This is one of a series of Field Spotlight Communiques where company leaders who are fully immersed in the transformation to hybrid share tips and observations. For this issue, we interviewed two senior leaders. I’ve highlighted some comments that I felt are especially noteworthy.
“My manager wants coming into the office to be a ‘pull,’ something people want to come in for, and not just something we could have done on Teams.”
Flannery Audebrand, Talent Management Manager, for a Fortune 500 company based in Massachusetts
- The company’s current corporate policy is at least 2 days in the office (Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday), with each team deciding on the days they will be in the office together. A few groups whose roles lend themselves to working from anywhere have piloted being fully remote. Some managers and functions seem to value in-person facetime more than others and are a bit more prescriptive about their RTO policies, depending on the leaders and the team culture.
- My leader plans group-wide onsite sessions the third Wednesday of each month that help togenerate a sense of team spirit, including a group lunch and opportunities to brainstorm and share ideas. Most other teams they work with have group staff meetings the same day, so people can reconnect with people outside of their own teams. Otherwise, team members decide if we need to be in person or want face time with each other.
- MS Teams is the primary communications tool for our team, plus email. This has represented a huge shift, in a more agile way.We can ping a couple of colleagues on Teams and say “Let’s just talk this out in a chat” instead of having to schedule a meeting. Or we can ask one or two people if they can jump on a quick call to decide something that doesn’t require a scheduled meeting or may otherwise take multiple emails to settle. We replace in-person “run-ins” with virtual run-ins, where we might send a quick gif or emoji to connect or just to say hi.
- Even though my team has successfully navigated the virtual/hybrid world,there’s nothing like the oxytocin hit – the buzz – when you’re physically around other people. I actually feel more connected to more people than I did before COVID, because our team is spread across 4 locations. Ironically, video meetings brought us all together that wasn’t possible when we came into our separate offices. Now when we see each other in person, we feel much more connected.
- The company’s onboarding process has set people up for success in a virtual/hybrid environment. For example, each new hire gets a four-page meet-and-greet list, with names of people to meet within the first four weeks, along with an explanation of why it’s important to get to know them, and the best way to make contact. We don’t expect new employees to jump into their new jobs in the first four weeks. In fact, learning about their work and our culture is their job for the first month.
- The move to virtual/hybrid has opened up many more learning and development opportunities. By migrating to a virtual learning environment, we can include many more people from around the world. By splitting many classes into two-hour chunks, we have more flexibility for scheduling, and participants have more time to absorb what they’ve learned. We have quadrupled the capacity of our leadership development program, since no has to travel. Another big benefit: We have many more cross-cultural cohorts, making it easy for people in locations such as Australia, India and Vietnam to take part.
“When we open positions to remote employees, we increase the diversity and absolute size of the qualified candidate pool. We want to broaden the composition of our staff to include people from schools around the country, with different lived experiences…people who reflect the communities they’re serving.”
Sherry Burton, Vice President, Human Resources for Housing Partnership Network, a business collaborative of 100+ of the nation’s leading housing and community development organizations based in the Boston area
- About 25 people, or 60% of HPN’s employees, live in the greater Boston area, with the remainder living and working in more far-flung areas, almost all from their homes. Prior to Covid, just a few employees worked remotely on a permanent basis, and most were senior-level people. Today, HPN hires remote employees at all levels.
- RTO is strongly encouraged for Boston-based staff for part of the workweek (or month). Like most employers, we are still trying to strike the right balance of culture building and flexibility. At first, people were asked to return three days a week (with 2 mandated days), but most employees felt this was not flexible enough. Today, employees are encouraged to work onsite 8-10 times each month, which makes more sense, especially if people are away from home or otherwise unable to come in during the course of a certain week.
- When new employees join the company, we try to make sure others are in the office, especially those who will be working for or with the new employee. If the new employee’s manager is remote, they will reach out to Boston-based staff to make sure someone can be present to act as host. Likewise, when remote staff members are traveling to the Boston office, local employees are asked to make an effort to join them there.
- Many meetings are still all-virtual, though an increasing number are hybrid. Leaders are looking to shift all-staff meetings to virtual, with quarterly all-staff retreats in person offsite somewhere in the Boston area. Retreats are used for skill building, relationship building, knowledge sharing, and making social connections – all things that we feel are essential and can only be done effectively while in-person. Future retreats will resume our “dine-arounds,” where groups of employees who don’t often work together go off to different restaurants for lunch.
- (Starting soon) Everyone will attend their Friday staff meetings via video, including employees who might be working in the office.We found that all-virtual meetings help create a level playing field vis-à-vis hybrid meetings. They’re more democratic, especially for those who can’t be in the office. All HPN employees have the technology and internet access they need to participate on equal footing in all locations.
Thanks to the move to a hybrid remote work environment, both organizations have expanded and diversified their talent pools at a time when organizations are competing fiercely for qualified candidates. When it comes to building relationships, connecting and communicating across time and space, both Sherry and Flannery have a lot to teach us.
Downloadable checklists, templates and sample agendas
- Team communications matrix for virtual teams – downloadable example
- Virtual team health check – crafting questions that inspire candor, trust – downloadable tip sheet
- Team charter checklist for your virtual team – downloadable tip sheet
- Virtual trainer/facilitator design planning template – downloadable template