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Joy Shared is Joy Sustained – The Case for Collective Effervescence

July 21, 2021

Joy shared is joy sustained.

Yes!

This is the last line of a meaningful NYT opinion piece from Dr. Adam Grant, Professor of Organizational Psychology at the Wharton Business School and author of some of our favorite books here at Menlo. In this article, he introduced an old term I had never heard before: Collective Effervescence:

We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence. It’s a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.

Thank you, Adam Grant. This was the article I needed right now. As we slowly and carefully proceed back to the office I was struggling to explain why a return is so important to the camaraderie and human energy that has been a part of Menlo for our first 19 years prior to moving to remote work. Our newer team members, who joined in the last few months and have only known remote Menlo aren’t aware of what we lost, so a return to the office seems inconvenient at best.

One day recently there were only nine of us back in the office. Three had headsets on as they communicated with other team members, effectively cutting them off from the rest of us in the office. They were here but not really here.

A few days later there were twenty-one Menlonians here and it started to feel like the Menlo Magic again. Laughter, joviality, energy and joy. At one point in the afternoon, as I walked the space, I saw smiling faces, few headphones, active work conversations and laughter.

The transition back to the office is a transition to the 3rd version of Menlo that I talked about in this blog post. I will be honest … I am once again in an uncomfortable position of not knowing where all of this will lead and what future Menlo will look like. I’m more OK with that this time around than I was at the beginning of the pandemic. We have more time to be reflective, to contemplate the lessons learned, and to try and discern the opportunities this new world presents.

What I do know is that I haven’t felt this energy, in this way, in sixteen months and that is a feeling to pay attention to. Having a term for it, collective effervescence is helpful. This feeling has been an important ingredient in the joy of Menlo for our 19 years when we all worked in the office together. As I referenced in my first book, Joy, Inc.

Menlo’s joy starts with our physical surroundings. We are set in a big, open “factory,” full of chatter and activity. As you pull open the tall glass doors and walk in, you feel the energy of the place—it’s palpable. You see an open space flooded with light. You see people working together. You hear laughter. Even the walls grab your attention as they are covered with papers and colorful posters. Our software factory might remind you of a popular, noisy, casually fun restaurant. The Menlo Software Factory is alive with the hum of conversations and laughter. You can hear work. Our noise is just as notable as our space.

I know the open office approach isn’t for everyone and I could point our readers to countless books and articles that make the case against such a work environment. We made this choice 20 years ago and it has worked wonderfully for us for 19 of those years. I also cannot look away from the success we’ve had for the last 16 months as we were essentially 100% remote. Yet, the collective effervescence was missing. As we slowly return to having nearly the whole team back in the office, I will be watching with great interest how many Menlonians believe the trade of “zero commute” for collective effervescence is worth the time it takes each day to get here to feel it.

Only time will tell. Stay tuned.