Building a new normal?

On what lies ahead and the things we’ve learned

I was pretty upset on Sunday afternoon when the restaurant downstairs had a loud band playing for several hours on end, right across the street from my apartment. While it eventually stopped before midnight, it took me even longer to clock that this wasn’t just some open mic or grand reopening party: on June 21st, 120 countries around the world celebrate Music Day. Confinement habits had messed up with my habits so thoroughly that I had entirely forgotten about a festival that originated in my own country and that’s always marked the start of summer.

Music Day in Paris. Agence France-Presse (2020)¹

In the city of light, the celebration didn’t really mesh well with social distancing. I would argue that this speaks as much to our optimism as to our eagerness to get back to normal. However, when it comes to work, how do we define the new normal?

The French government is pretty quick on the uptake when it comes to getting people back to work, which depending on your point of view can be a good thing. According to our co-founder Benjamin, who has continued to commute to a largely deserted office building throughout confinement, it’s great! He’s been missing the human touch. Well, not touch, but you get it. The “human element”. A bunch of our team members have been catching cabin fever over the course of the last few weeks, and therefore, they’re pretty happy to be seeing other human beings as well.

And as we’re getting ready to reopen and adapting the office for the present, we have to adapt the very notion of office for the future.

Adapting for the present

Of course, we are following official guidelines, even as these keep shifting. Hydroalcoholic gel, like spice, must flow. Social distancing has to be enforced, although France reduced the boundary size to 1 square meter per person, making this criteria largely a non factor, unless your workspace happens to be a busy subway line. Finally, all common areas in the building are already handled by the incubator we’re part of, so really, we’re pretty much ready to just roll up and wash our hands a bunch.

Now that’s for the solid part of being in an office, which is only half of what we consider the Darewise experience: that is, not just being physically present, but feeling connected to a group with a larger purpose. We’ve talked in our previous article about how we’re working very hard to keep things casual — or rather, to keep the casual things part of the work culture, when what work means and where work happens are topics that in themselves keep fluctuating.

I’m happy to say that the Dungeons & Darewise adventuring party is still going strong, crawling its way through a dungeon or something (actually, I’ve been told they’re stuck in a groundhog day scenario because of a trickster god). Likewise, Nasty Food Friday is still very much a thing, although it’s difficult to yearn for melted cheese when the temperature outside is cresting 30 degrees Celsius at 11AM.

The one thing we’ll be adapting for the future is the way we handle remote apéros: with part of the team telecommuting and part of the team physically present, we’ll have to find a way to make it work, with a dozen or more people on the one side of a screen, and a bunch of other attendees just faces on a screen. It won’t be easy, but I’m sure chilled summer wines will help. In time, who knows? In time, this might become one of our coolest rituals.

Adapting for the future

Nonetheless, we have to look ahead and start planning what will define, not in the weeks, but in the months ahead, the corporate life at Darewise. Thanks to our remote-friendly policy, our team can now work scattered on the continent, and the number of people joining the team remotely is likely to only increase from here on out.

To ensure we still get to form real bonds among colleagues, we’re setting up a mandated office presence, a couple of days a month, which I’ll call the Dare Days because this is the kind of executive decision you can make when you’re writing corporate blogs yourself. These on-site days will be the occasion for us to host any meetings that require actual face-to-face presence,and in the evenings, we’ll get to check out a new restaurant every time, Paris has no shortage of awesome places.

Every quarter, one of these will turn into a full off-site session, for corporate shenanigans like the one you can see below, over several days. The first one is likely to happen in France, but if we’re lucky, the next one could be elsewhere in Europe. Nothing quite like a bit of travel to build great memories together, right?

Your company’s current path may be different, but the road ahead is doubtlessly somewhat similar for all of us:

  1. Follow the government guidelines set by your country for deconfinement. Make sure to talk to the building supervisors of your office space and cleaning staff to ensure that the rules are followed.
  2. Be flexible in your processes: they need to work for remote teammates as well as onsite ones.
  3. Make processes that can scale with your company and its needs.
  4. Plan for social events with online and offline options so your teammates can join you from anywhere. Don’t stop doing social events online just because you can now meet in person, there will still be colleagues who want to join in the fun from the comfort of their home.
  5. Plan ahead cautiously. Keep a wider timeline for things such as moving to a new office space and offsite get-togethers and have realistic contingency plans in place.

This is a short summary of what we’ve been doing to prepare for the months ahead. We’ll keep adapting our processes and solidifying our team’s interactions as we move forward. And if as some fear, the confinement comes back this autumn? We’ve survived it once. We’ll be ready.

[1]Agence France-Presse[@afpfr](2020, June 21). [A la une à 21h] — Des milliers de Français profitent de la #FeteDeLaMusique pour se rassembler et danser dans les rues. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/afpfr/status/1274779261145145346

We are developing Life Beyond, an interactive and socially-connected experience that goes beyond entertainment.