With many organizations looking to retain flexible work practices beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, the hybrid workplace is here to stay. For many of us, it means not having to commute, being able to spend time with our families and it offers more flexibility. A March 2021 survey of remote workers conducted by Caprelo, a work relocation company, found that 87% of respondents said being able to work remotely would be a part of their future employment decisions. No matter how you feel about it, the new ‘new normal’ is a hybrid workplace that requires keen etiquette, new practices to level the playing field, and flexible technology that connects people on a deeper level to their colleagues, customers, and partners.
In my role at RingCentral, I am often asked how individuals can prosper in the new hybrid workplace, and my answer is always the same — be aware, be engaging and be present. Organizations and leaders need to make sure they are getting 100% out of all their people, onsite or remote. And, these people need different things.
Here are some tips to keep everyone engaged and productive, so your business can thrive:
Mind your body language
If you’re joining a meeting remotely, be engaged and act engaged — do the same things you would if you were in-person. Use the same non-verbal techniques in online meetings you do in the real world. If you want to talk, start with the non-verbal – lean forward, turn on your microphone, raise your chin, make eye contact with the camera, then make your verbal move with an “Um,” or a “That’s right, and also…” To show you’re paying attention, move around a bit. Raise your eyebrows (and make eye contact) when someone says something you like. Smile. A lot. Nod your head. Remember that everyone else in the meeting is just as challenged for feedback as you are. They will notice you, appreciate you, and support you.
Be extra inclusive
A hybrid environment is naturally an uneven playing field. In fact, it can be more challenging to collaborate in a hybrid setting vs a fully remote setting because you must balance the in-person and remote experiences. Companies need to adjust the tools they provide to their employees, but perhaps more importantly, adapt the company culture. The workplace needs to become more inclusive at every level — all the way down to the day-to-day team meetings where work gets done.
When conducting meetings, remote participants often feel talked over or ignored. It’s a second-class experience. The onus is on everyone in the meeting, particularly, in-office workers, to be more aware and make sure they bring everyone into the conversation. When input or ideas are requested, it’s important everyone has an equal opportunity to chime in and share their thoughts. One way to facilitate this is to nominate a person responsible for making sure to invite commentary from every single participant. We must create an environment where people can be heard, contribute meaningfully, and engage deeply.
We need to remember that people are social animals and rely on non-verbal cues to build a bond and connection with each other. The absence of spontaneous in-office chats or cubicle ‘drive-bys’ eliminates one of our key avenues for connecting with one another on a social level. This is where we have an opportunity to make the meetings experience much richer. Put down the phone. Stop multitasking. Be present. Be inclusive. And everyone wins.
Adopt a flexible mindset
Employees need to have access to the right communication and collaboration tools that enable them to connect with customers and colleagues in the way they choose. For example, some employees may prefer to use audio vs video for meetings. Certain teams may find it more effective to rely mostly on messaging during the day to collaborate on projects. Technology must empower; not create a hindrance to getting work done. But this also requires that attitudes toward certain tools change. We must adjust our mindset to be flexible with what is acceptable.
Some people will choose not to turn on video all the time. For whatever their reasons, that needs to be an acceptable reality. When you have a platform that deeply integrates all modes of communications, from messaging to video to phone, it’s easy to switch between modes and devices. That seamless ability to communicate across a range of modes both empowers people to do what feels right for them, while maintaining a consistent experience for colleagues with whom they are working.
Bottom line: Companies that allow for flexibility will have optimal outcomes when enabling a hybrid workplace.
Look forward, not back
In my conversations with peers and friends at other companies, I’ve asked what they miss most about the way things used to be in the workplace. The majority of them said they miss the camaraderie they have with their peers. The spontaneity of being able to walk over to someone’s desk and talk about the previous night’s game or what they did over the weekend.
While some amount of nostalgia is inevitable as we chart the new way forward, I look at the silver lining of the opportunity we have at hand. Let’s take what we miss from the past and make it our collective mission to embed it into the culture we need for a successful hybrid environment. After all, we’re reimagining the workplace of the future. As I tell my team: the sky’s the limit; let creativity reign.