Hybrid Work and Social Connections
Tips for Creating Successful Hybrid Environments
More and more workplaces are transitioning to a hybrid environment, with employees balancing remote work with in-person days. Returning to the office is more complex than flipping a switch and returning to how things were before March 2020. Hybrid work brings with it its challenges, particularly when it comes to creating and maintaining social connections among employees. Here are some tips to ensure your company’s hybrid posture supports – and even improves – company culture.
Tips for managers
We’ve all heard the saying, “Employees don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.” How you approach the new hybrid environment will significantly affect how successful your team adapts to and embraces it.
When transitioning to a hybrid environment, it’s important to listen to your team. While some people miss the interactions of being in the office together, others have enjoyed the benefits of remote work. There will likely be a variety of opinions and emotions about returning to the office.
Be flexible with hybrid schedules as much as possible. Maybe that means asking people to choose the day(s) that work best for them to be in the office. Perhaps it means asking teams to hold important meetings in person. Otherwise, leave it up to the individual employee whether they prefer to work in the office or remotely. Over the past three years, many teams have proven that remote work can be as effective as being in person. Show them you trust them! We all function better when we have some agency and feel we have a choice. Listening to people’s concerns before instituting hybrid work schedules and being flexible will help increase buy-in. This will also reduce resentment and ultimate staff attrition.
At the same time, acknowledge the importance of workplace relationships. Also, provide structured opportunities for your teams to create and maintain those relationships. You can encourage staff to coordinate when they come into the office so many are there on the same day. You can even start a company-wide Teams or Slack chat for in-person coordination. Schedule staff meetings or all-hands on days when you know higher numbers of employees will be in the office. Another suggestion is to provide an in-person team lunch once a month to encourage team-building.
Finally, it can be easy to slip into pre-pandemic habits but keep remote workers from feeling forgotten. When holding meetings at the office, make sure the in-person meeting room lends itself to the hybrid posture. Test audio and visual features to ensure remote employees can hear you and see you well. Make sure to speak to remote participants as much as you do in-person participants and utilize virtual tools like the whiteboard features on Zoom or Teams to allow remote participants to engage actively in the discussion. Some companies even ask everyone to join virtual meetings individually; having everyone logged on by themselves rather than gathering together and logging on as an entire room can cut down on side conversations held among in-person participants.
Hold virtual office hours or informal “coffee breaks” to make yourself available to remote employees and remember to check in regularly with those you don’t see often. Are you throwing an office birthday party, baby shower, or retirement party? Make sure to invite remote participants and plan at least one hybrid activity to allow them to actively engage with their coworkers (the event’s start typically works best for this!).
Tips for employees
Of course, only some things are up to management! Employees themselves can take several necessary steps to help smooth the transition to hybrid work.
Communicate openly with your managers and team members about your preferred work style, schedule, and methods of communication – but be careful to avoid complaints or gossip when it comes to your or anyone else’s hybrid schedule. It’s human to want to vent about things that are bothering us, but while gossip or vent sessions can seem like they strengthen relationships among those we’re complaining to, in the long run, all they do is hurt our team’s cohesion and trust.
Be intentional in reaching out to colleagues. Whether you are remote or in-person, take the time to chat with coworkers on Teams or Slack to say hi or ask how they’re doing. Make an effort to engage in team-building opportunities, like team lunches or happy hours, brown bag sessions, or guest speaker sessions, whether virtually or in person. Avoid multi-tasking in virtual meetings as much as possible, and practice active listening with your remote and in-person coworkers.
Reach out to new employees, whether virtually or in person. It is much harder to get to know new people when you may not be in the office simultaneously, so go the extra mile in welcoming them to the team. Invite them to grab a cup of coffee, virtually or in person, to get to know each other and help them understand your team’s hybrid layout.
Finally, continue to do so authentically whether you show up remotely or in the office. The best way to connect with others, and to make them feel safe connecting with you, is to be your true self.