While Wednesday’s Rising Stars of Private Equity SPEAK event was full of great panels, the one I found myself thinking about the most this week was about going back to the office. Moderated by Mergers and Acquisitions senior reporter Brandon Zero, the panel took a closer look at how PE firms’ are handling a return to working (and community building) in person.

The panelists discussed a range of responses to the shift. From newly designed office spaces to floating start dates, they all acknowledged a certain level of flux. On the social side of things, one of the most insightful threads was about the location of after-work events.

Ethan Liebermann, managing director, TA Associates, detailed a kind of steady decline in the popularity of virtual happy hours and exercise classes. Initially, Liebermann found, enthusiasm from participants was high because these events were still relatively new and novel. However, as that sentiment diminished, they became something of a chore. After enough time spent online, he said everyone at the firm began “hitting a wall, in terms of the ability to continue to engage people via Zoom.”

In contrast, Anabelle Skalleberg, principal, Watermill Group, saw some silver linings. Her weekly video calls happened “just before school pickup” meaning she could log in without leaving her car. In person, she would have simply been unable to unable to attend. It her estimation, these small but significant efforts helped to widen the circle of inclusion for these events, especially for dealmakers juggling work and family. “It benefited this mom to have that flexibility,” she said.

Going forward, I think we can expect similar patterns in the PE world’s return to the workplace. While many meetings and post-work get-togethers will resume in-person, it seems likely that the flexibility offered by online events will not be ignored.

Personally, I’ve continued to really enjoy my virtual happy hour here at M&A, even as the world is opening back up. How is your office handling this transition? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at: [email protected]

John Melendez