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This post was written by Jen Grant, first time CEO of Appify.

It’s been one heck of a year. Weeks, months, and now more than a year has gone by as I got to know my team, hired people, built a culture, grew the company, and even raised money — all virtually. Zoom was the daily window into our jobs, with dogs, kids, and cats melting into our work lives until we almost weren’t sure when we’re working and when we’re not.

So what happens when we finally get to go back to the office?

I’m thinking about that a lot these days because, at Appify, we’ve decided to open up the office again. I get a little giddy thinking about it. Excited. Nervous. The opportunity to be around people feels like such a luxury. But there is a lot to consider.

The ultimate culture shift

How do you go from a culture of disconnection: of zoom meetings, bunny slippers, and dogs barking, back to brainstorms at a white board, walks for coffee, and actual face-to-face discussions? It may seem easy in theory, but the few times I’ve had the opportunity to do it, it actually felt awkward. I worry I won’t remember how to interact with people anymore – like supersized imposter syndrome. Should we hug? Shake hands? We’ve all had different experiences, so how do we make sure we’re inclusive and understanding of how everyone is feeling?

It’s not an easy question to answer.

When I began to pull together the back-to-work plan for Appify, I had all these worries rolling around in my head. But the team has been clear. They want to see each other again. So here we go.

Hybrid, in-office or remote?

Hybrid, In-office or remote — It’s a question many companies have been asking themselves. But this one was easier to answer for us. While we will certainly have remote employees, being in a start-up is all about the people, the fun, and the energy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last year, it is very hard to experience those fun casual work friendships only over video. We’ve got to get back together IRL (In Real Life).

But we’re not the same people we were before. We’ve all been through a lot. Some have lost friends and family. Some have struggled helping kids through mental health challenges and online school. We’ve also experienced some of the advantages of working remotely. It’s easier to handle family commitments and nice to have our pets around for comfort. And, for many people, it was more productive and easier to focus without the interruption of office chit-chat.

This is why the Hybrid approach made the most sense for us. You can organize your days in the office around brainstorms, connecting, and hard conversations, while your at-home days can be the time to put on the headphones and just GSD (Get Stuff Done). It meets both the needs of our employees and the needs of the company and the team.

Home, but not home

Once it was clear that hybrid would be the most likely mode that employees would pick, I focused on what I thought would have the biggest impact. The office itself. We’ve been in our homes for so long, our Appify office must feel comfortable and safe. But it also should encourage brainstorms, collaboration, chit-chat between desks, and celebrating together. Because that is what is missing from home. We need an open office, with room to move around, and comfy corners for side conversations or unscheduled one-on-ones. We need to get to know each other – some of us for the first time – and everything about the office should encourage that togetherness.

But, in a hybrid mode, not everyone is here every day. We have days where some teams are in the office and some are not. So how do we manage desks? In the ‘time before’ everyone had their desk where they went every day to work. You got to know the people around you and maybe when you went for coffee you chatted with other folks. So having assigned desks doesn’t really encourage the kind of collaboration, connections, and facetime that we need from the office. With a hybrid model, things should feel more fluid. We have to rethink what used to be normal and reinvent the office.

The no-code company with no-desks

So that’s what we did. Instead of assigned desks, everyone has a cubby where they can leave whatever they want in the office. We’re also creating coasters with people’s names and pictures so they could use these to claim a desk in the morning. And, as a bonus, we’re using the coasters to get to know one another better. Pictures of employees doing things they love or with their family or with their pets are around the office ready to inspire a conversation and help everyone connect.

Not on mute anymore

Meetings are very different now. Some people are online and some are together. Back before the pandemic, being remote was hard. You often had trouble sharing your thoughts or even having anyone hear you. But in a hybrid environment it’s likely that there will be someone remote in almost every meeting.

Meeting culture needs to change to accommodate this new reality. And, to be honest, it really should change anyway. We’ve been thinking about the technology, having everyone be on the Zoom video even though some are in person and some are not. That levels the playing field for the remote people so that they can also see facial expressions and the people that are contributing. And we’re starting to try to adjust our brainstorm sessions so that at the beginning of the meeting everyone has a chance to write down their thoughts to share back. Hopefully that can avoid the power dynamic of the loudest person always getting their point across and the quieter folks unable to get a word in edgewise. It’s an interesting balance, but I think it’s a change we needed regardless of the hybrid approach.

The elephant in the room

Vaccinations. Do we require them? Yes. We discussed how to handle this and in the end the answer was clear. Yes you need to be vaccinated to be in the office. Because in a work environment, it’s not about the individual needs, it’s about the team. Many people have families with kids that are still too young to get vaccinated and having unvaccinated people in the office would put the community at risk. Even if it was a very low risk, it’s still risk. Luckily, our team is small enough that this didn’t become an issue. Everyone understands the importance of our community which extends out to our families and friends.

So what happened?

Well it’s been a week! But so far, it’s been amazing. Listening to our Sales Reps on calls, our Customer Success managers working with customers, and pulling together around product discussions.

Jen Grant is the first time CEO of Appify, a no-code mobile application platform.

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