An image of a computer plugging into a house with the words, "The Hybrid Office"

MKP Embraces a Workplace Transformation

By Phil Ziff, Project Manager

For over twenty-five years, MKP had been a company that, like many others, worked out of a central office space. While a few employees worked primarily from home, most people met daily in MKP’s New York City loft in Union Square.

In March of 2020, as more information came out about COVID-19, CDC and government officials asked office workers to stay home to help flatten the curve. MKP complied, expecting a fully remote office to be a temporary shift lasting maybe a few months. Little did MKP, and the rest of the world, know that there would likely be long lasting changes to the meaning of going to work.

I sat down with Hillary Kelbick, President and CEO of MKP, to discuss how the team has adapted and thrived under a remote-work model.

Challenges of the remote office

Switching from daily, in-person work to remote life was challenging at first, as there are certain workplace elements that are missed when people are not together in the same space. When I asked Hillary about this, she reflected, “if you’re trying to build a creative solution and foster some ingenuity, there’s nothing that replaces being in the same room with your colleagues. Human interactions are part of what drives creativity in the office place.”

There’s an intangible quality about being present with co-workers and sensing their energy and excitement. Hillary expressed her thoughts on the camaraderie that physical presence can create. “I love my team. I love my people I’ve been committed to, it’s like a family. The family hasn’t seen each other.”

Making it work through new traditions

Without the ability to feed off each other’s energy in person, how does an office manage to stay connected? MKP created a new meeting that still takes place to this day, called Daily Check-In. The whole MKP team meets every day at 10am on Microsoft Teams to connect and set expectations for the day. This virtual standing meeting became an instant success. Hillary shared, “There is a lot of good energy around this meeting. It helps everyone stay on track, while fostering a strong sense of connection among the team.”

One of the factors that helped Daily Check-In gain in popularity was the opportunity for the team to come together and share news about their weekend or connect on “water cooler” conversations. Being on camera motivated many of the team to up their game in terms of clothing, jewelry, make-up, etc. – as if they were actually in the office.

The Employee Engagement (“EE”) team was a big help. The team was founded shortly before COVID, and was responsible for planning company activities, like office happy hours, lunches and other social events and celebrations. Once the office shifted to a fully remote environment, Hillary credited the EE team for playing a major role in keeping the larger group connected.  She said, “The Employee Engagement team stepped up activity in a huge and meaningful way and it became part of the lifeblood of the company.”

The perks of being a homebody

Remote work does have perks that grant employees more flexibility in their days. For starters, removing the daily commute eliminates concerns about traffic, car trouble, or late trains. This extra time can be redirected toward work projects or completing personal errands. As Hillary put it, “If you want to do your laundry, cook a meal, take your dog for a walk, meditate, or take a workout class in the middle of the day, you have more flexibility. You can manage your time more efficiently and effectively from your own home, and for some people, that results in higher productivity.” Employees can still work on major projects and attend client meetings from their homes, and it’s easier to dig into deep work without the interruptions or distractions that sometimes come in an office environment.

The drawbacks of disconnection

“Humans need connection, real connection, and there’s only so far Zoom and Microsoft Teams will go in creating this,” Hillary lamented. When tackling creative problem solving or brainstorming, there’s a certain spark that exists when colleagues are in the same room. The energy that comes from being present, sharing snacks and throwing ideas on a whiteboard is notably absent when collaborators are physically distant. Collaborative creative work is still best done in face-to-face.

While Zoom meetings are certainly useful, it’s easier for employees to multitask, and you don’t necessarily get someone’s full attention. Meetings used to be a respite from screen time, and now screens are required to meet. There’s a certain level of Zoom-fatigue that occurs, and people tend to zone out or get distracted by emails or texts—which is much less likely to happen when meeting in person. Despite these drawbacks, however, work still gets done and productivity levels tend to be higher overall.

The future of work: a hybrid office

The term “hybrid office,” meaning one where employees split time between in-person and remote work, has become increasingly popular. As the world is far from finished with navigating the dangers and risks associated with the coronavirus, companies like MKP need to adapt to this new reality. The challenges brought about by this moment in time have opened the door to reimagining the modern workspace.

Hillary is using this as an opportunity to consider a redesign to the office space, replacing cubicles with communal tables, creating a more open, collaborative environment for those who choose to come to the office to work. Employees will have the option to continue to work remotely, returning to the office on occasion for in-person connection. She hopes that employees will embrace this hybrid model at MKP moving forward. “You don’t have to be in person with every colleague every day, but humans feed on each other’s energy and the opportunity to collaborate is critical to business success.”

MKP communications inc. is a New York City-based communications company specializing in financial services marketing and merger/change communication.