“Meet me in my office.”

A picture of Lori-Ann

Boxbrite Technologies is a relationship-based solar tech company that has typically relied on close trusted relationships, often meeting in person with clients. We also use Agile methodology, which emphasizes the importance of face-to-face communications and trusted relationships.

In my last article, I wrote about refactoring the workplace, and how Boxbrite moved permanently to home-centred offices. That has changed the language we use around meeting up with each other.

Meet me in my office. Can I drop into your office?

The office is a click away.

Leon Kehl, executive leader for Boxbrite, says the pandemic has really hit home the importance of decentralized workspaces.

“Individual offices in corporate buildings have constantly shrunk over the years, because of cost and efficiency requirements; they’re smaller, they’re de-personalized,” Kehl says. “Our home offices are still physical spaces, but anyone can join us in our office instantly and we don’t need extra chairs if someone else wants to join in. I have an extra chair in my office, but it hasn’t been used in months.”

Being virtual doesn’t mean that important teambuilding conversations aren’t happening. Frequent and open communication is key to working successfully from home-centred offices. It’s a click away to check in, or to clarify a question or new project parameters, or to answer a question asked in an email.

This remote work survey found three-quarters of respondents already communicate with co-workers on their team several times per day, and 33 per cent talk to co-workers outside of their team multiple times per day. Seventy-eight per cent have regular check-ins with their manager and 75% check in regularly with their teams.

The survey also found that praise has more impact when it’s given regularly, and in the moment – during your Google Meet, through the chat apps your company uses, or by email or text. At Boxbrite, it often happens during Friday tea break. This is when the whole team gets updates on business partnerships, celebrates exciting news for team members or plays online games together.

Here are a few expectations we have of each other as we work remotely:

1.      We celebrate each other: While our celebrations often happen during tea break, they also happen in our team room on Gmail. In our culturally diverse team, there are always holidays to recognize, visas to be cheered, the arrival of loved ones after a lengthy immigration process. And there are informal postings of memes, pictures of pets, and discussions about things we’ve seen in industry news or elsewhere. Like the one we’re having about company-mandated time off, thanks to this article in AltEnergyMag.

2.      It’s okay to bring your emoticons – and your emotions – to work: Perhaps you’ve found that you’re using emoticons much more often in your work emails. We use them with our teammates, in just about every interaction. Emoticons are just symbols of what we’re really feeling, right? We are genuine with each other. The level of vulnerability and trust is special, and we can be more authentic and genuine in interactions. And surely, the stresses of the pandemic have made all of us feel like crying at some point. It’s possible that tears flow easier because the connection is virtual, and because we’re in a home-centred office. It’s safer. “Tears signal the power of the connection,” Kehl says. “The humbling feeling of a team member breaking down in tears face just as intense virtually as in person.”

3.      Our cameras are on for our meetings: I haven’t met some of my teammates face to face, in person, so having the camera on helps me read their faces in a meeting or create a visual connection that makes it easier to have a conversation outside of the formal channels.

4.      Interruptions are okay: How many times in a day have your kids insisted on asking a question while you’re in the middle of a meeting? Or the cat has jumped up on your lap? Or a package is delivered to your door? It happens. That’s the nature of working in a home-centred office. If we worked in a corporate office, the interruptions would be different – a coworker asks a question on the way past your desk, or your teammates animatedly decide where to go for lunch, the door opens and closes a hundred times – but possibly less tolerated.

How does this approach work with customers? Kehl says, for him, the days are past when hopping on a plane or into a car to meet a customer is the norm. Post-pandemic, Boxbrite will still be 100 per cent virtual, unless there is a reason not to be, says Kehl.

“Why do we need to meet in a physical space in a building? It causes emissions, sucks up time in travel, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the result you’re looking for,” he says. “We meet in each other’s offices all the time. If you want to meet us, you’ll need to meet us in our office space or in yours, but it will have to be virtually.”

Yes, the pandemic has put a lot of companies in this position, but how many are rethinking why they need to go back into a physical building to do their work in cubicles on floor after corporate floor?

As a company that embraces the concept of Agile methodology, it could be seen as a challenge or drawback to insist on virtual meetings with customers. Being Agile means valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Does that always mean face-to-face, across a table, in an office, in a building, though?

Rachel Cavallo reinforces in this article the idea that it isn’t the handshakes and business lunches that create the best customer relationships; it’s trust and added value. And a change in your approach.

“Boxbrite has always succeeded by building trusted relationships and using previous experience to find new opportunities to create solutions for customers. We don’t rely on a sales organization to try to push a pre-existing product,” says Kehl. “That doesn’t change, just because you’re not in the same physical room as a potential customer.”