We have always been a productive and fun bunch, from the times of working in-office together every day, to the Zoom days at the height of the pandemic, to now – in a hybrid, flexible world. After some trial and not necessarily error, but several iterations, we figured out something that works for all of us: we are all in the office as a team on two designated days each month.

Prior to COVID, most of us had never even heard of Zoom or had video meetings, but luckily the technology existed for when we needed to use it. We had actually been using Zoom for a few months leading up to the shutdown, as we were working with branding partners in California. For those of us who weren’t in healthcare, grocery/essential retail sector, or other necessary in-person services, we were now thrown into a new world of working from home. We got used to having no commute, spending less gas money, paying less tolls, enduring less travel stress, and creating a new fashion of half professional, half loungewear. You could get up by 8am, grab coffee in your own kitchen by 8:15am, and be on your Zoom meeting promptly by 8:30am while wearing fuzzy slippers with your dog curled up next to you. It wasn’t this blissful for everyone. Some had to balance virtual learning for their kids while trying to run presentations and others felt the silence of their homes to be isolating. It was a time of adjustment, change, and uncertainty for everyone.

The Grunin Foundation team was in the office every day before the pandemic began. While each of our roles required different levels of being on site – some were in the office all day, some were on the road, some were in-and-out depending on meetings – the office was “home base” and for the most part, we worked as a team in the same physical space. As the pandemic was getting closer to New Jersey, we were given the option to work from home if we felt safer doing so. Before we could make that choice on our own, the world was shut down for us. We took with us what we needed from the office and planned on working from home for the then-designated two weeks. Two weeks turned into two months, then six months, then a year.

We started the pandemic work-from-home days with Zoom meetings every day. The majority of these meetings consisted of us checking on each other. While mental health and wellbeing are crucial always, it was clear that at this time it was more important than ever. We talked a lot about what Netflix shows we were binging. Some of us didn’t have Netflix yet but ended up subscribing because of our meetings – you’re welcome, Netflix. We shared stories about how we were keeping busy at home, how many miles we walked outside, what grocery stores had online pickup times available, new recipes we were trying – basically just trying to keep our minds as calm as we could. Oh, and we also got a lot of work done. While mental health was extra critical during these days, so was service to the community and we did whatever we could to support the nonprofits who were on the frontlines throughout the pandemic.

After a year and a half, it was time to come back to the office in some sort of fashion. Could we work virtually? Yes. Could we have meetings virtually? Yup. Could we collaborate on projects virtually? While sometimes a challenge, still yes. Working from home was going quite well for some of us and we didn’t want to give up that opportunity completely. With all of the pros and cons of virtual work and the consideration of what was best for each team member, we decided on a hybrid return to the office.

We were physically in the office on Mondays and Thursdays (these were just sort of picked at random) and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we could work from home, come to the office if we wanted, work from a coffee shop…as long as we had a phone, wi-fi, and our laptops, we could make our choice. In addition to these two days a week, we had scheduled weekly check-ins with the full team (virtual or in-person depending on the day of the week), and each team member had one-on-one, bi-weekly Zoom meetings with Heather. We did the two in-office days a week for about two years until we realized that we were coming to the office just to be in the building together but working separately. We’d all be in different rooms, on different Zooms, at different meetings – we were technically together, but we weren’t working collaboratively. We also knew that we weren’t making the best use of our time or our commutes - some of us are way more than a hop, skip, and a jump away.

After some suggestions and discussion, we decided to have two designated days a month, planned well in advance, when we could all work together around the same table from 10am to 2pm. And in complete transparency, Heather wasn’t too sure about it. She is always fully supportive of each team member’s thoughts and needs but wasn’t fully sold on two days a month together being sufficient. While reluctant, she still agreed to give it a try. We’ve been doing this for several months and not only has it been more productive, but we’re also (still) having fun. Heather creates the bones of an agenda for our meetings, but we all collaboratively contribute our own talking points, concerns, questions, and anything we’d like to discuss as a team. You’re likely to hear singing and laughing at the start of our days together which sets the tone for the rest of our in-office time. One we get that out of our systems (who are we kidding, we sing and laugh a lot), each team member gives updates on their respective “departments” (executive updates, communications, operations, programs, etc.). We discuss any meetings and events we’ve attended, review upcoming events that we are hosting, and anything else important we’ve worked on since our last meeting together. We then jump into collaborative projects and end with reviewing action items and responsibilities for our next check-in.

Having set days has made it much easier for us to have complete focus in the moment on ourselves, each other, and the work we have ahead of us. While we no longer have the scheduled weekly check-ins, we still do the bi-weekly Zooms with Heather as well as “4X4” quarterly check-ins and are usually on the phone with each other once a day at the minimum, even if just to say hello.

While our two days a month are planned and scheduled, the rest of the days are flexible – this means as long as we are getting the work done and are available to respond to emails and phone calls during certain hours each day, we can work where we are most comfortable and most efficient. We are also still using our office spaces for meetings, other collaborations, and independently as we need. Not only does this allow for us to maximize our time together, it empowers us to personally design our days and do what works best, feels best, and makes us happiest. We are thriving as employees, coworkers, and a team, but also as individuals in our own unique lives. And even though Heather had some reservations in the beginning, she is loving it, too. While we’ve always enjoyed working with each other, we are feeling extra grateful and enthusiastic to show up to the office.

Have you tried a new model of work post-pandemic? How has it worked for your organization? What are the challenges you are facing?