Future of work 17 Dec 2021 5 min read
For companies with offices, 2021 was a year of big change. But as 2022 looms on our horizon, one thing is for sure: this year, many companies learned important lessons about work culture, office spaces in general, and, most importantly, how to work remotely. As the year wraps up, you might be continuing to wonder what the future of remote work holds in store for us. And as we move to a remote-first working future, it’s time to think about how to successfully seamlessly integrate employees into the company culture.
In 2022, many companies will continue to incorporate a new medley of remote and on-site working processes, often deemed the hybrid model, in which some employees are on-premises, while others continue to work from home. Google, Grammarly, and Intel are the latest companies to adopt the idea of “remote-first” or “remote-first” work, the latter going so far as to fuse the two, calling it “hybrid-first.”
With that in mind, how can you successfully build company culture and integrate your in-office and remote teams? As the promise of a remote-first 2022 nears, here are a few things to think about when integrating new employees into your company:
- Rethink what “onboarding” means. Many companies tend to have a very formalized, standardized onboarding process, one which depends on being solely in-office. With the pandemic, many companies have started realizing that building a remote culture requires handling many aspects of the business untraditionally. The good news is that many of the traditional onboarding activities—such as a welcome breakfast, or an introductory stand-up—can be duplicated online. Many start-ups in Berlin, for instance, have started sending welcome packages to remote employees, replicating the feeling of receiving a t-shirt or water bottle on the first day. Asking teammates to record welcome messages or videos, and sending them to the new employee’s inbox on day one, is another way to make new employees feel welcome. So too can virtual lunches that parallel real-life office activities.
On the organizational side, companies should think about going back to basics: punctual follow-ups, near-constant availability to answer questions, properly setting expectations with new hires throughout the process, and investing in technology all help foster an immersive new hire candidate experience remotely. Many start-ups have also started using buddy programs, allowing new employees to answer questions more specific to their team. And last but not least: using a checklist for all of the above—for all employees—is essential to create a smooth experience.
- Start to think of your company as remote-first. Before the pandemic, most companies created their company culture around the office, with remote work being an afterthought. Today, it’s important for companies to flip that orientation, and realize that company culture must be created around working remotely—all the while understanding that the office is still there to be used. That not only means a complete overhaul of the onboarding process, as discussed above, but team organization and processes on the whole, particularly the feedback process. Continuously evolving your company’s understanding of remote work challenges and working to actively address them in meaningful ways is vital. Many companies, such as Google and Slack, have set up annual engagement surveys that ask employees for meaningful feedback about their remote-first set-up so you can refine it with new or revised policies that help employees. Switching your mind frame away to remote-first may be hard, but it’s essential.
- Create spaces for meaningful conversations about something other than work. One of the things that the pandemic has severely compromised is the deep connections that coworkers form when they work in an office space day in and day out. Creating meaningful activities and connections thus remains paramount in the remote-first world. Several companies in Berlin, for instance, have started long-distance book clubs to help create meaningful connections. They’ve also created “newsrooms” where people can talk about current events, or podcast clubs that can meet via video chat. Buddy lunches, in which people are paired with someone else every other week to eat together via Zoom, are also a great way to foster camaraderie in the remote-first milieu.
- Create a virtual coffee machine. In the office, the coffee machine was more than just an opportunity to get a caffeine fix—it was a key moment of the workday for many employees. After all, human beings are social creatures who crave interaction, discussions, and amity. Many software companies, including Powell Software, have developed virtual coffee machines that reproduce that feeling of a quick chat over a hot mug of coffee. Usually, these programs allow HR or admins to set up coffee breaks directly within Microsoft Teams and Slack. Otherwise, setting 30 minutes a day for a coffee break, either in the morning or the afternoon, is a surefire way to make remote employees feel at ease.
- Remember that the office is still there. Once a week, once a month or once a quarter—even as the pandemic takes a turn for the worst, it’s important to remember that the office is still available for your employees to work. However, sensitivity is essential: while your product manager, for instance, may want to come into the office 3 times a week, your software engineer may wish to keep working remote-first. Accounting for each employee’s wishes is essential here—but offering the opportunity to come into the office is always a safe bet. And don’t forget about events, too: with the right COVID-19 precautions in place (vaccinations, tests), team events at the office are also big culture builders and remind everyone what they’re a part of.
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