and getting to know.
As the future of work settles in a bit, in the sense that we are now working remotely by choice more than by COVID requirement, we are seeing a large shift toward the desire to work remotely. I believe that shift is everyone listed above. For introverts, people with disabilities, people with adult or child care requirements, working remotely is bliss. (I did it even before COVID.) We can still do the other things that are important in our lives without being forced to a specific location, and we can do it without being forced to be in the same physical space as people we may or may not like.
The problem is, and we see this clearly in the discussion below, doing things in-person is how we’ve always done things. The custom of having a quarterly or annual offsite was designed in a workplace that has always catered to extroverts and people who were available to be at the office for longer and longer hours. That culture has always excluded people. Think about the after-work drinks custom. How many moms got to attend instead of hurrying home to their kids, and how many men got to attend simply because somewhere there was a mom hurrying home to take care of the kids instead of them? How many introverted employees never showed up, or showed up out of a sense of guilt, quietly sipped their drink, and left as soon as it seemed polite to do so? And don’t even get me started on the number of employees in recovery who cannot, and should not, go out drinking with the group.
But, what did you hear about these events? They were great, we had a blast, we really got to bond with other folks from the team, etc. That feedback all comes from the minority that actually gets to go, and enjoys being in a group setting.
Then, of course, those same folks seemed more engaged with the company and got promoted into management and continued cycling through the same activities that led them to where they are.
I think the employees who don’t fit that mold, or who are not able to fit that mold even if they want to, have simply had enough. Remote working levels the playing field. There’s no late-night drinking to schmooze up the bosses, there’s no forced interaction and team-building exercises, there is just the work. The results. You are either capable of getting results, or you’re not.
For many of us, that’s all we want the workplace to be, just about the work. We build trust with our team by getting the work done together. And we break that trust by not doing our part to get the work done. We’re no longer competing to get the attention of our boss from the folks who are always available after work or always chatting up the boss in the office. We are simply doing the best work.
Everything else is designed to reward certain types of workers over others. Never forget that. Even if you do have a really well-planned retreat and it is worth doing, never forget that the people who go back to their room early, or skip the ax throwing, do the work just as well as the group who will stay out ’til 2 AM with you. They might even be capable of doing all that deep work and strategizing you want from a retreat better from home too. Because they’ll be included instead of drowned out. They are choosing to work remotely for a reason. Don’t invalidate their choice. Adjust so that all of your employees can be included, the ones who want to bond in person, and the ones who are happy to never need to.