Building a Healthy Hybrid Culture
When hiring remote team members without ever having met physically, it can be a challenge to build a healthy hybrid culture. So much of a company’s social fabric is woven in-person and videoconferencing, though it has improved leaps and bounds in the last 18 months, still leaves a lot of “interpersonal osmosis” to be desired. This is especially true for hybrid public relations and communications teams, as the field often self-selects those with strong social skills. For all the talent and toughness required to excel in a PR role, finding sustainable success is often much easier when amicability, persuasiveness, and warmth come innately. These traits do not translate as smoothly over Zoom or Teams. So, what is a PR team to do when attempting to integrate hybrid hires into its culture? As someone who has recently (and successfully) jumped into a hybrid-remote tech PR team, I offer a few suggestions below:
Diversify Meeting Purposes
Company culture is not built upon what happens during work meetings. In those settings, people have their game faces on, with a set agenda and social protocols. Those behavioral and structural restrictions are key to keep meetings productive, but they make for an inappropriate environment for interpersonal connection. The point is to get work done, not get to know each other. An effective way to build more personal connections that has proven successful at Caster is to simply diversify the types of things to videoconference about. Do a Zoom lunch, or trivia over Teams or cocktails over Skype (if people still use Skype). The point is that while many meetings could just be an email, social calls really shouldn’t be, at least if you’re really trying to get to know someone.
Promote one-off syncs – but beware overdoing it
A subtle but significant benefit of working on-site is the ease with which someone can pop their head into their peers’ office for a quick note, clarification, or joke. A Slack message or Google chat would accomplish the same purpose, but most people would agree it is a more removed experience. One thing Caster does to better weave hybrid workers into the office culture is encouraging one-off calls for simple questions, comments, or brainstorms. These brief bits of interaction are most efficient when scheduled (albeit informally) but are a helpful way for someone’s personality to be more present even though their body may be remote. That said, be sure not to overdo it – like in-person chats, company guidelines for how your team can best set up short syncs will help here.
One way to infuse a PR team’s corporate culture with a hybrid hire’s personality is to let them have a say in the terms of engagement. Personally, I find that I am able to convey my sense of humor and general disposition effectively through silly and strange writing projects that I enjoy presenting to the group. I proposed a creative writing group to the Caster crew and was met with a generally receptive yet slightly apprehensive response. People weren’t quite sure how a writing group would go, but in our first session together everyone quickly understood the vibe – of the group and of myself – when I read aloud my 2000-word review praising the movie musical Cats. I wouldn’t have been able to communicate my oddity fully if I hadn’t had the appropriate setting to do so, and many remote workers may feel similarly. Perhaps hybrid PR teams can help people present their personalities more effectively by allowing them to do so in their own ways.
Put Effort Into Entertaining Guests
The first time I visited the Caster office, we enjoyed a lavish and super local seafood dinner. The next day we devoured pizza and beer at a brewery. The day after that we strolled for breakfast and later grilled out for lunch with Saugy dogs. Individually, each of those experiences was lovely. Taken together, they paint a picture of a place that is incredibly creative, considerate, and fun. For remote workers traveling miles and miles to visit the physical office, going the extra mile for the royal welcome is incredibly appreciated and really makes travelers feel like part of the team. Being made to feel important sometimes is itself important. (It also doesn’t hurt that I was allowed to bring my dog!)