For workers who are never on site, ‘off-site’ still beckons
Many consider remote work to be more transactional than personal work. You cut someone slack when you need something, and otherwise stare at your screen in your own home. Managers see off-sites as a way to make remote work feel more personal.
Laura Burkhauser, a product manager at Twitter in San Francisco, planned a hybrid off-site in January to help her team build “that elusive synergy.” In May 2020, Twitter told its employees that they could continue to work from home permanently. Ms Burkhauser, whose team included workers from London and New York, said “virtual work hours off-site are more important than ever” because it’s easier to trust and communicate with remote coworkers when you’re really know them.
If many technical staff and executives agree that there is some value in off-site retreats, even if they are conducted remotely, how to execute them is much more difficult.
Jeremy Belenson, founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and co-founder of virtual reality start-up, Striver, called the idea of doing a multiday retreat with back to back meetings “crazy — and I’m going to use up.” That word is not a light one. “You can’t talk to someone for 36 hours and expect the brain to absorb it,” he said. He recently published a paper on Zoom fatigue, and he said that “Zoom is like a fire hose. You’re filling up with nonverbal cues.”
Then there’s the question of how to actually spend their time together while off-site. Ms. Wu said the recent off-site of her start-up in Napa, Calif., the offsite the company had planned, was primarily social. She knows that software engineers especially in-demand can easily quit and do different jobs. “So,” she said, “you really want to create an environment where people are inspired to be there, believe in the company, like the people they work with and aren’t just going to jump ship. Huh.”
Meghna Reddy, a human resources executive in Oakland, Calif., said off-sites used to be “nice to have” during the pandemic, but they have become a “must have”. She said that for tech companies that want to attract talent, investing in off-site “would be a better use of money than trying to get people back into the office.” Some companies are already leaving their offices and shifting facilities budgets off-sites. Offsiter’s founder, Hunter Block, said he knows of a large company that plans more than 600 off-site annually for smaller teams of employees.
Mr. Balson, who writes on Zoom’s fatigue, would advise that whatever companies do to grow their off-site plans, they shouldn’t rely too heavily on video chat.
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