Reflections from Sabrina Skelly’s bedside office

2020 split whatever notion we may have had of “business as usual” wide open. It sent many of us spiraling into makeshift office spaces with nothing more than a laptop, charger, and false sense that we would be back to the office in a couple of weeks. Weeks passed. Cases of COVID-19 continued rising. Another month. Office parties and in-person events were cleared from our schedules.

Before we knew it, virtual team meetings and industry webinars were flooding our calendars, and words like “new normal” and “unprecedented” were autopiloting their way into our conversations. As the days of logging into work from a couch, beanbag, or stool—from whatever seat was relegated to our “home office”—blurred together and more companies suspended their plans to resume in-person work indefinitely, the prospect of returning to “business as usual” seemed not only futile but foreign—a faint memory of some far-off place.

From Cubicle to Makeshift Office

We have now grown accustomed to the meetings marked by a toddler singing the alphabet in the background or the Slack posts of four-legged office mates barricading a keyboard. Meetings open with chatter about the motivational quote tacked to the wall of one coworker’s workspace, the abandoned DIY project looming in the background of another’s. For better or worse, we can now divide those in the office who color-code their home bookshelves from those who abide by the Dewey decimal system from the not-so-surprising number of our co-workers who reserve shelf space solely for Stars Wars collectibles.

Rather than reporting to a permanent office space, we pulled our offices into new contexts, often unveiling aspects of our lives we may have otherwise left at home. When the curtain dropped, we caught glimpses of different lifestyles and personal preferences, but we also laid bare the pressures and demands existing outside the nine-to-five.

This is not to say there is no place for authenticity in a traditional office space. If you look close enough, there are signs of it everywhere. The pictures framed on a desk, the scribbles taped proudly to a cubicle—these objects invite our colleagues to consider us in other contexts and connect parent to parent, cat dad to dog mom. It is not that pre-pandemic work culture intentionally flattened us into one-dimensional workers either—ice breakers, company outings, happy hours, and holiday parties would all suggest the opposite. The difference in office buildings today is that the desire for employees to see and be seen as complex, multi-dimensional people is no longer contained to a picture frame on a desk. Nor should it be.

The pandemic demolished the boundaries between home and office and, in the process, cracked into something rawer and more real—a space necessitating a little humor, a lot of patience, and, above all, recognition of one another’s personhood. After nearly two years of working out of these deeply personal and, at times, maddening spaces, Opinion Dynamics is examining how to renegotiate those boundaries without plastering over that crack entirely.

Getting Back to “The Office”

In the last two years, our employees have certainly proven they can take care of business from home. But as a company continuously striving to promote a supportive and adaptive workspace, we are getting down to the bottom of a question on the minds of so many other companies: where do we go from here? How do we honor that urge to connect and understand one another more authentically without isolating those who may prefer aspects of a more traditional office space?

It would be easy to draft a roadmap if all employees walked away from the last two years with the same set of concerns, lessons, and reflections. Clearly, this was not the case. The abrupt shift to working from home left some feeling overwhelmed, distracted, and alienated. Others renewed, refocused, and balanced. Most landed somewhere in between.

The pandemic unveiled significant trade-offs between what is and what no longer can be “the office.” The privacy, security, and community afforded by a collective office space now contends with the flexibility, authenticity, and renewed agency promised by a remote work position. While the advantages and disadvantages of either side have left employers scratching their heads and wondering whether working in brick-and-mortar offices should be mandatory, working from home should be the “new normal,” or the hybrid model is the way to go, Opinion Dynamics is taking a more concrete approach. We’ve gone back to our roots to answer this question effectively.

Introducing Our New “Dynamic Workplace”

Opinion Dynamics is applying our research and survey methods internally to redefine what “together” and “connecting” look like after spending 20-plus months in a virtual work setting. Based on the feedback, past performance, and vaccination status of our employees, our business leaders have drafted a preliminary set of guidelines for work moving forward and put them to the test. What else would you expect from a group of meticulous researchers abruptly enrolled in a two-year long experiment?

Now just three months underway, Opinion Dynamics’ first ever hybrid model gives employees the option to go fully remote, resume in-person work full-time, or trial a hybrid schedule. As long as employees communicate their schedules and establish a somewhat regular cadence, they have the freedom to bend their work schedules around other competing demands. If any permanent schedule adjustment is needed, employees are encouraged to connect with their supervisor to update those modifications.

The goal: to build agility into the office and incorporate a wide spectrum of employee preferences without sacrificing the function, reliability, and collaborative spirit of our company.

We are looking for that sweet spot between flexibility and structure, agency and unity, individual predilection and collective culture. We want employees to fit work into their lives more freely, rather than the other way around, and we want to do so in a way that preserves a collaborative and collegial work environment. But what exactly does that mold actually look like?

What’s called the dynamic workplace is setup to accommodate a range of work schedules, from those opting to come in a handful of days each week to those checking in from a remote workspace to those walking through the office doors every morning. In offices with less space, employees limiting their office time to two or fewer days can expect to find “touchdown” areas with all the bones of an office in place, while those going in full-time can rely on a permanent office space.

In the coming months, Opinion Dynamics’ business leaders will continue soliciting input from employees of all levels through surveys, check-ins, and other forums to see if any refinements are needed. If this new dynamic presents any issues, we will do what all good research firms do: pause, reassess, and make any necessary adjustments. The workspace transformation, however, doesn’t stop at shuffling a few desks and office equipment around.

Cutting Across the Static

Connecting with coworkers proves to be challenging in the best of circumstances—particularly when a company spans multiple regions, but especially when its office buildings sit on opposite coastlines. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and it gets even stickier. Although the shutdown of offices presented no shortage of challenges, it also stripped Opinion Dynamics down to our heart and soul: the people.

With lunchroom banter or in-person office events no longer an option, the pandemic created the need and urgency for us to express our appreciation for one another from a distance. What followed was a series of innovations. From hosting virtual baby showers and online game nights to organizing a socially distanced parade outside of two retirees’ home to sending boxes of cupcakes to each employee’s door before a companywide meeting, closing the office doors sparked deep consideration over how we have connected with one another in the past and how we can form even stronger bonds in the future.

A huge part of redefining our “together” is to continue fostering a feeling of connectedness across all environments—whether virtual, in-person, or a mix of both. One strategy to immediately take effect is setting up monthly lunch-ins for those coming into the office and sending coupons to fully remote staff. Another is scheduling meetups or happy hours for individual offices monthly and companywide virtual social hours biannually.

We, at Opinion Dynamics, understand that our company story starts with passionate employees who embrace collaboration and collegiality. If this sounds like you, we invite you to find your next great job story by becoming part of ours and joining our amazing team! Our current career opportunities are available here > job board.  

About the author:

Sabrina Skelly, Document Production and Proposal Associate

Sabrina is one of our amazing marketing staff and creative writer based in Portland, OR who has turned taking bad landscape pictures into an artform that her mom loves. She can be frequently found running along Portland by-ways and thoroughly enjoys the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. She has embraced her creative side not only through writing but channels into her drawings as well.