Designing your work and communications for a hybrid workplace
The WFH wave has not been the most pleasant for some of us. And while the struggle to draw boundaries and introduce some balance between personal and professional lives continues, managers have a new challenge to cater to - the dwindling engagement levels of remote employees.
As companies find themselves adapting to a hybrid workplace, complaints of WFH employees not feeling as engaged as their in-house colleagues surface. Recently, we heard from a coaching client that the WFH team members had expressed dissatisfaction at not being included, a conversation that surfaced because the colleagues in the physical office often spent time grabbing a tea or a few drinks together.
In trying to find the reason, and with the already looming pressure of creating an engaging culture, managers blame themselves for not sharing enough. Soon enough, we have instances of individuals blaming themselves for a circumstance well beyond their control.
The issue, here, is then one of seeking better design of our hybrid workplaces.
You see, remote working has been there for a long time, but employees never got a chance to truly experience what it means to be connected to their work, workspace, colleagues, and managers in the absence of inorganic communication and watercooler conversations. No one ever felt the need to strategise ways to bond if no unofficial or casual face-to-face conversations between office hours took place.
At the start of this WFH newness, frequent Zoom meetings and happy hours made up for the interaction deficit. But it soon got overwhelming as employees lost the desire to show up and burnout took over. With the hybrid workplace model in place, engagement has become relative (as we compare in-house and remote employees), and the gap thus seems to have widened.
So, lack of engagement is only one side of the coin. We also need employees to be excited enough to show up.
The goal is to get WFH employees excited about the engagement. How do we do that? Here’s how.
5 Ways to Design your Work and Communications for a Hybrid Workplace
1. Virtual office hours and Me-time blocks
Think of virtual office hours as online watercooler conversations but more. As we accommodate changing schedules and eliminate employee burnout, we need to tweak the office hours to fit the remote model. For this, employees can suggest their preferred time slot of 1-2 hours, during which they’ll be available on a Zoom call. Note that as you give employees the space to choose their office hours, you minimise the chances of not wanting to show up. Now, whoever needs to talk to the employee on the zoom call can join the link during the dedicated time slot. This not only encourages flexibility but also ensures connectedness.
A hybrid working model means that employees working from home may often find themselves in the middle of personal engagements. Therefore, several companies are already encouraging their employees to communicate their me-time blocks openly.
2. Care Packages and Resources
For WFH employees, know that engagement doesn’t have to be limited to virtual communication. Gestures that prove you care and appreciate their role and contribution go a long way too. These care packages can be anything that spurs creativity and gets them excited - not necessarily related to their profile. Games (that bring remote employees together), self-care packages, access to exciting workshops are all great ideas. You could also think of a theme for the month and plan the care package accordingly.
3. Social Hours and Team Activities
Social hours allow you to invite your employees to have an informal virtual hangout session. Introducing such sessions where they find the space to open up personally can turn out to be a great bonding exercise. Ask them about their family, weekend plans, routine and workload, mental, physical and emotional well-being, and listen when they talk.
Also, take your usual team-building activities to virtual setups. Virtual open mics, online gym sessions, and mental health workshops are some fantastic examples.
4. WhatsApp Groups or Slack Channels
Encouraging WhatsApp groups or Slack channels for all unofficial communication can be another significant step. Team leaders can take charge of these groups to relay unofficial but essential information. With a hybrid working model, celebrating important occasions like birthdays or wishing someone good luck for the ongoing challenges get lost. However, little gestures like dropping a message for the same can help in keeping the connectedness intact. Have a strict no-forwards policy and encourage real conversations about each other's lives and things happening around them.
5. Feedback and Recognition
In the absence of face-to-face interaction and non-verbal cues, clear communication becomes even more critical. Detailed and direct feedback goes a long way and helps employees gain relevant insights and direction. This not only maximises productivity but also keeps them motivated to do better. Similarly, acknowledging and appreciating their contribution is another way to make them feel that they matter. Recognition sessions wherein employees are individually and openly valued for their contribution is a fine start.
It isn’t easy being a manager in a hybrid environment, but we recommend going with your gut when in doubt. For example, if your company has a dedicated team-building fund, now is the time to bring it out in fun and thoughtful ways.
While you’re at it, remember to look after yourself, too. There is some solace to be found in the fact that today, no one really knows what to do. If you need similar support structures from your leaders to keep going, don’t be afraid to tell them what you need and why.