Carole King is crooning in the background. The aroma of fresh coffee perfumes the air as clusters of workers huddle in the lobby, with nary a face mask in sight. Walking into the headquarters of Company in midtown Manhattan felt like being in a time warp, in which a deadly airborne virus hadn’t yet changed life as we know it.
The lively vibe at the co-working space is an exception to the current state of hybrid offices. In parts of the world where the coronavirus is at a manageable level, many corporate headquarters that have reopened to staff remain largely empty. Most workers, when given the choice, will opt rather continue working from home, as a recent Harvard Business School survey attests. In extreme cases, workers would rather quit their jobs than be forced to report back to their desks.
Is there anything companies can do make office life more attractive? Graceanne Jordan, a restaurant industry veteran who runs Company’s in-house hospitality team, says offices can embrace a host’s mentality. Beyond temperature checkpoints, vaccination records, and nagging social distancing prompts, she says managers need to think about how to graciously ease people back into the office. Her go-to tactic: Throw a party—a good one.
“Until people are invited [to an event], I don’t think they’re going to come and fall back to their normal everyday routine. You have to create experiences,” she says. Social gatherings are the one thing that can’t be replicated remotely and adding a party element to the day’s agenda gives workers more incentive to show up. “I tell folks, ‘if you just break the seal, you’ll realize what you’ve missed.’”
As more people began venturing back to Company’s co-working space, Jordan and her team hosted a tasting party for the new lobby café, and worked on enhancing the food and beverage amenities for the building’s outdoor terrace bar overlooking New York City’s picturesque Chrysler Building. Building staff also make a point to warmly greet workers as they arrive. “Looking people in the eye and saying hello after a period when we’ve all been covered up and had our heads down becomes very, very important,” Jordan observes.
“Hospitality can mean different things, but to me it’s about setting the stage so people can learn about one another again,” she explains. “Without that, you just have a big, beautiful soulless building.”