Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it is undeniable that isolation and the rise of remote working have completely changed the way that we work. Even now, as life returns to normal, many employers still see the benefit of remote working to their organizations. For starters, it means fewer overheads, as many businesses have taken the opportunity to scale down their office spaces. Remote working has also led to a better work/life balance for many, with no lengthy commutes (also providing a significant environmental benefit) and more flexibility for today’s workers.
With that said, however, there remains an argument for the physical workplace. There is value in face-to-face contact and maintaining company relations. Plus, some workers enjoy having a dedicated place to go and work, separate from where they go to relax and unwind.
This has inevitably led to an increase in hybrid working – the combination of remote working and the physical workplace. Hybrid working can be facilitated fairly easily, especially when utilizing smaller office spaces, hot-desking, and even ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) schemes.
However, operating with half of your staff in the office and half at home is not without its challenges. One of these key challenges is defining and implementing business etiquette in the face of hybrid working. How can organizations achieve this?
Creating a Suitable Environment
Firstly, encourage workers to create a suitable work environment wherever they are. This likely requires a tidy desk and somewhere without too many distractions.
Importantly, this ought to be somewhere quiet to facilitate better voice and audio quality. If a worker’s audio is too noisy, you may need to ask them to relocate to somewhere quieter so as not to disrupt others in the meeting. Make sure everyone gets anequal say, no matter where they are located. Encourage workers to stay on mute until they have something to add to keep distracting background noise to a minimum. Workers can even use “raise hand” features to express that they have something to add whilst still on mute. This particular feature may also help remote workers not to be ignored or spoken over in favor of those who are physically present for the meeting.
Encourage workers to consider their lighting and what might be in the background when their cameras are turned on, especially if they are representing you with people from outside the company.
Keep Things Consistent
Try to keep things consistent, whether workers be in the office or at home. For example, whatever your workers would wear in the office, encourage them to wear similar when working at home. This also means that all workers are following a similar set of rules or guidelines whether they’re in the office or not, so no one feels like anyone else is receiving favorable treatment.
Punctuality is just as important in remote meetings as in those that occur face-to-face; possibly more so as there can be no excuses about getting stuck in traffic or missing the bus.
To ensure punctuality, schedule meetings in advance and encourage workers to make sure that they are ready in plenty of time with everything they need.
Test in Advance
Speaking of punctuality, make sure both in the meeting room and working remotely test all the required technology ahead of the meeting. Technology is not perfect and can sometimes let us down, so it’s important to utilize the “test your connection” function ahead of a meeting, so as to ensure everything starts on time and no one is left waiting for one or two users to adjust their microphone settings, or work out why their speakers aren’t turned on.
Email, Live Chat and Collaboration
Hybrid working etiquette isn’t just about meetings. It extends to every aspect of how workers communicate, collaborate, and generally work together, even when physically separated. If anything, this is where modern collaboration tools really come into their own in the support of hybrid working.
Email has played its role in how we work since long before the pandemic, but there’s even more use for it now that people are communicating remotely more often. Make sure workers know what kind of language is appropriate for company emails, when it is important to blind copy (BCC) in order to protect someone’s privacy, and make sure they remember to attach any relevant files before hitting send.
Workers can also utilize instant messaging (IM) features for quick queries that don’t require a full meeting. It may even be worth initiating group IM chats between certain teams, so that remote workers don’t feel they are missing out on too much of the water cooler chat typically associated with collegial bonding.
If a team is collaborating remotely on a single project or piece of work, they can live-edit the same document, presentation, or spreadsheet, even tracking and annotating changes to avoid confusion. This, in turn, saves sending the same document back and forth multiple times, at which point the team will likely lose track of which version of the aforementioned document is the most up-to-date. Many collaboration platforms also offer teams the use of notebooks to note down and brainstorm ideas, as well as the ability to compose to-do lists and assign each other tasks in order to monitor workflow.
A Central ‘Location’
On a holistic level, collaboration tools can work to anchor everything that workers are doing, keeping everything stored and accessible in a central location and generally ensuring that, despite physical distance, everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Having everything stored in a central location also makes it easier for management to monitor, meaning you can always oversee and ensure that sufficient etiquette is being exhibited at all times.
Communications and Collaboration Considerations
There is a lot to consider when establishing company etiquette in a hybrid world, but most importantly, you should define this etiquette and communicate it effectively with your workforce. The good news is you’re not alone. There are a whole host of communication and collaboration tools that can work to unite your workforce in the face of distance. They can ensure that everyone is included and gets a fair say. They also keep everything in one central location where it is accessible to all and easy for you to monitor to ensure that the necessary hybrid working etiquette is being maintained.
Dave is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.