Shawn Crowley, Atomic Object CEO, and Michael Marsiglia, Atomic Object CoCEOs, have spent close to twenty hours listening over the past weeks. They talk in small groups with all employees of the custom-software consultancy about the future flexible work in their offices in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Chicago. Many listening tour sessions have featured a common theme: dogs.
Marsiglia states, “It has been brought up more than that we expected.” “After last year, more members of our team have dogs and are more comfortable with their dogs at home,” says Marsiglia. It is a concern for everyone. Listening tours are a way to discuss what’s working and what’s not.
The dogs are not the only thing that matter. It’s about so much more. From familial anxiety and the possibility of Covid bubbles breaking apart to their love-hate relationships during their daily commute, team members have shared their opinions. Listening sessions are conducted in person and allow team members to listen to their colleagues’ experiences during the pandemic.
Marsiglia states that although there have been common themes, different experiences have emerged. It has been beneficial for the team to learn about the disadvantages and advantages of their colleagues. I believe it has contributed to shared empathy.
However, leaders can identify with one thing right now: constant change. Crowley and Marsiglia had a clear line in their minds a few months prior: despite the increasing number of remote-first tech companies, Atomic Object won’t be among them. Crowley and Martiglia believe that technology consultancies that have been formally converted to remote work will lose market share as the world works in safer ways.
Atomic Object focuses its efforts on the early stages of software product development and design. They believe that it is always better to collaborate and do engineering in person. Crowley believes that collaboration is the driving force behind product innovation. He recommends that future models of flexibility be built around co-location.
Crowley states, “We’ve been in the business for twenty years and have a goal of being a 100-year old company.” Crowley says that 18 months of remote working due to the pandemic didn’t alter the nature of creative, cross-discipline work. Although digital tools have made it easier to work remotely, in-person remains the best work mode.
Marsiglia agrees. “Ultimately, co-location proved to be more efficient and effective than all-remote. It also makes it more attractive than all-remote. It is crucial to our success. So is creating a sense of place and belonging. Atomic’s competitive position in the future will require us to prioritize culture over short-term savings.
Crowley, Marsiglia, and others began work on a comprehensive plan. The plan included detailed milestones for each phase, high-level goals, details about each stage, common questions regarding behaviors and compliance to state guidelines, as well as the caveat of Covid-19, which is unpredictable, and a roadmap that would allow the team to return to the office. Atomic’s plans for returning to the office are already underway across its three offices. It is now in its “walk” phase, bringing more people into the office for collaboration and coworking, as necessary.
Atomic Object values co-location but has had a longstanding flexible work model. Employees can work remotely for any reason, including a doctor visit or a more disruptive event, like the death of a loved one. It was never called a hybrid work model. However, the pandemic accelerated the need to have open conversations about the various work models.
Crowley and Martiglia discussed their plans to gradually phase everyone back into the office, with plans for a flexible hybrid approach in 2022. This made it clear that they needed to have those conversations sooner.
Marsiglia states, “We have all been through enough uncertainty.” “As we reestablished our colocated model within our offices, people started to wonder what the future holds for Atomic’s flexibility. To understand their needs and gain feedback, we began conducting listening tours. We’ve heard our team repeatedly express their desire for flexibility and adaptability to remote work. This is an evolutionary process.
Atomic’s offices slowly but surely are returning to their pre-pandemic glory. Crowley, Marsiglia, and others are determined to be flexible themselves as they develop a future flexible work model. They have put together a loose model that the team can react to. This builds on Atomic’s history of flexibility. They also add dials that allow for greater flexibility, such as recurring remote days and even remote weeks.
Marsiglia states, “When you look at flexibility, you can consider both the time and place where the work is completed.” “The dials enable flexibility across both axes and balance the real value that collaboration can bring to a shared, synchronous space.”
Crowley encourages team members to sign up for the plan as Crowley pushes the agenda forward and thinks about the balance between individualism, collectivism, and collaboration.
Crowley says, “Will it be possible to sacrifice some aspects of flexibility for the greater benefit?” Crowley states that the ‘core hours’ dial could help to find a balance. One of our senior programmers shared that he enjoys remote work as he can begin dinner at 5 o’clock. That is something that I greatly appreciate. I also asked him about the people in his team and what they could gain from him when physically present. There are people on our team with varying levels of career experience. What would that mean for the more junior members of our team?
Crowley, Marsiglia take the changes in their plans as a positive step. Crowley and Marsiglia presented a new return-to-work plan earlier this year to the team. The latest approach could very well change because they listened carefully to their employees before launching a strategy.
Crowley, Marsiglia, and Atomic’s core purpose and values and their people guide them to work with the team and reflect on critical questions. What is best for their clients or projects? What’s best for the local communities where they work? What’s best for their communities?
Marsiglia admits, “Honestly, I don’t know where it’ll land.” “But, we’re here for all boats to rise. We believe we all do this best when we work together. We should all get more than just transactional results like pay. We should be gaining knowledge and skills as well as a sense of belonging.