Last year when the pandemic first hit, we were all forced to quickly learn how to work together as fully remote teams. It was challenging, but for many of us, we have finally gotten comfortable with it—and it even has some perks! The flexibility, the comfort of staying at home, no commute. There are also other benefits around more equal opportunities that come with every person contributing remotely—including enhanced ability for all employees to collaborate and contribute to discussions during meetings, equal access to senior leadership for promotions and consideration for high-visibility assignments.
Today, we as PR professionals are now embarking on discovery of the elusive “new normal” of post-pandemic work and life. Many companies and agencies are planning to keep some level of remote working as part of this new normal. My agency Evoke KYNE has rolled out our new way of working—Work Where You Work Best—allowing complete flexibility for team members to choose their own working model: full-time remote, full time in office, or splitting time between both. I’m so proud to be part of a company that recognizes the importance of allowing the individual to have a voice in deciding how they will integrate work into their lives, which can enrich work/life balance and improve happiness and retention.
From a recruitment perspective, this model opens up incredible talent in different geographies that may not have been considered before. But with many companies planning initial returns to offices in the coming months, which will be more “hybrid” than ever before, new uncertainty takes shape. How can we achieve the same opportunity, collaboration and contribution environments that are critical to maintaining high-performing teams and happy colleagues?
Why am I qualified to offer perspective here, you might ask? Because I’ve been managing hybrid teamwork for nearly 10 years
I started my career as a PR agency professional in NYC but moved to Calgary in Canada after eight years. (As a New Yorker who had always thought of Manhattan as the center of the universe, I had to Google where this was exactly before I moved here. About three hours north of Montana. It’s wonderful.) At the time, I was lucky enough to have an employer that was open to the idea of keeping me on staff, working remotely—much more of a novelty back then. In my years of working and leading hybrid teams, I have a few tips that I’ve cultivated to manage and inspire a hybrid team that I now implement as an Executive Vice President at Evoke KYNE.
Meeting hygiene is the new hand sanitizer
Especially as we transition to hybrid working, it’s critical to relentlessly continue to optimize your team meetings. Pressure test how the agenda is set, that everyone is clear on who is providing updates on which projects, that remote team members are empowered to drive their portions of the agenda and space is created for discussion and participation among all team members. As the team lead, whether you are in person or remote, it is your job to create this space for contributions from all team members. Ask for feedback from team members on what is working and what is not working, and try new things.
Unpopular opinion alert! We’ve all related to the memes going around to “normalize not being on video.” It’s painful to be on video all day. But when you are working as a hybrid team, with some people in person and some remote, making sure all team members use video at the right meetings is a great way to ensure everyone is seen by the full team. It’s much easier to see when someone remote is about to make a point or contribution.
Make 1:1 time with your remote team members
Working remotely can be impersonal. When you are the only one or one of few working remotely on a team, FOMO is real. Make time for 1:1 catch-ups with your team members to get to know each other, to build trust. Not just because building trust is important for team dynamic, which it definitely is. But also because getting to know each other is fun and makes teamwork more human!
Be remote yourself sometimes
As a leader, you may be planning to go back to the office and are eager to ensure you have a presence at the office, among those who are going to be back in person. Of course, do this. It’s important. But if you are managing or collaborating often with people who are remote, it is also important to work remotely sometimes, to experience what it’s like to participate in hybrid meetings as a remote person and sharpen your remote meeting skills – a critical ability to maintain in our new post-pandemic way of working.
Consider remote employees for high-visibility and important projects
It will be tempting to do that new business pitch just with a tight in-person team, or to grab the person you see every day to help with an important new assignment. Awareness of the bias you’ll have towards people you see physically every day is the most important step in addressing it.
And the final tip is maybe the most important—continue to adapt
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the kick-in-the-pants reminder that the only constant is change. Remaining flexible, open to feedback, and open to experimenting with new ways of working will help make sure you and your teams will be best equipped to handle whatever other new adventures are in store for us!