Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The Covid-19 pandemic altered the world’s landscape in countless ways. How we travel and converse with friends. How we shop and dine and seek out entertainment. How we take care of ourselves, both physical and mentally.
One of the most significant shifts came in how we work. Throughout 2020, at the height of the pandemic’s first and second waves, Nearly one-third of all workers retreated to home offices. The forced experiment of remote work revealed a surprising (at least to some) truth. Companies found that not only could they survive the transformation in workplace dynamics, but they could also thrive.
Companies across the globe found productivity and efficiency don’t have to suffer with a remote workforce. In some cases, having employees work remotely can even improve these intangibles while saving the company money at the same time.
As this new era of business evolves, many organizations are adopting a hybrid approach to their operations. Whether it’s through adaptable hours in and out of the office, a percentage split of on-site and remote team members or employing a national or global workforce, it’s clear that flexible employment situations are here to stay. In essence, an office is anywhere you can sit down with your smartphone and laptop.
A significant challenge of this new reality is keeping local, remote or hybrid team members all working together towards an organization’s common goals. Flexibility is becoming more important, even within the same timezone. Companies must work to accommodate not only time and location differences, but also a myriad of employee personal situations requiring parents a change in working hours: dealing with kids’ schools, caregivers tending to sick or elderly loved ones or employees attending a class to better themselves , just to name a few.
Creating cohesion requires shifting from a synchronous mindset, where all communication happens in real time, to one that blends both synchronous and asynchronous communication in good measure. Here’s how to make it happen.
1. Adopt new strategies for fostering engagement
Contrary to popular belief, remote or hybrid work doesn’t need to be detrimental to engagement and collaboration. However, it’s vital to keep individual team members connected, both to the company and to each other. Throughout the pandemic, many companies released upon video conferencing tools like Zoom to keep team members connected and engaged. And while using such tools is now operationally critical, they create their own set of problems. “Zoom fatigue“is real. Perhaps even more than with in-person meetings, having too many video chats can be a drain on employees’ energy and productivity due to the lack of social cues and the impersonality of staring at screens all day.
To foster engagement while avoiding the toll of constant video conferencing, companies must look to asynchronous methods of communication. Direct, one-on-one interactions still have their place, but checking in with remote employees too often via phone call, video conference or email can be more disruptive than helpful. In addition, these require coordination across time zones and each remote employee’s set of working hours. A much more effective solution is to leverage communication tools and methods that don’t require immediate attention and response.
For example, video capture tools like Loom allow you to send short recordings to employees, which they can view and respond to at a later moment. Slack recently introduced a feature called “Clips,” which allows users to create and send brief audio or video clips to fellow users. These clips are automatically transcribed and can be searched just like any other Slack chat.
The new working environment created by the pandemic requires new communication tools and methods. Email, phone calls and video conferencing won’t go away, but they also aren’t sufficient for keeping remote and hybrid employees engaged and productive. Tools such as Loom and Clips won’t totally eliminate the need for video-conferencing meetings or one-on-one chats, but they can reduce the amount of remote disruption and hybrid employees experience.
2. Establish clear communication guidelines
Creating cohesion in remote and hybrid also requires clearly defined communication standards. When working in a physical office space, it’s much easier to tell when a person is busy or out of the office. A closed office door tells you a person is working on something important and doesn’t want to be disturbed.
Remote and hybrid teams can’t rely upon these visual signals, making it essential to clearly define communication guidelines and protocols. Members of remote and hybrid teams need ways of telling whether a colleague has his or her virtual “door” closed or is not “at work” on a particular day. This can be accomplished by using things like “Do Not Disturb” settings in chat apps and blocking off times for focused work and days off in shared calendars. If a message is urgent and requires a timely reply, using a dedicated signal before the message, such as an exclamation point, tell the recipient the message is important. These kinds of procedures need to be standardized and coded in company-wide communication guidelines.
Project communication and collaboration guidelines should also be clearly defined. Most collaboration tools now provide features that better support asynchronous work interaction, and our guidelines should encourage their use. This includes things like creating project-specific channels in chat apps, creating task reminders and tagging specific individuals whenever action is required.
3. Reduce meetings as much as possible
Unnecessary meetings are a huge drain on remote and hybrid teams, and they hinder rather than help the development of cohesion. To foster asynchronous engagement, organizations need to thoughtfully reduce the number of meetings. If a meeting is primarily to get input or approval without much discussion, instead of using a feedback platform to gather as much information as possible prior to the meeting. Doing this can reduce the meeting length or even eliminate the need for it altogether.
Be thoughtful about which team members — local or remote — really need to attend your next meeting. For those whose input is not required but whose work may be impacted by the meeting’s outcome, take notes and post them for reading at an appropriate later time.
At first glance, it may seem the reality of remote work is causing organizations to become more fractured and less united. From a physical standpoint, there is some truth to that. Instead of one central office to which everyone commutes, organizations now find themselves bridging teams operating from dozens or more offices — or hundreds or even thousands of home offices — spread across a state, country or the planet.
However, this doesn’t mean businesses can’t still create the cohesion among remote and hybrid teams that is so critical to their success. Creating a culture of inclusion and collaboration that relies less on “live” interaction and embraces asynchronous communication allows all team members to stay engaged and productive — and frees them from Zoom fatigue too.