“I’ve been doing this for over a year, I’ve got it figured out and don’t need to develop skills.” This is the 2021 fatal mindset flaw for managers of remote employees. Reminder: emergency remote work doesn’t develop the same habits you’ll need for sustainable remote work. And critically important as offices reopen, hybrid is harder than everyone working fully remote.
Hybrid teams have an increased risk of inequitable experiences between in-office and remote team members. Establishing policies, practices, rituals, skills, and benefits that actively level the playing field and focus on hybrid team inclusion will prove critical to the health and success of your teams.
Important Themes and Advice for Hybrid Team Inclusion:
Craft policies with clarity and intention.
“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
1. As we emphasize in our Placeless Playbook, you need a defined remote work policy and the accompanying documents. Organizations that lack policies may feel “flexible,” but in reality, the absence of a clear policy leads to confusion.
2. Written policies should aim to be remote-first, deliver equitable experiences and opportunities, and reflect reminders to include remote workers.
3. Adjust your org structure to include remote experts. This could be hiring a Head of Remote, Remote Inclusion Director or developing an Employee Engagement resource group.
Develop support for and from leadership.
Leaders play a critical role in hybrid team inclusion and success. They need to build virtual leadership skills and establish practices geared toward a remote-first mindset and inclusion.
4. Use every resource at your disposal to establish and exemplify a placeless mindset.
5. Invest in leadership skill training. There’s no getting around it—leaders need remote leadership skills training. In our study, when managers received more remote-specific training, the company was more successful across every metric, including “ensuring all workers are included in decisions-making,” “collaborating across distance” and “maintaining productivity across distance.” Without training, leaders fall back into unproductive habits and fail to create inclusion on hybrid teams.
6. Don’t be tied to the office. Leader location impacts team dynamics and inclusivity. If the default for all leaders is to be in office, there will be an imbalance. Even if leaders are primarily in the office, build in extended periods of time, weeks or months, where leaders work remotely. This allows leaders to both empathize with the experiences of their remote workers, and identify gaps in team processes or policies.
7. Pay extra attention to consistent performance management. Leaders tend to default to believing in the performance of the team members they can see. However, consistency about how performance is managed, regardless of location, is key. Explicitly layout performance expectations, takes, timelines, roles, and responsibilities.
8. Give regular, ongoing feedback. Don’t wait for formal quarterly or annual performance reviews.
Establish clear communication guidelines.
Communication is at the heart of organizational effectiveness. On hybrid teams, communication requires intention and balance.
10. Create and rollout an aligned Communication Charter. Communication Charters set clear expectations for communication channels and boundaries, making collaboration easier so more work can get done. We can help your team create this agreement in our Building a Communication Charter or you can use a DIY approach by accessing the Communication Charter template in our Hybrid Team Toolkit.
The planning, execution, and follow-up used for meetings all need to be reworked to include virtual employees.
11. Meetings can be a roadblock for hybrid team inclusion. First, decide if a meeting is truly needed to meet the goal and aim to eliminate unnecessary synchronous meetings. If a meeting is necessary, ensure it’s set up to be effective.
12. Some teams opt to ensure all meetings are joined via video conferencing rather than having part of the attendees together in a conference room while others attend remotely. Other teams invest in technology that bridges any communication gaps between office and remote attendees. No matter the logistics you choose to implement, it’s critical to intentionally design a meeting experience that will allow anyone to participate equally, regardless of where they are joining from.
13. “Zoom fatigue” is real. It’s important to differentiate between meetings that require cameras on and check-ins or 1:1s that can be done as calls or walking meetings with cameras off.
14. Facilitate meetings with the proactive intention of calling on remote colleagues. Consider a checklist of “have I heard from everyone?”
15. Document decisions and pause in-person follow up conversations. Every meeting attendee needs to be able to know where to go to see the decisions made and tasks assigned in a meeting. It’s also important to curb the habit of continuing the conversations in the room after a meeting has ended. These conversations need to be paused until remote colleagues can participate.
Ritualize resources for connectivity.
While you can’t replicate watercooler or cafeteria conversations, teams are developing great new rituals to connect with colleagues without adding burdens on time.
16. Dedicate Slack or Teams channels solely to relationship building. You can create channels specific to interest areas or a random collection of sharing and celebration opportunities.
17. Deploy tools that facilitate interpersonal connections with remote and in-office team members. Many teams referenced using the Donut app to randomly connect with peers informally.
18. Create regular space for random experience connection. One organization dedicates 30 minutes every day for connection, whether it be a mindfulness activity, playing a game, or joining a happy hour. The 30 minutes are optional but with a rotation of activities there’s always a chance to opt-in or opt-out.
19. Celebrate each other! While leaders and individuals play a role in advocating for their work and accomplishments, take time to showcase one another. Our Workplaceless team uses both a wins Slack channel and the Heytaco Slack bot to celebrate team members daily.
Build flexible benefits.
Benefits that work for in-office employees won’t necessarily work for remote counterparts, but thinking of benefits with flexible options can open up opportunities.
20. Ensure you understand the mandatory benefits dictated by each country or state in which you employ.
21. Build a portfolio of incremental flexible benefit options that employees can leverage with a predetermined stipend amount.
22. Replicate the office setups you provide your in-office employees via stipends to coworking spaces or work from home office setups.
23. Rethink the organic benefits that happen in an office. When office team members go out to lunch, pay for the lunch of your remote employees, or better yet, schedule for food delivery to arrive.
24. Pay attention to the flexibility you provide to your remote workers, and provide an equal amount of flexibility, grace and understanding to their in-office counterparts.
Shifting back to the office and moving forward with a hybrid team structure will require intention and support.