The pandemic fundamentally changed the way many people work, often for the better. But how do we try to include the things we liked about office life in our new remote routines? Dootrix’s Jim Winstanley has been helping ensure our Azure specialists get to enjoy the social side of life as well.
Look East from central London and the skyline is dominated by a cluster of buildings around Canary Wharf. This is the place that many of the UK’s banking giants call home. One of the largest of those buildings houses 8,000 HSBC staff, and has been its global HQ since 2002. Not for much longer. The bank has announced that by the end of 2026 it hopes to move into a building near St Paul’s that’s half the size of its current premises.
It’s part of a pattern that has accelerated since the pandemic. When coronavirus transformed life overnight in March 2020, a shift away from office-based working was already underway. But there was scepticism; many predicted that employees would spend the day watching TV or playing video games rather than working. Experience however suggested otherwise. Soon managers spied an opportunity to save on office costs and hand back to staff ten, twenty or even more commuting hours, plus the expense this involved.
I’m one of many who doesn’t miss spending time in the car or on the train repeating the same journey every day like another turn on the hamster wheel. But there are things I’m keen to hang on to. Foremost amongst these is the chance to hang out with colleagues who, over the months and years, have become friends.
For me this was especially important. I joined Dootrix in April 2021, just over a year into the pandemic. People had only just started to get their second vaccine doses, lots hadn’t yet had their first. Work-from-home was still the default for millions of people.
When you join a new organisation you want to get to know your colleagues and build a good rapport with them. My manager encouraged me to go on Slack, the internal messaging system we use, and introduce myself. We have social Slack channels as well as work ones, plus there are chats for different hobbies like video games, movies, sport and so on. It was good to have non-work conversations about the things we had in common. It felt a bit more like a traditional workplace, so that certainly helped.
But, at the time I joined there were about 30 people at Dootrix. Now we’re almost double that and I can see that, as we continue to grow, Slack may not be enough to help new people feel at home.
So, increasingly, as the pandemic eased the Slack channels broke out into more in-person social activities. About two-thirds to three-quarters of us are based down south, many of us within striking distance of our office near Fareham in Hampshire. Most of the rest can get to our northern office in Manchester. So a lot of the time in-person meetups break down into two groups. However we do our best to work around this.
Quite a lot of us are into sport and outdoor activities. If you’re sitting down, working with very abstract things all day, using your brain rather than your brawn, it’s great to get in touch with your physical self – it balances things out.
Last year about ten of us did the three peaks: Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon. We didn’t do the three peaks challenge, which involves climbing all three in 24 hours because, while we’re a bit crazy, we’re not that crazy. But we did them on consecutive days.
This year we’re going to go to the Lake District. We’ll do a long hike one day and a long bike ride another. Dootrix is really good about this sort of thing. It pays for the transport, hotels, activities, everything.
Obviously not everyone wants to hike up a mountain. There are plenty of other things we do: six-a-side football, rock climbing, summer barbecues, the Christmas classics. There’s a club for people interested in culture. We go and see films together. This month we’re going to go to the cinema to watch Oppenheimer. Often we’ll tie an activity together with lunch, which the company also pays for.
There are also other small gestures like sending Easter eggs to people, and we’re looking into things like remote coffee mornings where we have a coffee and a pastry delivered to the team. It all helps build that greater sense of connection.
It’s also worth pointing out that some people just enjoy their own company. There’s absolutely no pressure to get involved. It’s just something we do if we feel like it.
If I see a trend here, it’s that forward-thinking organisations – and Dootrix is definitely forward thinking – are taking some of the money they save by renting smaller premises, or none at all, and are spending it on other means of team building.
For some companies that will mean the corporate-team-building-days approach. For others it’ll mean that when colleagues get together in person, as often as not, it’ll be to have fun. That can create a really strong sense of belonging – and if people feel they belong they tend to stick around. It’s good for organisations and it’s good for their people. What’s not to like?