Flexible work was my normal long before the pandemic. In fact, the bulk of my career in the video collaboration industry has been hybrid.
My first experience with working from home was in 2007, when Codian, the company I was a part of, was acquired by another company, Tandberg. At that time, I was given the choice to relocate closer to the new HQ or carry out my work remotely. I chose the latter, and so began a steep learning curve as I experimented with ways to connect to my office-based teammates from my home office.
To help me, I had videoconferencing devices that were cutting-edge for their day. And yet, I often felt like a fly on the wall, one step removed from the action.
I still recall having to wave at the screen to get my teammates' attention whenever I had something to contribute. I had to be proactive and persistent if I wanted to feel that I had a seat at the table, and I had to keep that energy up all year round.
1. Try to meet all your teammates in person at least once
I realized early on that I needed to visit the office in person whenever new teammates or customers came on board. Once we had met in real life, it was possible to nurture those relationships remotely via video.
But to get started working with anyone new, conversation needs to flow, and back then there was still a great divide between remote and in-person workers.
Things are different for remote workers today. Satisfying communication is possible online. It's about choosing the right video collaboration device, as well as hardware with high-performance audio that can suppress unwanted background noise without compromising the subtleties of speakers' dialogue—like the little "mmmm"s and "aha"s that make a big difference in video meetings' feeling as natural and real as possible.
I still think it pays to get together in person once in a while, though.
2. Don't be afraid to organize super-short check-ins
Another technique I used to build bridges in those early remote working years was to try to mimic the passing water-cooler conversations as often as possible. I would invite my teammates to short, impromptu video calls—sometimes just 10 minutes long—to informally exchange a few ideas and to catch up on news from the weekend.
Of course, I would also schedule longer team meetings and one-on-ones, and I took the time to ask questions and get to know everyone personally. But striking a balance is key. Sometimes short and sweet is exactly what is needed, and there's nothing stopping you from doing that on video. Your teammates will thank you for it.
It was no surprise to me during the pandemic that so many people experienced Zoom fatigue. The problem wasn't Zoom; it was that most people were new to remote working and they were defaulting to the standard meeting length that pops up when you schedule one.
In my experience, if you have set aside an hour, a task will inevitably expand to fill that hour.
3. Be mindful of time zones
When you work remotely, be more mindful of time zones and people's daily rhythms in a more general sense—when they take a lunch break or pick up their kids from school, for example. When you work from home, it's really easy for your work and personal life to blur together, but that's not a sustainable approach for the long run.
It takes only a moment to ask teammates their time zone and note it down, so make the effort to do so, and save out-of-hours meeting requests for emergencies only.
4. Pay close attention to body language and facial expressions
Another thing that comes to mind when I look back on my formative years as a hybrid worker is how I would still choose video over phone, even though the video meeting experience was bumpy.
I needed the video call's visual data to truly read and understand how my team were really doing—the furrowed brow that says "I'm stressed," or the beaming smile that says "I'm ready to seize the day." As a manager, you need to be aware of all of that and respond accordingly.
The ability to see peoples' micro-expressions clearly is an important focus for innovative video hardware manufacturers. Screen brightness makes a difference, as does the orientation of the screen. Although landscape screens are the norm for desktops and laptops, personal video collaboration devices come into their own when they are portrait, perfectly framing the speaker's face. Portrait personal devices also position the camera more comfortably at eye-level.
Sometimes it's the simplest changes that make the biggest difference.
5. Take an extra 30 seconds to sign off the old-fashioned way
The final tip I have to share concerns goodbyes. A surprising number of people simply disappear at the end of video meetings, unaware of how abrupt that can feel to those still left online.
Oiling the social wheels is just as important now as it always has been. So, if you want to build rapport, follow the same etiquette that you would in real life.
A few pleasantries and well-wishes for the day cost nothing.
* * *
When you're coordinating and communicating effectively with a distributed team, the fundamental principles of management are still the same as in an office:
- Care about your teammates.
- Put in the time to get to know them on a human level.
- Follow your gut instinct.
Your experience of remote working in the pandemic was nothing like what it can be like today, and your lockdown experience is an even farther cry from my experience back in 2007.
Just make the right investment into innovative video collaboration devices that put human connection front and center.
More Resources on Remote and Hybrid Work Communication
Remote-Team Collaboration: Pros, Cons, Tools, and the Problems It Solves [Infographic]
How to Adapt to the Permanently Hybrid Workplace of the Future
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