How To Manage The New Hybrid Office Culture

Rutger Bruining is the Founder and CEO of StoryTerrace, the leading global memoir-writing service.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a new way of living for much of the global workforce, and executives have had to learn how to manage this new normal.

Before the pandemic, my publishing company was about 10% remote and 90% in-office, but when we made the shift to fully remote work, everything changed. I had to figure out new ways of keeping our employees engaged and connected to each other, whether they were in-house staff or our developers in Ukraine.

But as businesses, we’ve all had to adapt. Since restrictions began lifting and things started to open up again, our team is now around 75% remote with the rest coming into the office a couple days a week. It’s a conscious choice regarding who needs to be in the office versus who works remotely.

Our frontline team leaders—managers, sales agents and project editors—are together in-person part-time. Everyone who reports to these team leaders in sales and editorial are remote-first. Given these nuances, there are a few key ways I’ve created synergy between in-office and remote team members that I wanted to share:

• Be clear about what you want. Leadership should communicate clearly as to which roles are remote, office-based or a hybrid at the start of the interview process. Make sure to also explain why so there’s no room for confusion.

• Ensure a comprehensive onboarding process. At my company, we created a buddy system where new employees are connected to an experienced team member so they can ask questions about company protocols and culture and feel connected to our mission from the get-go.

Also, as CEO, I personally do virtual intro sessions with new hires. I typically spend an hour with six people at a time and provide background on the reasons why I decided to set up the company and the values we wish to instill. Other ways I’ve gotten to know members of the team more quickly and personalize the onboarding process is by having people share a couple photos that are meaningful to them along with weekly icebreakers. I find this provides a level of comfort and is vital for team bonding within and between departments.

• Transparency is key. By providing key company and team updates as they happen, there is less room for misinformation to spread throughout the office. Some ways to ensure connectivity include “ask me anything” sessions (AMAs) where each department takes a turn being in the company spotlight; they answer questions directed to them from other members of the team in the same way that a community town hall discussion may be run.

This means that the conversation is dynamic and interactive, and it encourages all team members—regardless of seniority—to get involved. When you have remote workers, you need to formalize a lot of processes. Employee satisfaction surveys and 360-performance reviews are increasingly important to uncover key learnings on both sides to identify any potential issues.

It’s also very important that leadership remembers that not everyone is familiar with each term, word or process mentioned on a call or in a meeting. That’s why when anyone presents to a group, we make sure to clarify what each abbreviation stands for, what a certain chart means, etc. We never want anyone to feel isolated or have a lack of understanding.

• Keep the whole company close to the mission and customer. In our communication platform, Slack, we have an automation which informs the company of each and every story that has been sent to print along with details on every new book sold. This helps reiterate the progress we are making toward achieving our mission.

Also, we do a standing Monday meeting that is divided up by region, which is then followed by everyone coming together for a global, all-hands meeting on Tuesdays in which the editors share a “book of the week.” Every Tuesday, they introduce how they worked closely with a client to take a book from initial idea through to print. These initiatives reinforce our culture-driven community and create conversations that keep everyone closely tied to the product—even if they work in finance or marketing.

• Hold digital social events. We make it a point to hold digital social events regularly to shake up the work week. We’ve had comedians perform online, virtual beer/wine tastings and Christmas parties using Zoom breakout rooms to randomly match smaller groups of employees together in order to play fun games. Next year we’re planning to bring everyone together once or twice a year since we know the value of in-person connection as well.

As we continue to navigate through Covid-19 and its subsequent new workplace culture, it’s important that our employees feel part of a community. Whether your office is fully remote, hybrid or working in-person full-time, your team can benefit from new and creative ways to build and strengthen relationships with each other online. Connectivity is key in creating a healthy and successful work environment—for CEOs and employees alike.

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