Beyond “Good Enough”: Ensuring Connectedness And Communication Across A Hybrid Workforce
Whatever surprises these new Covid variants have in store for us, one thing is becoming clear: most of us are not likely to go “back to normal” anytime soon, and many of us are not going to be returning to the office until 2022, if at all. These sobering realities mean we will need to continue persevere through the challenges of remote work.
That said, increasingly companies are going to experience a new kind of remote work, what we might call “hybrid,” where some roles will be fully remote, others fully in the office, and others a balance or mix of both.
Mastering the art of managing a remote employee base, even a hybrid one, demands that we understand the advantages and disadvantages of remote work and be deliberate about the trade-offs. Advantages include greater access to talent; employee freedom, convenience, and better productivity without wasteful commutes; saving on office rents and being able to grow the business without increasing the cost of real estate; developing capabilities to work with remote customers and expand sales opportunities; and a decreased carbon footprint.
And, of course, the disadvantages include many impediments to communication and collaboration between in-house employees and remote employees; remote team members feeling out-of-the-loop and undervalued; and significant new travel/lodging expenses when remote employees need to come into an office.
While it may seem that companies incur the greater risk by allowing employees to work from home, in fact employees also take on significant risk in working remotely: lack of social connectedness; missing out on various types of communication, both formal and informal; physical effects (most home office ergonomics are awful); not being plugged into the flow of knowledge and information; and potentially missing out on career advancement.
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Even more fundamentally, there is already meaningful and alarming data on the ways that isolation and feelings of being disconnected from colleagues can negatively impact production, physical health, and mental well-being.
As a result of all this, leaders are going to need to continue to refine their skills in managing through what can be a psychologically challenging, not just physically inconvenient, state of affairs in our “new ways of working.”
Over the last few months, I’ve been talking with executives, senior managers, and especially HR leaders across more than a dozen of my clients, spanning industries and geographies, and here are some of the best ideas and insights for fostering higher levels of communication and cohesion whatever your “hybrid” model may be:
For bosses: Think differently about the art and science of management.
- Keep an open mind: dedicated and capable employees will be productive no matter the set up. And be sure to manage by evaluating results instead of by physical presence or face-time.
- Make an extra effort to provide context for your followers: the “why” is so important right now to inform the “what” and to help people see purpose and how their roles/tasks fit into the overall whole.
- Adapt your communication style to that of the remote worker (think: mode, style, frequency, and time of day). Leverage chat tools for increased team building and connectivity.
- Take time to make phone calls instead of just using e-mailing. Make an extra effort to engage with people as human beings, keeping in mind how stressful the last 18 months have been for all of us.
- When remote employees are part of a meeting, ask them to report first to make their contribution feel as important as everyone else’s.
- For group meetings, consider alternating in person/video call with dial in calls for everyone. (Or, as some organizations have done, if one person must be on video then all go to video, to remove the temptation for side conversations that isolate remote workers).
For remote workers: Be willing to adapt in order to “feel” like a full team member and reduce the sense of separation.● Get dressed in your business attire every day to look and feel as professional as possible during work hours.
- Take regular breaks when working—specially to combat Zoom fatigue. Consider walks or outdoor exposure to expand your environment and let your eyes focus on the distance.
- Work in an isolated part of your home where noise and distractions can be kept at a minimum.
- Make an extra effort to be engaged:
- Actively share your ideas and point of view.
- Ask about what’s happening in the office and share your experiences.
- Set specific times to catch up with fellow employees informally—as you might if you were physically in the office.
For companies: Evolve your core HR policies and practices (whether you have a few, a few hundred, or a few thousand employees working remotely).
- Make sure remote employees have all the tools and technology they need to be productive and succeed—from Day One.
- When hiring someone new, give her a multi-day orientation in an office location so she can meet others face-to-face and learn the company culture.
- Plan ways to get remote workers face-to-face as often as feasible, for networking, training, volunteering, mentorship, and social occasions. When possible, rotate locations so no single place feels “central.”
- When a remote employee is at the office, allow him the same level of access to the office space and facilities as those who work there regularly.
- Encourage and facilitate social (not just business) conference calls to foster relationship- and community-building.
- Come up with inclusive practices that work for both in-office and remote employees.
We’re all still trying to figure out this hybrid work environment, but it’s here to stay—at least for the near future. Remote workers are a reality, but we can improve the experience for everyone, not to mention the quality of the work, if we make a little extra effort to integrate remote employees into the culture and communication flow of the company.
Special thanks to Diane Wong, content team manager at JatApp, for suggesting this topic and helping compile the recommendations and tips. Warm thanks as well to Andrea Brogger of TrueBlue, Crina Pupaza of Nymbus, Deni Stott of Vroom, Faina Leyvi and Jyoti Rai of Moodys, Joel Greengrass of Yieldstreet, Kyle Havlicek-McClenahan of Scales.ai, Xander Wassink of Alpine Grove Investors, and Mohamed Matar of The National Bank of Bahrain for their partnership and wisdom.