It finally seems like we’re ready to start returning to “normal”—whatever that might mean—after over a year spent working remotely, sheltering at home to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the prospect of hybrid work becomes a reality for many, we decided to check in with our community to understand what they’re doing to prepare for the next phase.
Of the teams that we polled, the majority will be returning to the office in September 2021, and many workplaces will have a hybrid model that involves some people going back to an office, and others continuing to work from home indefinitely. The next largest chunk of teams said that they had no idea yet, and still others defined their hybrid strategy as “everyone going to the office 3 or fewer days a week,” showing that the “hybrid work playbook” is far from complete.
So, we asked some of the best-connected teams and most thoughtful advisors we know how they’re thinking about the next phase, hybrid work. Here’s what we learned.
All meetings are now remote meetings
In many ways, this last year equalized the remote experience, with everyone in the same size Zoom box… but ask anyone who’s been the only remote person in a team meeting, and you’ll know how tough it is to regularly hold a meeting where some people are colocated and others are remote. The number one, unanimous piece of advice we received was to make meetings more equitable and location-agnostic.
Jess Kelso, Director of Customer Experience, EMEA at Beyond, said, “If you are joining a Zoom meeting in a conference room at work with a lot of people, still join as an individual (muted, of course!) so that remote employees can still see your face when you are speaking.”
Brianna Mark, CMP Staff Employee Experience and Events Manager at Mozilla said, “So that we are reinforcing equity, we’re establishing a norm around meetings where regardless of whether folks are in an office with others or at home, all meetings are taken over Zoom.”
Garrett Dieckmann, Software Engineer at F5 Networks told us: “As a team, we already had to build some remote-friendly ways to collaborate since our PM is in San Jose, half our team is in Spokane, WA, and the other half is in Seattle. Our meetings are always on Zoom, even if everyone is in person, and “stand-ups” are async via a messaging app.”
Set clear communication norms
In the words of Brene Brown, “clear is kind.” Clear communication around expectations, preferences, and norms go a long way when some people are working in a structured, shared environment and others continue working remotely.
Jess shared that consistency is key: “Hybrid to us means having a set schedule of when you are and aren’t in the office rather than just coming in when you feel like it. We believe that knowing who will be in the office when so you can plan accordingly is important.” Also, normalize sharing worksite status: “Adding to our Slack Profiles whether we are Remote Friendly or Remote First makes it easy for people around the company to know what to expect from others for scheduling.”
Gary Ware, Chief Play Officer, Breakthrough Play told us, “With the clients that I am working with, we are focusing on creating rules of agreement for specific communication types (email, meetings, Slack, etc.). This will reduce the ambiguity, and get everyone on the same page. In addition, it will ensure everyone is seen and heard regardless of their physical location.”
Fatma Ghedira, Head of Community at ThinkHuman shared how their team models clear communication for their customers and community: “We make sure our acknowledgements are regular and specific, as it is easy to take teammate efforts and good work for granted. It is sometimes hard to remember to acknowledge them if you don’t see them everyday. I recommend blocking 30 min on your calendar to do that on a weekly basis if acknowledgements don’t come naturally to you. If they are, do them as soon as you notice exceptional work from your teammate or behaviorally demonstrating an organizational value.”
Bring your whole selves to work
If there was a silver lining from 2020, it might be that we really recognized the humanity of our colleagues, and created space for life to bleed into work. While this was hardly a choice—shout out to those caring for family members and fur babies on camera!—it did underscore how much of ourselves we’d previously kept separate from each other while at work, and highlighted the opportunity for deeper, more empathetic connections. As we enter the next phase at work, keeping that space and empathy will be critical.
Jess shared, “In our reviews we now look at metrics and overall company performance, but we also look at how many babies were born, how many people got married/engaged, how many Donut meetings took place, how many shout outs were given in our #above-and-beyond channel on Slack etc. Our People Team have worked hard to capture some of the information that gets shared casually in the office and to share with the whole company (where appropriate).”
Fatma added, “We have conversations about the importance of life design for our teammates. There is no shame or insecurity around relocating, changing roles, making our work hours work for us, going to doctor appointments, or otherwise honoring ourselves and our lives in ways that bring us joy while taking care of our people (family and friends).”
Mental health matters
Fatma also named employee well-being as their foremost goal after the last year+ of intense upheaval, and outlined how the ThinkHuman team is modeling burnout prevention and community care:
“We have regular check-ins individually with peers and direct reports on their psychological well being, their capacity and what they have on their plate. Burnout is and can be contagious and it is important to make sure we are all responsible for taking care of ourselves and have our eye on our wellbeing and also the well being of our peers and teammates.
“We have a no meeting “policy” on Fridays outside of coworking meetings within the same function. We take mental health days when we feel we need it. Rather than focusing on happy hours and fun get-togethers, we like having deep social connections and gatherings that are curated and purposeful to deepen our relationships, our appreciation for each other and the work we do together rather than get on zoom just for the sake of being “‘together”. They are not as regular but they are usually meaningful.”
Patrick Cleary, Knowledge Manager at DraftKings shared, “Our employee business resource groups teamed up with human resources and benefits teams to host a session on anxiety and mental health, specifically focused on return to office anxiety. The discussion was well-attended and lively, and we got great feedback from the participants that the discussion helped to address outstanding questions and worries about going back to the office.”
Hybrid doesn’t mean “back to normal”
The overarching feedback that we heard from our experts was that hybrid work doesn’t signify a return to “normal” work like the “before times.” Rather, they each made it clear that the shift to hybrid work is a paradigm shift, requiring even more intentionality than the rapid transition to remote work in March 2020. Far from slipping back into old patterns, the return to the office and introduction of hybrid working patterns will ask us to take the hard-won lessons about communication, equality, documentation, connection, and belonging from the past year+, and build on them for this next phase.
In keeping with the underlying themes of equity and belonging, Brianna told us, “we haven’t officially announced our plan for the “future of work”: we’re still working on it, choosing to go slowly to make sure we’re doing things as thoughtfully and inclusively as possible.”
Garrett said, “As a company, we’re moving towards a model of “personas” that each individual can opt into and is fully supported by the company/HR:
- Resident: In the office 4+ days / week. Has an assigned workstation/desk
- Flexible: In the office 2-3 days / week. Has an assigned “area” they work in, but will use a shared desk (vast majority of people have expressed interest in the flex model – myself included)
- Virtual: Fully remote”
Vicki showed how Bonusly is intentionally planning for the next phase, saying, “In creating our new workplace strategy we’re thinking about how we can give employees flexibility in how/where they work and still be able to collaborate and innovate.”
Josh Levine, Author of Great Mondays, looked ahead to a remote-first hybrid future and told us, “Because we are more remote than ever, the location of potential hires hardly matters. We are planning to come together in person for client workshops so I plan to build some extra time around those events for relationship building.”
Donut helps build coworker connections in a hybrid workplace
If you’re planning for the next phase of work and looking for a lifeline, read on to learn how other teams are using Donut to power hybrid connections:
Brianna told us, “As we look to maintain some of the best parts of a fully-remote workplace, we’re focusing on three pillars: flexibility, equity and belonging. Donut fits in the belonging bucket. We’re loving it as a low-friction way to build connections within our ERGs (Employee Resources Groups).”
“We love our monthly #BP-Besties pairings! We are also reinstating Intros in groups of 6, less frequently, to encourage people across departments to meet,” Jess said, continuing on to share:
“We love Watercooler topics! We have also set Watercooler up in our DEI Slack channel with prompts/ information on DEI-related issues… not related to hybrid work specifically, but an example of how you can leverage Watercooler in different ways to establish connections.
“We will pair all new starters with an onboarding buddy from a different department. Traditionally this has been more ad-hoc and all done in person, but we are going to leverage Donut to make it a more formal process and prompt the new starter and the buddy proactively to check in.”
Vicki shared, “Donut is integral in helping us create those organic moments: we use daily challenges to create conversations and get to know each other on a more personal level and Donut chats to have some of those Watercooler conversations. It’s been a great tool to connect our dispersed team.”
Roy Bahat, Head of Bloomberg Beta summed it up nicely: “How can you be intentional about having happy accidents? Like running into someone in the hallway and finding that new idea that makes things work. Donut’s been part of how we do that. As much attention as you gave to designing physical offices, as a CEO you should consider giving to designing the virtual ones. Software is culture, so pick wisely.”
Wherever your team sits, and however you’re working, these best practices and helpful tips about transitioning from remote into hybrid work can help your team work together even better.