by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE
Pandemic in Dublin
Deserted streets. #WFH. Skies free from planes. Weather. “Modern Family”. Zoom calls. Neighbourhood walks. Entire families on bicycles. Where the Crawdads sing. Bird song. Coffee lines. Webinars. Sourdough bread. “The Americans”. Quizzes on Zoom.
That’s my random list of memories from lockdown and, strangely, I have a feeling that as time elapses, those memories will evolve too. I’ll probably remember 2020 and 2021 with nostalgic fondness, a bit, perhaps, like my late Mother and how she used to recall the splendid isolation of the war years in neutral Ireland.
As we take tentative steps out of lockdown here in Dublin, some aspects of life are returning to the way they were before. Traffic on the Templeogue Road into Terenure Village is back to near normal. The shops are open again and while, sadly, there have been some pandemic casualties, new shops and businesses are opening too. Sports have resumed in Bushy Park, (but not ParkRun), people have brand new hairdos and a summer pep in their steps.
Official advice regarding commuting, however, is to continue to work from home unless it’s essential for you to be in a physical workplace. And, of course, after 16 months away from the office many of us have developed new work rhythms and habits amidst the ongoing challenges of domestic / family obligations.
New ways of working
Given the seismic upheaval to life and work as we previously knew them, the research boffins are having a field day and there’s already a plethora of studies around attitudes to work. From the studies I’ve seen, there is a broad consensus around the idea that this is indeed an inflection point, a before /after moment, and that obligatory 9 to 5 attendance at dedicated corporate offices is now gone the way of the Dodo, the fax machine and belief that Arsenal can ever again win the premiership.
Last May 2020, early in the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported how Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was planning a re-configuration of operations to enable 50% of Facebook’s employees to work from home over the next 10 years. Other tech companies, notably Twitter, quickly followed suit, offering #WFH privileges “forever”. A full year later HBR had a long form article laying out a step by step roadmap on “How to do Hybrid right” written by Lynda Gratton, a professor at London Business School and leader at the Future of Work Consortium.
New opportunities for Incentive Travel Professionals
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on the topic, however, really captured my attention for it linked new workplace practices with incentive travel, clearly opening up new horizons of opportunity for our industry. Headlined “Tech Startups Ditch the Office for Far-Flung Bonding Trips”, Heather Somerville’s article (16 June 2021) lays out its stall unambiguously: Tech startups have a new pitch for employees: write code from home, and join colleagues a few times a year on a beach in Panama or ranch in Montana.
Somerville shares how a business-software company, People.ai Inc., surrendered the lease on its headquarters in San Francisco, closed most of its satellite offices and abandoned plans for an office in London to go permanently remote during the pandemic. The owner is now taking most of his 2019 real-estate lease budget and investing it in employee benefits, including one trip for the full staff of more than 200, and four trips that employees will take in smaller teams. The company owner, Oleg Rogynskyy, a Dean’s list graduate of Boston University, is taking this action so as to retain his team, boost employee morale and foster connections.
Now doesn’t that have a familiar ring to it?
Somerville’s WSJ article also references Phil Libin, CEO of All Turtles Corp., a startup incubator that launches new tech products. Lubin is bringing close to 150 people to Memphis in October for “bourbon, BBQ and Graceland”. Having closed offices in Paris, Tokyo and SFO, Lubin now plans to bring his team together – real people, real places, real time – twice a year. Ian White, CEO of ChartHop Inc, a human-resources software provider, is organising “an adult version of summer camp” in the Poconos for his 70 strong team. “I would rather take the money that we could have spent on a bunch of puffy chairs and a ping-pong table and spend that on an experience that people will remember,” he said. Building and sharing memories.
Now doesn’t that have a familiar ring to it too?
The WSJ article also highlights some of the predictable downsides of such company activities – over-indulgent imbibing, over-enthusiastic socialising and the fact that such trips can be family unfriendly. But, as professional organisers of incentive travel experiences, we know that all such downsides can be eliminated by great program design, meticulous planning and diligent execution.
Seems to me that these start-ups have spontaneously happened upon something that we, as an industry, have been banging on about for decades: shared travel experiences can be transformative for workplaces.
Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, venues, hotels, agencies and associations on strategy, marketing and training. He also serves as Chief Marketing Officer at Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE)