Episode 46

#046 - Returning to Work

Published on: 22nd June, 2021

Today Igor and Robert discuss dynamics around returning to work and what leaders might expect as we enter this unknown period of change.

Also, we are all taking some time off through July and August and might have a few gaps in our episode releases. Don't worry, we aren't going anywhere! We have lots of great content planned as we head into our second year of podcasting.

Thanks for joining us today and don't forget to hit the subscribe button or reach out at [email protected].


Robert Greiner 0:05

Speaking of mindless entertainment, we're all wrapping up. You, me and Charles are, I think taking some staggering time off. Yeah, Charles is out this week. I'm out in the next week for a couple weeks. And then you're out after that. I think you're in August.

Igor Geyfman 0:20

Yeah. Your right.

Robert Greiner 0:21

So we'll be part of this as a heads up. If you're listening, if you've made it this far, we'll be recording fairly sporadically over the next

six weeks,

Igor Geyfman 0:30

your favorite character maybe missing for a couple episodes,

Robert Greiner 0:33

Igor, that's your favorite character? Is that what you're saying?

Igor Geyfman 0:36

I'm not saying I'm my favorite character.

Robert Greiner 0:39

But I'm saying favorite.

Igor Geyfman 0:40


you're a listener, and you have a favorite character on this show on the wanna grab coffee show, then they might be missing at some point.

Robert Greiner 0:50

We should. Yeah. So are you planning on recording with us while you're on sabbatical? Or are we going to go like eight weeks without you?

Igor Geyfman 0:57

I'm planning on recording occasionally. I'm probably not weekly, but I definitely plan on doing some recordings. I can't go that long without talking to y'all.

Robert Greiner 1:06

Yeah. So we had more promotion boards, interviews, QA sessions this week, and there are people in the Dallas office now. So I was talking to somebody and I was like, are you in our office? Because you only have those like ring lights on the ceiling? And she goes, Yeah, it was crazy. I walked in, and there's all these like Nerf gun darts on the floor. And it was like this very surreal, like post apocalyptic like dystopian. You've seen because everything had been left still for a year and a half. Yeah, dry erase boards and all that good stuff. So she's in there. Helping in the office like setup.

Igor Geyfman 1:41

Oh, I wonder if left food in the fridge and stuff. Somebody must have.

Robert Greiner 1:46

I think somebody went in a few months in and got the food outand stuff. I seem to remember.

Igor Geyfman 1:53

I hope we gave them hazard things

Robert Greiner 1:55

the facilities group. Yeah. Because we had some very strict guidelines at some point. So I don't know. I'd be curious too. But anyway, so maybe we can do a in person recording soon. Back to the office. Yeah, something like that. What was that capacity, there's some tool we're using to contactless locks and access based off of your phone, and then you can reserve a seat. So I think as long as there's a seat to be reserved, and they said of 50 people, which I guess would be 25% of our office,

Igor Geyfman 2:21

you're saying 50 people can be in the office at the same time?

Robert Greiner 2:23

I think that's what they said. And no, I think 50 people can be in an around at the same time in this phase, but there's no expectation of how often or whatever. And that might have been for social gatherings now that I'm thinking about it. Yeah. But when they did say, it's like, Hey, we are keeping up on the news of companies that try to pull people back too fast.

Igor Geyfman 2:45


Robert Greiner 2:45

And there is a recognition that you're usually in one of two camps. It's I never want to come back. And I'm worried about being forced to come back just because I like working remote. And then you have I'm 100% ready to get back, maybe not 100%, right, like 100% of the time. But like, I would come back today, if I could, that kind of thing. And so I think we're trying to navigate those two camps, because there's not a lot of people in the center. If you bucket all the people that say they want to come back in the they don't really mean full time. They mean, two, three days a week.

Igor Geyfman 3:16

Yeah, I don't think anybody has said, I want to be back Monday through Friday, eight to five in the office with everybody. I just don't think there's been a single person that said that.

Robert Greiner 3:27

Yeah. And I don't see a reason like for that to be a blanket rule, unless there's some kind of condition. Like there's probably be an exception, an exceptional case that says we need people here because physical things need moved or whatever. But I think you can get pretty close to full collaboration. A three days a week, probably. Yeah. We'll see how it goes. I'm interested to see, but I'm ready to hang out with y'all. We should grab lunch soon, too.

Igor Geyfman 3:54


Robert Greiner 3:55

Next week or something?

Igor Geyfman 3:56

Yeah, I think I'm gonna start working on some analysis for that, too, on what parts of our work do really well, when we're together in the same space at the same time? And what parts do well, when we're apart at different times, so maybe on one end of the spectrum, being completely virtual and completely synchronous? And on the other end of the spectrum, being in person and synchronous? all the time?

Robert Greiner 4:26

Oh, interesting.

Igor Geyfman 4:26

Makes sense.

Robert Greiner 4:27

I think so yeah. Because it this is going to be almost like you would, it's the same analogy for something on your task management system where you know, don't check your email during the most productive times of your day. Don't do the asynchronous low value, low collaboration stuff. When you're in the office as a group, like you really have to probably be more focused and intentional when in the activities that the group activities you engage in when you're at work because you're going to reduce the number of days of hours that you are together by like half or more, so you really need to be careful about the meetings that you're in and things like that.

Igor Geyfman 5:04

Yeah, and there's like a flow, because I'm just gonna take design, but you can actually apply this to development to actually do both. So let's say that you have to design or develop a new system. And so in the very beginning, you have to do just like a little bit of planning, like just the initial setup. And that's probably something that's best done on your own, and maybe asynchronously, right, and then you want to under sort of collaborate on designing the architecture. And so that's maybe when you come together in person, you work through the broad strokes of the architecture together, making sure that you're incorporating best thinking from everybody on the team incorporating their constraints, and then you take that back. And then there's probably another sort of work on your own designing the architecture, that sort of thing. And then you come back together to work through the finalized architecture and putting sort of finishing touches, and then you start thinking about how you're going to implement that architecture through different components. And once you've got that figured out, and a component needs to be developed, then you know, that's also you go back and use work on your own. So there's like an ebb and flow to this virtual asynchronous mode to non virtual or physical synchronous mode. And if you do the right sort of planning, I think you can work out really well for people.

Robert Greiner 6:27

cting on do you remember when:

Yeah, it unless someone paused and said, hey, what does anyone on the phone, think what are there any questions on the phone, you would just blow right by them, they couldn't hear us in the room, because the speaker technology was not good. They would either have like super booming loud voices, or it would be too quiet, sharing screens was impossible. And we'd even said, when we were doing, so some of our review sessions, and we had people trying to migrate in from client work, when we said you can dial in remotely, everyone was on their camera, everyone was on their own headphones and mic, even if you were in the same room, it was essentially a virtual meeting. That's right. And so that's gonna be tough to sort that hybrid part out, when everyone's in the office together, that's great. But we may not actually be able to do that, we have fewer opportunities to do it in a week, because not everyone is there every day. And then I think we've geographically dispersed a little bit. And so this synchronous group activity is a little bit at risk. And then when you're in the hybrid mode, we didn't do that very effectively, before the pandemic, there's probably more skill and technology and acceptance of it. But that's a problem to solve.

Igor Geyfman 8:36

And we're gonna fall back into old habits where we are like ignoring people calling in rather than their person, right. It's like a, it's a very human part of like physicality, and like being present. And you have to be really intentional watchful for it. And so, if you let your guard down, you're going to get into the mode where you're not going to be mindful and say, Hey, people on the phone, you know, and even probably even using phrase like people on the phone is creating like a weird us in them sort of dynamic. And so I think what we will have to do, is get much better at planning to make sure that for the activities, that highly benefit from being synchronous and being non virtual, that all the team members, so it's not Joe only comes in Thursdays and Tuesdays and whatever. And like, you just have to be like, Hey, we're going to be doing this session here. And this session really requires folks to be together. And so making that clear, and making that known for the team. And then on the other side, just being really flexible for the moments that people don't really need to be there and can be virtual and asynchronous and they need heads downtime, and somebody who is going to spend the day writing code. Let's try an example for that person. If that's all they're doing, For them to spend 30 to 60 minutes in traffic come into an office to an open office where they can get distracted really easily, where their co workers are coming by their desk all the time tapping them on the shoulder and all that sort of stuff. That may not be the ideal environment to do that particular job that day. And but very few of us are in a mode, even our junior folks are in a mode, where all they do is write code every day.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, and there's this theme, I guess it's a meme. Almost what there are people convinced that 100% remote is as or more effective, efficient than being in person. And I think we saw this when there was this adrenaline factor, when everyone went remote productivity was up, people didn't quite have the boundaries in their work life balance, yet, no one was commuting. And everyone knew that was worried people were watching. People were worried about losing their jobs. I think we saw this productivity spike, which was more adrenaline than anything. And I saw this article, there's, what is it $16 trillion, is what the estimate, estimated cost of the COVID pandemic is just in the US, it's hard to imagine some of that drag that or that does not place a significant drag on individual and organizational productivity. And so I'm pretty skeptical that I'm very skeptical that we're better off in a fully remote society, I think there's definitely a Goldilocks, just right size, not 100% on site, not 100% remote, and I think people we're gonna have to figure that out. And that's gonna be, that's gonna be a challenge,

Igor Geyfman:


Robert Greiner:

coming up,

Igor Geyfman:

the companies that do a good job of not just figuring out by putting policies in place, and respecting people and all the things that go along with implementing and executing on that understanding, those are going to be the big winners. And they're going to be the folks that get the lion's share of good talent, because they're going to be addressing people's, you know, actual needs. And I feel like any argument that's one sided, that's Oh, my God, remote forever, I can't believe you're making people go into the office at all. Or, on the other side, no, you must be in the office and Monday through Friday, during these hours as a team all the time, both of those modes are going to lose.

Robert Greiner:

That's right. That's 100%. And typically, a black and white kind of view, a binary view of a decision point is not a winning argument.

Igor Geyfman:

And I think for us, as a company, we're highly collaborative, we're very high touch with our colleagues, we're very high touch with our clients. And even when we had full flexibility, full sort of flexibility to work anywhere, we still would flex different modalities, right of being remote or not being remote. And so now, I think it's just a little bit more accepted, especially I think, on the client side, that, Hey, y'all have been working for us for a year and a half remotely, and you've been doing a really great job. And 100% remote is not the right answer. But there's goodness about being remote. And so I think a lot of our clients are going to be much more understanding about flexing those hours, virtually either being in the office or not being in the office, or maybe time shifting. But that was, that was always a big deal. For me, if I didn't want to be stuck in traffic, I would always try to talk to my client or my manager and ask them to time shift. So I could come in either much earlier and leave earlier or I could come in later and leave later. But I wouldn't, I wouldn't have to sit in traffic, because that was a big deal for me for whatever. And some clients were very flexible on that. And some clients were like, No, we really expect you to be here during these hours. And sorry, you're just gonna sit in traffic. So I think we're gonna get less of those sort of hard requirements, where people aren't able to shift their time as they see fit.

Robert Greiner:

And so I think what we're saying here, one is, no matter what your role is, if you're listening by now you should know or have a very rough guess, a strong hypothesis on what your company's returned to work policy is and how your situation fits into that. And if there's not alignment that's got to be navigated. Otherwise, you're gonna run out of runway, and maybe have to make a drastic decision

one way or another. So

Igor Geyfman:

you should start talking to your manager now.

Robert Greiner:

That's right.

Igor Geyfman:

Don't wait for them to bring it up. Just have a conversation and talk about what parts require synchronicity and what parts are okay to be virtual in asynchronous and different modalities of work and benefits and costs. And because the more your manager understands your point of view and the point of view of all the other team members, the more they can empathize with you and design a scheme that won't be perfect for everyone but will address the vast majority of people's needs for different modes.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, and it is does sound a little counterintuitive, certainly a little bit vulnerable. The more context you can share about your situation, the better. Sometimes we would say playing your cards close to your vest is a good idea. Igor, you and I've seen this before, where if someone comes up to you and says, Hey, I need to take three weeks off starting tomorrow, you might say, that's not really going to work on what's going on here. Why don't you tell me about this earlier? Why? What's so important? And you get nothing back, or I just want to that it's hard to work with that. But if someone comes and says, had this family emergency, you don't even have to be specific,

Igor Geyfman:


Robert Greiner:

And I need to take some time off,

Igor Geyfman:

maybe even better to not be highly specific.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, that's right. That's right, then you share that little bit of extra context, and you get a lot more grace coming back. And so I think if you have a unique situation, or your situation does not align with your company's expectations, that's probably okay. But you got to work through that. And the earlier the better, because the longer you wait, the more of a knee jerk reaction it's going to be when you bring it up. And then the other thing I'd say is, if you're in a leadership position, you're running a team and organization, whatever maximum flexibility for your team is the right call here, we don't know how people are going to react, opening the floodgates really never makes sense. The more you can wait and see the more time you can buy to gather information and make adjustments and tweaks the better off you're going to be. And it's going to be Igor, you said, people are going to revert back to what they were doing before the pandemic, I think you're right, it's also been a year and a half. So we have to learn to work again, in another new environment. Like this is pretty, pretty high churn high volatility when you go fully on site to fully remote to some hybrid thing that we haven't figured out yet. So the more flexible you can be with your team, the better I for sure, for the rest of my team,

Igor Geyfman:

there's gonna be a big adjustment period that people aren't expecting coming back to the office, we probably can't we meaning Me and you, Robert, it's been a while, right, like we graduated school like 15 years ago. And so we've probably forgotten how it was to start our first job at our first office or whatever, right after school, but a lot of sort of our age and older and a little bit younger and in position are going to have to almost relive that, because we've over the last year and a half have gotten used to not smelling other people's and not being interrupted depends, but definitely not being interrupted by a co workers, we might be interrupted by our loved ones, or roommates, or whatever, but it just feels different. And people are gonna have to really get used to working in an office again. And like, I don't think it'll be quite as putting on an old glove that fits really well.

Robert Greiner:

Oh, for sure. And I know for a fact, like, I'm gonna miss my kids like crazy. They've interrupted me probably 12 times today. And my son, he got some new shoes like I hadn't, I pulled the the box out of the Amazon packaging, but I hadn't showed it to me, I just cut him off. And he ran in and said, Hey, time me to run around the house. And so we were racing around the house, and then Amelia put her shoes on. And we we made this little race game up. And all that took seven minutes at max, like it was not a super invasive interruption, but it was fun. And that kind of stuff happens all the time. And there's gonna come a day soon, where that's not gonna happen anymore.

And that's gonna be a bummer. I

Igor Geyfman:

t's gonna be Igor, interrupting you 12 times during the day and you get frustrated.

Robert Greiner:

We all hopped up on caffeine. Yeah. So yeah, I'm going to be pretty bummed out that first. I don't know how long that's going to take to adjust. I'm thinking at least six weeks.

Igor Geyfman:


the thing is, with higher levels of flexibility with a hybrid approach, I don't think anyone's going to ask you to give that up. 100 Plus, there's going to be

Robert Greiner:

They're going to be in school.

Igor Geyfman:

Oh, yeah, there's some time. Yeah, I see. Sure.

Robert Greiner:

So I'll just be home, by myself, and then Diane, and I will probably be on opposite days, if I can think that far ahead. So we can be here, I think essentially, it's going to be whoever's home has, is responsible for collecting the kids got and so we'll switch off every day. And so it'll go from a chaotic house of four and all this activity to dealing with rush hour, two to three days a week, going on, on site, readjusting and then being solo, during the day, it's gonna be a lot of change in a really compressed amount of time. So that's why I'm saying the more flexibility that you can offer your team, the better you're going to be long term,

Igor Geyfman:

have patience, more patience that you might even normally have. Give people more grace, because you can see that's a lot of change, and it's coming all at the same time. And I think that's, to me, that's the best thing you can do as a leader in this situation is to exercise compassion and patience and empathy and work with people to because that you know that I talked about this all the time. It's the relationship that matters, the trusted relationship that you build with the people that you work with, that's what really matters. And in a high stress situation, of coming back to work, a lot of stuff changing, and you're not giving people grace or empathy or whatever. It can really disrupt a lot of trust. And maybe all the time that you spend building up trust can evaporate very quickly just through a few poorly executed interactions, especially during a high stress time.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, when the half life of trust is much shorter during these times anyway, it's decaying much more rapidly than we're used to. And then again, you're going through this other change. And just like you said, you could really one or two inaccurate moves, and all of a sudden, you've eroded a little trust you had left. So this is a risky time, it's a red zone time, right? actions matter actions have outsized impacts during this time over the next four or five months, for sure.

Igor Geyfman:

I don't think it's a command and control time period. Right now

Robert Greiner:


can try. Yeah, good luck. Good luck, if

that's your approach,

Igor Geyfman:

I think maybe in the beginning of the pandemic, that was the right mode to go into, because that can show that can make people feel safe during that sort of time. That way, they've got this people are making decisions, the decisions are for the good of the group. And but now it's, hey, let's extend grace. I know it's gonna be interesting, Robert, it's gonna, we're going to come across conversations, and moments for leadership that we've never come across before. And we're going to learn how to handle them, and likely are going to make mistakes, and hopefully, we'll get it more right than we'll get it wrong. That's right. But it's gonna be an interesting time to be a leader. And, and to learn. And I'm excited for it. I like change.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, there's good opportunity here. But there's also some risk. Yeah, so definitely control what you can control. maximum flexibility seems to be the right play here and influence what you can't, like you have, this is going to play out over months. And so starting now allows your professional opinion, your voice to be incepted into the system. Nobody else knows what to do. And that's the other problem, too. No one here has the right answer. And so you may have more ability to influence and direct than you think. So if there's something you can't control, you can certainly try to influence the people who can.

Igor Geyfman:

Robert, you're the one that always talks about mindset skill set toolset, right, like, that's what, I think this is the time to practice the right mindset coming into these sorts of things. Because I think nobody has the exact right answer. But you can definitely have the exact right mindset to to address the return to Office situation.

Robert Greiner:


eah, that's right.

Igor Geyfman:

Focus on your mindset.

Robert Greiner:

Yep. Absolutely, man. It was good talking to you today.

Igor Geyfman:

Dude. Always a pleasure,

miss Charles

Robert Greiner:

make this work. Yes. Yes. Is he back next week? I say was it two weeks?

Igor Geyfman:

Is it man good for him.

Robert Greiner:


thought he said he was off by you might You're right. So Charles is off for two, then I'm off for two, then you're off for eight. Yes. That's not fair. I'm just kidding.

That's true.

You've totally earned it. I'm excited for you.

Yeah, man. That's gonna be great.

Awesome. Well, hey, yeah, so if you're listening, we're going to have some sporadic episodes, some sporadic attendance. But we have lots of really cool plans for the future. I was thinking maybe we should even we're coming up on episode 50. Igor, this is 46. Maybe when we hit 50, which will be right around a year, we'll create it like a new season and kind of do a kickoff. We have some really great ideas around leadership frameworks, leadership at scale. We'll probably go in depth on the trillion dollar coach, which is such a great transformational I guess, book, but based off Bill Campbell's life as a as an executive coach for some of the biggest, most powerful companies in the world. Like that guy was great. I wish I could have met him. He would probably be one of those like, you could have dinner with anybody. He might be on my shortlist

Igor Geyfman:


Robert Greiner:

Mostly because he would he would make the table. The cool table.

Igor Geyfman:

We'd be the cool table.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, that's right. It seems like that guy had fun everywhere he went, what a what a good way to be remembered.

Igor Geyfman:


give everyone hugs.

Robert Greiner:

Yeah, that'd be great. We need more of that. That's right. Yeah. So anyway, man, I think we have some great stuff coming up. And we're going to do our best to take a little bit of a break. Because even though we advise taking vacations early, and often, we don't follow that advice as well as we should. So we're going to play some catch up here

over the next month, which will be great

Igor Geyfman:

a year into our journey, man. It's been pretty incredible. Yeah, who knew where it was gonna lead as we as we got started a year ago.

Robert Greiner:

This is shaping up to be one of the coolest things I've done in my career.

Igor Geyfman:

Yeah, absolutely. podcast, same for me.

Robert Greiner:

It's been great.

Igor Geyfman:

Thanks, Robert. Man, great chatting with you and catch you next time.

Robert Greiner:

Yes, sir. Talk to you soon. Bye. That's it for today. Thanks for joining. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @wannagrabcoffee or drop us a line at [email protected]

Next Episode All Episodes Previous Episode
Show artwork for Wanna Grab Coffee?

About the Podcast

Wanna Grab Coffee?
Join us for weekly discussions about careers, leadership, and balancing work and life.
A podcast about all of the topics we discuss during our mid-day coffee breaks. We bring you stories, thoughts, and ideas around life as a professional, leadership concepts, and work/life balance. We view career and leadership development as a practice that spans decades and we are excited to go on this journey with you.