Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The Intern POV: How Ovative Prioritizes Connectedness In a Virtual World
Working from home was not a normal practice pre-pandemic. PTO was used for doctor appointments during the work day and lunch breaks were often taken at the desk. As the world entered a lockdown in 2020 however, businesses were forced to adapt to a virtual work environment and these adaptations are not going away as things open back up. People are realizing that they do not need to center their lives around the workplace.
According to a Pew Research study, 54% of respondents would like to continue to work from home after the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, only 20% of employed U.S. adults worked from home. In addition, an Accenture survey found that 83% of workers prefer a hybrid work environment moving forward.1
My name is Chani Corpus and I am a summer intern on the Display and Paid Social team at Ovative Group. I interviewed for this position during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2021 via Microsoft Teams, I received my acceptance letter via email, and I planned on working remotely because of the times we were in. As the vaccine rolled out and cases went down, Ovative Group found that it was safe to return to the office. The first day of my internship, June 1, 2021, was the first day that the office reopened. I, however, was still at home.
I have been working my internship remotely from my college apartment in Madison, Wisconsin. Since Madison is about a four hour drive from Minneapolis, I take advantage of the opportunity to commute to the office when possible. My first time visiting the office was about two weeks into my internship to attend the Summer Solstice Rooftop Party. It was so amazing to finally be around people in a collaborative setting after over a year of taking classes and working from home. I wrote this article to showcase how Ovative has done an inspiring job of being flexible and understanding of their employee’s work environment preference and continues to prioritize connectedness in a virtual world.
Ovative has been extremely understanding and flexible with their employees’ WFH (work-from-home) desires while simultaneously encouraging people to come back into their office. Some Ovative employees have moved to different states to WFH, some have started their post-grad career in another state, and some are living in Minneapolis, Ovative’s HQ location, but find themselves to be more productive at home. While some companies are thinking of cutting down on office space, as WFH can be satisfactory and economically advantageous for some positions, Ovative is in the process of constructing another floor in their building, as well as opening a second office in New York City.
In an article from Twins Cities Dealz, CEO Dale Nitschke said, “It’s human behavior—people want to be together. I don’t think that’s ever going to change, […] The energy, the joy of being together, I’m a believer that people want a space to go to”2. He was right. When Ovative hosted hybrid fun events over the summer, the office was buzzing. Every desk was filled and people were excited to celebrate together. Food vouchers were sent out to remote workers who joined in virtually on the fun.
Employees who had never been to the office before were seeing it in person for the first time for these events. Across the industry, some companies are trying to bring back all of their employees, with a lot of resistance from employees who prefer the work from home environment. Many workers across the country realized that they can still be productive and get their work done at home, while being able to eliminate commute time, eat healthier and more cost-effective meals at home, and spend more time with their family and friends.
Nitschke values the in-person work environment, but also values his employee’s well-being. He has not requested that his employees return to the office. He enjoys people being in the office, but he understands that that may not be the best choice for everyone. TV monitors and compact loudspeakers have been set up in almost every conference room to make a hybrid meeting environment virtually seamless. I spoke with employees at Ovative Group who live all over the country, and asked them a few questions about their experience both in the office and at home.
Q: What drove your decision to have the working model you chose?
A: Katie Mollison, an analyst and former intern, on the Display & Paid Social team worked remotely as an intern last summer and continued part-time throughout the school year. This summer, she was finally able to work in the office. She said that she decided to come into the office when it opened up because she missed meeting people in person and wanted to get to know people better.
Emma Leonowiz, a senior analyst on the SEM team, lives and works remotely in Seattle, Washington. She was job hunting during the pandemic and accepted a position with Ovative in Minneapolis, but she knew that she wanted to live outside of the midwest at some point. Other full-time employees were working remotely before the pandemic, so Emma knew that remote work was already accepted in Ovative’s culture and it made her feel more comfortable making the decision to move there.
Morgan McLinden, a senior analyst on the Strategy Consulting team, lives and works remotely in Chicago, Illinois. She is from Minneapolis and started at Ovative out of college. After living in Minneapolis for a while, Morgan wanted to try a new city and a lot of her friends live in Chicago. Leaving Minneapolis to move to Chicago became an option during the pandemic, with everyone working remotely, so she didn’t have to make the decision between staying at Ovative and moving to Chicago. She explained that the head of her team was supportive of her moving and she said that she was happy to do something for herself that she had been passionate to try.
Q: How have Ovative’s values shown up to you?
A: Katie saw Ovative’s value of being engaged shine during her remote work. She explained how people were open to sharing not only their work but themselves as well. Katie sees the workplace as “more than just work and go home,” as a reflection of Ovative’s genuineness. In addition, she said that Ovative made an effort to set up bootcamp with as much interaction as possible and pushed people to interact with other people in the firm.
Morgan also noticed Ovative’s genuineness in full effect while working remotely. She thought that leaving Minneapolis would be a big deal and she was nervous about that, but her team was supportive and made her feel like a valued member of the team. They were genuinely excited for her to do something that she was excited to do. It is also important to her to make an effort to stay connected to her team and set up meetings to get to know people, because it is difficult to replicate walking past someone’s desk when working remotely.
Q: How does Ovative support you?
A: Emma said that she felt supported by her team because they prioritized booking conference rooms with the screens that were best suited for remote workers and her time zone difference was kept in mind when scheduling meetings. She was able to take a week off to move to Seattle and take the time to set up her workspace properly.
Ovative supported Katie by pairing her well with managers and people who she worked with closely. She said her team pushed her out of her comfort zone to help her do the best that she can do, and that they are helpful with answering questions. In addition, Katie felt that Ovative did a good job of putting people together and listening to everyone.
Q: What suggestions do you have to other remote employees or companies with remote employees?
A: Morgan’s advice to other remote employees is to be empathetic, be vocal when things aren’t working, and talk to people when you feel excluded.
Katie said that she makes it a priority to actively set up time to do at least one 15-minute get-to-know-you meeting, or what O/Gers call, “GTKYs,” every week.
Emma suggests that companies in a hybrid model should foster a culture that encourages connection in order to best support their remote workers, as well as prioritize them just as much as the people in office. In addition, those companies should install technology that functions seamlessly not just during the pandemic, but beyond. To remote employees, Emma said to be diligent in setting up GTKYs. Ovative is growing fast and there are always new people so make it a priority to get to know them. She also encourages workers to move to a new city if it is important to them and their company has the resources to make sure that they are an included member of the team and supported.
Q: Anything else?
A: Katie prefers the office because it is a good separation of the home space and her workspace, but she understands that work from home is beneficial for people who live farther away, have kids, are more productive at home, and so on. The flexibility that Ovative offers for people to work remotely is one of the many things that makes Ovative great.
Emma’s last piece of advice for remote workers is to, “Make sure you have a good chair and get a standing desk.”
Work from home has become a normal practice, even though offices are starting to open up again. When the world entered a lockdown, businesses had to adjust their whole perception of what the workplace consists of, and adapt to a virtual work environment. A Stanford study even found that working from home can increase productivity by 13% and improve work satisfaction. People have realized that the ability to cut down on commute time, live in a different city, and spend more time with the people who matter most, while still getting their work done efficiently at home, makes the “work-life balance” so much more attainable.
Ovative has shown that their values are not just words in a handbook, but that those values are the core of their business. Genuine, engaged, driven, accountable.