Tips for Creating a Remote-first Workplace to Make Life Easier for Everyone

Let’s face it. Designing and implementing a high-performing hybrid workplace isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things a leader will ever do.

It can be so confounding that some organizations initially announcing a move to hybrid are backpedaling, despite the almost-certain loss of employees and even greater difficulty in recruiting top talent.

Organizations can make the move to hybrid a whole lot easier by adopting a single principle: Remote-first. That is, instead of designing a workplace that revolves around onsite employees as the default, create a work environment centered around the needs of remote employees first.

This way, your organization can create a far more equitable workplace. And, as the future of work continues to evolve, you’ll have the structures and processes in place to reconfigure your workplace more quickly, easily, and with fewer disruptions.

Here are some practical steps organizations can take to embrace a remote-first mindset. Start with one or two steps and expand from there. (These tips were inspired by a Fortune article by Lauren Farrer entitled “10 Habits to Ensure Equality in Your Hybrid Team.” See link below.)

  • Measure performance or productivity by output (or other quantitative or qualitative results), versus days in the office or number of hours worked. Challenge assumptions that people are more productive or effective when they work in the office. In fact, studies show that most managers felt their teams were actually more productive while working remotely over the last two years, while many employees returning to the office complain that constant interruptions and distractions make it harder to get work done.
  • Create the same meeting experience for everyone. Choose a digital platform that enables all voices to be heard and all faces to be seen. Appoint someone in the meeting room to act as an advocate for remote team members, ensuring that they can see and hear everyone in the room, and vice-versa. Ask yourself whether the need to be gather people together in the room outweighs the need to create a truly level playing field by having everyone meet remotely. If the nature of the meeting requires that everyone gather in the same room, make every effort to have people attend in person.
  • Share important information, ideas, and questions through public channels, like Teams or Slack, ensuring that all team members have easy access, versus through more restrictive distribution methods like emails or water cooler chats. As a team, agree on protocols about tagging, threading, meeting notifications, editing rights, and other important conventions. Determine the purpose and use of different channels. For example, some teams like to create separate Slack channels for social conversations, while others like to make online conversations more “organic,” with social and project-related conversations melding together.
  • Establish an easy-to-navigate resource directory, accessible any time, from anywhere. This typically requires the creation of an information architecture that makes it intuitive for people to easily share or find what they need. Existing documentation may need to be migrated to the shared platform, a tedious though vital process. Encourage team members to help each other find what they need by showing each other how to find it, rather than doing the work for them. Help team members break the habit of attaching documents to emails by embedding links to the resource directory in your own emails.
  • Create and reinforce a team culture that’s location-independent. For a hybrid team, one of the most effective ways to do this is to create shared principles about how team members will communicate and collaborate to get work done, rather than tying the notion of “culture” to a physical office location. Consider creating team logos, colors, brands, or slogans that are shared across the team, regardless where people work. One of my clients sent branded team T-shirts and mugs to team members in all locations, and during almost every team meeting, shirts and mugs were ubiquitous.
  • Establish team rituals that work in any location. Taking a remote-first view means prioritizing activities that are accessible asynchronously from anywhere. Ensure that such rituals are inclusive for all to facilitate connections across your distributed team. Simple examples include: A “good day” group chat, where people share their beverage of choice in the moment, or a “TGIF” chat, where people talk about their weekend plans. Team members might post brief videos of their favorite local holiday traditions or recent vacation. People can share last week’s achievements and this week’s challenges at the start of every meeting.
  • Reward and celebrate achievements and milestones at a team and individual level. If you’re taking your office folks out for pizza to celebrate a recent success, send your remote team members a coupon or gift card for a meal they, too, can enjoy. (Encourage people to take photos or videos to share in your team portal, so everyone can feel like they were part of the same celebration.) Nothing acknowledges great performance or gratitude like sending real stuff, such as a handwritten card, book, gift card, or specially-selected food or beverages. Be specific about what the person or team accomplished, and why you’re so grateful.
  • Coordinate team schedules strategically. Rather than arbitrarily determining who works where and when, consider when (or whether) it might be especially important for certain people, if not the entire team, to be physically present at the same time, such as for a particularly intense phase of a key project, a group training session, or the need for a social gathering. Treat office time as an off-site, where people gather at the same time with intention and purpose, rather than coming in to do work they could just as easily be doing at home.
  • Make it safe for people to offer ongoing feedback, and make adjustments accordingly. Moving to a hybrid world is uncharted territory for many organizations. And even those that were hybrid in pre-Covid times will likely experience seismic shifts in how they work, after having worked entirely virtually for the last two years. Use a combination of surveys, focus groups and interviews to assess what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to be tweaked or altogether revamped.

Whether your team thrashes or thrives depends on the leader’s ability to create and reinforce a culture of connection, mutual trust and equality across the whole team, regardless of work location or hours worked. Start with one or two steps that you believe can help you make the greatest strides toward creating a remote-first workplace, and work your way forward from there.

 

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