Return to on-site work

Creating a successful hybrid environment

Preparing your team or department for a combination of telework and on-site work alters how we meet and requires that we design for inclusion to enable hybrid work to be successful and avoid it being labeled a failure.

Design for inclusion

A hybrid work environment exists when there is at least one team member who is teleworking. Even if the number of employees teleworking is small, the work environment should be seamless regardless from where an employee is working. Design the work environment for both teleworkers and those on-site and focus on being inclusive by:

  • Ensuring all employees can be active participants whether they are on-site or teleworking.
  • Establishing workplace norms and ensuring everyone in your organization is aware of them and has the support and training needed to follow them.

Upon the return to on-site work, organizations that agreed to hybrid work arrangements with employees may want to revert to pre-pandemic tendencies where there is a preference toward in-person, on-site interactions. If an organization has agreed to allow for hybrid work, it is critical that any preference toward on-site work (and it follows, on-site employees) not introduce favoritism, perpetuate bias, further inequity, or highlight manager preference. Norms ensure that the hybrid workplace is set up to be successful for workers either on-site or teleworking and support equitable treatment for all workers, not just those who are “seen” on-site or online, regardless of work location.

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Establish meeting norms

Meeting duration – Within your organization, consider changing your meeting length. Doing so not only establishes a buffer between meetings, but ensures timely completion of a meeting. A buffer can exist by ending meetings 5 minutes early or starting meetings 5 minutes late. While meeting norms cannot necessarily be established across organizations, establishing a buffer within an organization:

  • Allows those employees who are on-site time to travel between conference rooms and their offices.
  • Ensures there is enough time to reorient for the next meeting if it is in a different modality (i.e., change from an in-person meeting to allow for time to log into Zoom).
  • Gives those establishing an on-site hybrid meeting enough time to hook up laptops, log into Zoom and adjust video, projector, TV, or monitor settings for the audience onsite.
  • Allows employees to wrap up their current meeting (i.e., summarize the meeting and send out action items) and prepare for their next one (i.e., bring up the agenda and prepare to start by revisiting previous meeting action items).

While having a “break” norm may seem unnecessary, consider how often meetings start late or individuals who arrived late need to be “filled in” on what they missed.

Meeting facilitation – If meeting length is established as a norm, ensure:

  • Meeting facilitators feel empowered to end a meeting if time is up.
  • All participants are accountable for staying within the shared meeting timeframe.
  • Participants know they can leave if the meeting is running beyond the agreed upon meeting end time.
  • Participants communicate with the meeting facilitator if they have to leave early or will arrive late.

Meeting materials – Determine whether meeting materials should be sent in advance if possible or are at least available electronically during the meeting. Establish whether anyone wishing to have a printout should bring it themselves.

Meeting scheduling – Establish an understanding within your organization about whether a Zoom/video meeting is always desired or if a phone/conference call is sufficient when faces and documents don’t need to be seen. This way individuals know whether to schedule a conference line or a zoom call. Additionally, ensure that all meetings in hybrid workplace organizations always provide remote access login information unless there is an expectation that all individuals participate in person.

Meeting acceptance – Establish an expectation that meeting participants use the “accept/decline” function in Outlook or ask meeting schedulers to force a meeting “accept/decline” response. This way meeting hosts can understand who is attending and from where in order to effectively prepare for meetings.

Camera on – Determine whether your organization expects that teleworkers have their cameras on for all meetings or only for certain ones. Communicate these expectations and explain when exceptions are appropriate and understandable.

Understand everyone’s tech tools – Having staff on laptops helps minimize the hybrid challenges because someone can take their laptop to an onsite meeting. If a laptop/docking station is not the norm in your organization, help communicate what the typical setup is, so that meeting facilitators can help meeting participants bring the best tools and materials to meetings. For example, if no one can bring a laptop or phone to a meeting, a meeting facilitator may opt to use a whiteboard instead of an online miro board.

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Make work locations and work schedules transparent

Meeting attendance – Clarify which meetings require in-person attendance and which can be entirely remote. Communicate whether it is acceptable for someone who is working on-site to join a meeting remotely even though they could attend the meeting in-person. If it is acceptable, define under what circumstances it is so. For example, a norm might be “if a meeting is in-person and you work in the same building, it is expected that you go to the meeting in person.”

Work location transparency and meeting availability – Ask that all teleworking employees reflect in their calendars when they are teleworking and ensure that they all do so in the same manner such as:

  • Marking a meeting’s “Show As” status in Outlook as “Working elsewhere” when accepting a meeting.
  • Using Teams “status” to indicate availability (e.g., in a meeting, offline, on vacation, etc.).
  • Putting an all-day meeting across time blocks that says “Teleworking,” but displays as “Free” or “Working elsewhere” status in the “Show As” designation.
  • Adding an “all day” event regarding “Teleworking” to the top of the employee’s and/or colleagues and manager’s calendars.

Work schedule transparency – Ask that all employees with alternative work schedules add:

  • Their work days and hours to their email signature line.
  • Their work schedule to their calendars so that it becomes an expectation for managers and teammates to understand varying work schedules in order to avoid scheduling into meetings outside of someone’s daily scheduled hours.
  • A note that reflects response expectation such as, “*At <> we work flexibly, so while it suits me to email now, I do not expect a response or action outside of your own working hours.”

A telework day isn’t vacation – A typical slip of the tongue is to hear individuals call a telework day “a day off.” Teleworkers are supposed to be working and reachable. Establish that telework days are not ‘no meeting days’ and determine whether your organization expects employees to forward their work phone to their home/mobile phone.

Signage – Request that hybrid workers who have a regular workstation on-site leave a note on their office door/computer/cubicle if they are going to be teleworking the following day or post their telework schedule. This ensures that colleagues on-site know that a teleworker hasn’t just stepped away but is available by email/phone from their telework location. The sign should include telework day information, email, and phone number.

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Optimize meeting rooms

Improve audio – Ensure that teleworkers see who is talking and what is taking place in the room. Invest in high quality microphones or other technology to ensure that teleworking employees feel a part of the meeting.

Leverage new technology – Consider what the remote participant needs to see to engage. Remote work created a more level playing field for individuals with visual impairments. Leverage technology such as Zoom’s smart gallery that detects individual faces in a shared room and pulls them into panes on the screen so remote participants can see them in the gallery view or turn on closed captioning.

Consider the type of meeting you are running – Determine whether you need to use breakout rooms, reactions, polling, etc. functions to engage meeting participants because these functions are not as easy to do in-person. Consider identifying circumstances when even on-site workers might join a meeting remotely.

Projector/TV quirks – Organizations that use a variety of laptops with different inputs can be challenged when hosting meetings in conference rooms because inputs and laptop display settings may need to be adjusted. Consider having your IT unit provide instructions for how to work the projector/TV/screen/technology so that individuals running meetings don’t need to arrive 10 minutes early every meeting or arrive on time and eat into a meeting by 10 minutes.

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Other supports

Trainings and tools – There are numerous tools available to run effective meetings, whether on-site, entirely remote, or hybrid. Search online for tips. Additionally, ensure your team understands the basics. UW-IT provides information and tips to optimally set up and use Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Response times – Setting an expectation that emails or Teams chats be acknowledged within a certain time frame can help instill confidence in hybrid work.

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