As company leaders consider their return-to-work plans, either for the immediate or distant future, many are embracing a hybrid approach to remote work. Eligible employees who would rather work remotely may do so either part- or full-time, and others may return to the workplace. But it’s important to note that a hybrid workforce model can be far more difficult to pull off than an all-remote or co-located workforce model. In a hybrid model, the office-based experience often becomes the default, and remote workers end up feeling isolated and excluded from their peers.
Rather than merely replicating the co-located employee experience, company leaders need to be intentional about remote worker inclusion.
Remote workers may be “out of sight, out of mind” for promotions and other growth opportunities. Make sure you’re creating career ladders that clearly define the skills, work experience, education, and other requirements needed to progress at your organization. This may help managers more objectively recognize when their reports have achieved those goals and are deserving of a promotion. Career ladders should be discussed regularly—not only during performance reviews—so employees know where they stand. For instance, GitLab’s handbook encourages managers to “proactively ask about [employee] career goals, and frequently discuss how a report is moving towards a particular career objective.”
Promotions are often tied to an employee’s opportunity to work on challenging projects. Keep track of promotion rates and promotion speed for both remote and office-based employees to see how they compare. Break this down further by department and manager to see if remote work may be holding some teams back from promotions more than others.
Similarly, remote workers may be falling behind on compensation increases due to lack of visibility. Managers and other company leaders may allocate more of their review cycle budget to the employees they see around the office on a regular basis.
Run regular pay equity analyses to see how employees stack up. Dig into outliers to try to understand why they have unusually high or low Compa-ratios or range penetration. If you notice a pattern wherein remote employees are often on the lower end of their salary ranges, and office-based employees are on the higher end, you may have a problem in this area.
Some people feel more productive in an office, while others feel more productive working elsewhere. Either way, an optimal work environment allows employees to operate at peak efficiency. An office stipend can help your remote workers set up their ideal workspace.
For instance, Stack Overflow furnishes a home office set-up that includes a Herman Miller Aeron chair, Steelcase adjustable-height desk, MacBook Air, and external monitor. They also reimburse a set amount each month to cover “home office expenses” such as high-speed internet. DropBox and GitLab workers are reimbursed for the cost of a coworking or external office space, if they prefer to work outside the home.
Meetings among your hybrid workforce can get messy. Office-based employees often forget to dial in, a lag essentially mutes remote workers’ voices, side conversations don’t include everyone, and documents can’t easily be shared.
Some companies are taking a remote-first approach to meetings. Each individual meeting attendee logs in to the virtual meeting separately—even if they’re in the same office.
Some companies prefer a more asynchronous style of communication, so remote workers can consume important information on their own time. Help Scout is one such company, relying heavily on written and recorded information. For instance, they share a weekly video update with their team to keep everyone informed about new feature releases, birthdays, and other company-wide news. However, they’ve found that project kick-offs and short, weekly syncs are crucial to help prevent miscommunications.
Face-to-face interactions can strengthen employee relationships, and help bridge a physical divide between co-located and remote employees. Company leaders should be intentional about planning in-person team building events (once COVID ceases to be a threat), even if they're optional to attend. GitLab encourages team members to gather in-person for reimbursed holiday gatherings, GitLab Commit events, and conferences and trade shows. They also gather their executive team for a quarterly four-day offsite, which is documented for the rest of the company to see.
The right tech stack can help support your remote operations and create a more inclusive environment for your distributed team. This may include chat tools like Slack and Hangouts, or project management tools like Asana and Trello, to enable better communication and collaboration. For instance, Help Scout uses Slack, Donut, and Appear.in to randomly pair two employees for a monthly 15-30 minute chat.
Shawna Hein at Ad Hoc shares, “Yes, it’s a bit harder to collaborate remotely. Is it that much harder? We haven’t found it so. We use Slack and video chat, we screenshare, we co-design with online whiteboarding tools, sometimes we draw on paper and send a photo. It helps that we’re a remote-first team, so all the collaboration and company culture happens online. It’s a much different experience from being the lone remote worker on an in-person team. It’s certainly an adjustment from in-person collaboration, but it doesn’t have to be inferior.”
Remote work has grown as a necessity of COVID-19, and many employees want to continue working remotely—even if just part-time. This represents a tremendous opportunity for companies to diversify their workforces, improve employee work-life balance, and reduce their carbon footprint. But this transition won’t be without its challenges. It is so crucial to think through necessary changes and be as intentional about the remote worker experience as you are about the co-located worker experience.