Everyone turned to technology to help forge that lost human connection. However, now that we are transitioning into a post-pandemic world where some people may continue to work remotely while others choose to go into the office, or a combination of both, we have to make adjustments to ensure that a hybrid work environment is effective. A fully remote workforce and a partially remote workforce are two very different beasts. I would argue that it is actually harder to create a collaborative hybrid environment than it is to manage a fully remote one simply because you have to balance different needs and behaviors. There is naturally an uneven playing field with a hybrid model, and it requires business leaders to rethink the technology they are using to keep people connected, and even more so, to prioritize establishing a culture of inclusiveness.
To create a truly unified global team that unlocks the power of remote and on-site work, both technology and corporate culture must evolve to ensure equal engagement and opportunity for employees — no matter where they are.
Are the challenges with a hybrid model really ‘new’?
A hybrid work environment isn’t a completely new concept. If you are a global company, then hybrid teams have existed long before the great remote work experiment of 2020. Global companies are comprised of teams with employees living in different parts of the world, so naturally some team members may be based at headquarters, while others are remote. In fact, while I’m ‘based’ at our HQ office, I have been a hybrid worker for over five years now. I went into the office a few days a week and worked from home the other half of the time. This was a set-up I arranged in order to accommodate a better work/life balance as a working mom, and it is something progressive companies should be open to offering their employees. If we can figure out how to break barriers and level the playing field for a successful hybrid set-up, many more companies can offer this flexibility to their employees. If done correctly, this can be hugely beneficial for both people and companies around the world.
In the past, there was often a stigma associated with remote employees because they weren’t physically present. The most important thing in building a successful hybrid environment is a mindset shift. If you are offering a flexible work environment, then you also need to adjust expectations of people. If you work for a global company, you need to be respectful of time differences. In the past, remote workers were expected to figure out — often on their own — how to collaborate with in-office colleagues. This doesn’t work. Instead of helping remote employees become more engaged at work, we’ve created divides and made them feel distant, as though they are not truly part of the team.
We need to do a better job and change this behavior once and for all. Through working remotely the past 18 months, many onsite workers have gotten a glimpse of the challenges their global and remote colleagues have experienced for years — lack of spontaneity and engagement, proximity bias, and isolation. Let’s learn from this moment of empathy — for nothing drives change faster than walking in someone else’s shoes.
As workforces continue to expand internationally and evolve to accommodate more remote employees, companies also need the right tools to enable a distributed workforce, while making them feel more connected and engaged.
Barrier-free technology that connects
Technology today needs to spark the same spontaneity for remote workers as it does for in-office workers. Quite the tall order, and the reality is that it won’t feel the same. But perhaps we have the opportunity to shape an even more enriching experience for remote employees.
The days of slow, clunky, and unreliable meetings technology must end. Fighting with software updates, connectivity issues, and malfunctioning hardware for hours just to power a 30 minute video meeting simply isn’t feasible for a successful hybrid work environment. It’s important that remote attendees experience the same audio and video quality as their colleagues in the office. White-boarding sessions shouldn’t alienate remote participants, but be collaborative and engaging — with all participants in equal view of a whiteboard, for starters.
Teams shouldn’t need a manual and an IT hotline to conduct a meeting. A meeting solution needs enterprise-grade reliability and security with consumer-like ease of use. More importantly, all modes of communication — message, video, phone — need to be integrated. By doing so, everyone can participate in a way that’s comfortable for them, with information sharing that carries beyond the meeting itself in actionable next step takeaways, so context isn’t lost. For global colleagues, messaging might be more convenient than jumping on a call or a video meeting, depending on their time zone.
The ability to record video meetings is great for global teams that can’t be all together for every meeting. Being able to play back full conversations is helpful so they don’t feel they missed out on non-verbal cues or side comments/jokes from the meeting.
While having reliable and easy to use technology is necessary, it doesn’t end there. Building inclusive meetings is about changing your meeting culture. Meeting facilitators need to make sure every voice is heard by proactively engaging participants in conversation, asking their opinion, or prompting them to take the floor. Having a facilitator actually facilitate meetings helps kickstart cultural change by empowering quiet remote workers to add to the discussion, while reining in on-site counterparts who might unknowingly dominate the conversation.
At the end of the day, the right communication and collaboration solutions can help bring parity to a meetings experience, so everyone feels like an engaged participant, regardless of whether they’re inside or outside office walls. The way we work is changing rapidly, and if we can approach more flexible working models with the right attitude and tools, the possibilities are endless.