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The future of work is hybrid. Leading companies such as Microsoft, Google and Ford are all embracing hybrid workplaces in part because the shift to remote work during the pandemic went more smoothly than many businesses anticipated. In fact, Gartner notes that 48 percent of the workforce will likely work fully or partially remotely after the pandemic. An even bigger reason for implementing hybrid work? Employees now demand flexible schedules. Bloomberg reports that 39 percent of people surveyed in May 2021 said they would quit their jobs if their employers didn’t provide remote work options.
Even though flexible hybrid workplaces will be mainstays for companies going forward, there are still some growing pains to work through — especially when it comes to creating an onboarding process for remote and on-site employees that encourages hybrid collaboration and makes all hires feel comfortable regardless of their location. New remote hires can easily feel isolated from in-person and even other remote employees, which can result in a lack of communication and collaboration among teams. Unsurprisingly, Gartner found that 71 percent of HR leaders are more concerned with collaboration now than they were before the pandemic.
Efforts to improve the effectiveness of hybrid collaboration can pay dividends, and PwC research found that 78 percent of CEOs think collaboration with remote teams is here to stay. In light of this, my team set about creating an onboarding process for remote employees that would help new workers find their rhythm and encourage meaningful contributions as quickly as possible. It was (and still is) a work in progress, but we’ve found these three steps to be the most important for establishing better collaboration with remote and on-site teams during the onboarding process:
1. Make hybrid collaboration a cultural imperative
It’s one thing to announce that your organization will start bringing on remote workers. It’s another to foster a culture of collaboration that applies equally to both in-office and remote teams. Despite all the attention given to it, culture is difficult to reliably manufacture. But perhaps the best way you can improve the odds of instilling the culture you want is by starting with a top-down approach. When you lead by example and show enthusiasm, you’re demonstrating that you value making more concerted efforts to collaborate with remote teams, which encourages others to do the same.
After you’ve made sure your actions reflect the culture you want, the next step is to set clear and realistic expectations for leadership, management and your team to follow. According to Queens University of Charlotte, only 27 percent of employees reported getting communication training at their jobs. So create an onboarding process for remote employees that explains how new hires can communicate effectively with their colleagues, and hold yourself and your team accountable for participation and contributions to collaboration.
If new hires are expected to introduce themselves on Slack or Microsoft Teams, have managers help facilitate the introduction and break the ice with the team. Without clear instructions for starting collaborative relationships, some people might slip through the cracks. It takes lots of work and repetition, but when you make collaboration a cultural imperative, on-site and remote teams won’t feel siloed.
2. Enable new hybrid hires to collaborate effectively
If you feel as though there’s a direct correlation between collaboration and productivity, you’re not alone. Proceedings from the Industrial and Systems Engineering Research Conference support this claim, as does a study from Stanford and another from the Institute for Corporate Productivity. Increase your team’s collaborative potential, and you’ll increase productivity — but how can you get new hires to feel comfortable pitching in?
One key to unlocking the potential of new hybrid hires is arming them with the tools they need to make meaningful contributions. Whether these are video conferencing tools to bring them into in-person conferences, digital whiteboard tools such as Miro and MURAL to enable their participation in brain dump sessions or whatever else allows them to add value to your organization, invest in technologies that let them contribute their ideas and experience. Agile workflows can also facilitate collaboration because they emphasize continuous, iterative improvement that demands frequent contributions from both on-site and remote employees.
3. Create purposeful interactions for people on hybrid teams
In an in-person environment, employees experience many organic interactions with one another. That means they can exchange ideas during lunch outings, break room chats and even passing one another in the hallway, along with their regular collaboration sessions for projects and in conferences or meetings.
However, WeWork published a study in September 2020 that suggested employees were getting together to brainstorm up to 15 percent less since the switch to remote work. Because remote employees can’t benefit from the natural cross-pollination of ideas that happens in office settings, you’ll need to create a smart balance of formal and informal interactions and discussions that help them share, collaborate and learn from other remote and in-person workers.
Microsoft, which has onboarded more than 25,000 employees since the start of the pandemic, assigns new hires an “onboarding buddy” to help integrate them into the team from the get-go and who serves as a go-to resource for informal help. This program has been especially effective for Microsoft — 56 percent of new hires who met with their onboarding buddy in their first 90 days said the interaction allowed them to get up to speed more quickly.
Other possibilities might include lunch and learns to help with skill-building, workshops to go over specific tools and workflows, brainstorm sessions to get hybrid employees comfortable contributing and town halls to ensure everyone is on the same page. After the pandemic, many of your employees will probably be experienced remote workers. As long as you create more opportunities for them to interact with coworkers outside of their immediate team, they’ll likely mesh well with people company wide. These opportunities don’t have to be all business, either. Be sure to mix in fun activities to help them feel comfortable at your organization on a more personal level.
For now, at least, collaboration comes more naturally to most people when they’re face to face in an office setting. Online work makes it easier to hide behind a screen, turn off video or put yourself on mute and do the minimum necessary to get by at work. The good news is that you can avoid this kind of behavior by creating a more intentional onboarding process for new remote and on-site employees that encourages them to collaborate effectively. Give them the tools and processes they need, set clear expectations and create a variety of interactions designed to turn disparate individuals in multiple locations into a collaborative team. In time, you’ll see improved retention, greater productivity and a happier, more satisfied workforce.