There’s no denying it: virtual work is here to stay. According to Forbes, 25% of all professional jobs in North America are expected to be remote by the end of 2022 – and it will only increase from there. And with companies like AirBnB, Dropbox, and 3M announcing virtual first work policies to their thousands of employees, many are taking notice.
Employees are in search of organizations that offer greater flexibility. It’s what has contributed to the Great Resignation, with 64% of workers considering leaving their job if asked to return to the office. To recruit and retain top talent successfully, leaders must take a step back, recalibrate, and design long-term plans for the future that include the option to work from anywhere.
So, how do leaders:
- Maintain high-performing teams while undergoing so many changes?
- Foster healthy cultures that were once based on in-person interactions?
- Build connections among new joiners?
- Have open channels of communication for everyone?
It comes down to three focus areas for success: strong leadership visibility, onboarding, and connection. Here’s how each applies to a virtual first working model:
1. Make leadership visible to all employees. Distance between senior leaders and the rest of the organization has only grown with remote work. Without casual run-ins at the office, employees have limited exposure to leaders they don’t work with directly – creating a feeling of disconnection and disengagement. Many employees also believe they need access to leaders for career development. And without that, they may “move on to move up,” accelerating turnover. Lastly, without establishing leadership visibility, there may be an “us” vs “them” mentality between the leadership team and employees, which can be dangerous for a company’s culture.
So, how can leaders make sure they’re being communicative and accessible even in a remote work setting?
- Communicate transparently: Share info employees want and need to know on a predictable basis – keeping open channels for questions and being transparent about challenges. Some companies have approached this with open office hours or “Ask Me Anything” sessions.
- Reconsider the “one-size-fits-all” approach: Every organization is different. What works for some companies may not resonate with your employee base, so experiment and tailor your approach.
- Listen intently: Keep a strong pulse on employee sentiment by continually asking for feedback. Whether this is through engagement surveys or informal conversations, it’s critical to get their input and then actually listen to what they have to say.
2. Re-engineer the new hire experience. Onboarding is more important than ever before. Between the competitive job market, markedly high turnover rates, and employers’ desperate need for talent, getting new hires up-to-speed is critical for success. However, remote onboarding leaves new employees struggling to understand organizational culture, technology, benefits, and policies, with 88% of employees saying their company has a lackluster onboarding experience, according to HBR.
So, how can companies address this challenge in a virtual environment?
- Make it personal and meaningful: Highlight the company culture, values, and how it ties to employees’ day-to-day right off the bat.
- Foster connections: Give employees a chance to meet with people across the team informally to get exposure to their worlds and feel comfortable diving into the work. And make sure people managers are guiding them along the way.
- Keep it digestible and flexible: Lengthen the timeframe for onboarding so new hires can soak up all the information and balance synchronous and asynchronous onboarding at their own pace.
3. Make the new normal feel less isolating. At our core, humans are social beings and what we miss most about the in-person office experience are the people. However, staying connected and getting to know each other has shifted drastically with remote working. Meet-ups are infrequent, and many companies have had people move to different parts of their respective countries. With face-to-face interactions at an all-time low, employees are feeling more isolated than ever before.
So, how can leaders shift their approach?
- Overcommunicate to stay connected. To feel connected virtually, make an extra effort to communicate more frequently and clearly. Virtual happy hours and monthly team activities aren’t enough to fuel connections. Instead, communication channels need to be embedded into the daily framework of virtual work.
- Create structured ways for new employees to meet team members. With so many new employees joining organizations virtually, make it easy for them to meet and get to know each other on a personal level. Whether through scheduled calls as part of the onboarding process, or by hosting a new joiner lunch, it’s critical to foster an inclusive environment from the get-go.
- Be human and connect beyond work. With virtual meetings, it may seem easier to get right down to business. However, it’s important to continue to make time to connect beyond work. Starting each meeting with a few minutes to check in on team members’ overall wellbeing and ask what brought them joy in the last 24 hours can help individuals connect virtually in an authentic way.
Going virtual first requires a true mindset shift in the way we think about work and how we interact with our team members – and it’s not easy. But it’s also an opportunity to strengthen organizations and the relationships within them. By increasing accessibility to leaders, re-engineering the new-hire experience, and easing feelings of isolation, your organization will be better prepared for this new world of work.