Some two years since the pandemic started, it feels as if the phrase “the new normal” makes more sense now. While work locations haven’t changed for many employees—they remain on the manufacturing floor; in stores, hotels and restaurants; and on the road—there is a shift for office workers. Their new normal includes more remote (completely out of the office) and hybrid (a mix of in the office and from home) work arrangements. According to The Washington Post, “Office occupancy in the United States remains below half of what it was in 2019.” 

 

Does this shift for office workers mean that communication needs to shift too? What do communicators and organizations need to do differently to reach and engage office workers who remain out of the office?  

 

Inspired by the communication strategies we use to reach non-wired employees (from salespeople to manufacturing employees), here are four strategies to engage remote and hybrid office employees: 

 

  1. Break out town halls into two parts 

Back in the good old days—before the pandemic, that is—organizations faced a challenge that is even more acute today: how to bring everyone together for an engaging and motivating experience

And organizations worked very hard at it. Town hall meetings were a complex mix of employees in the cafeteria at headquarters; a few people gathered in small meeting rooms in satellite offices, others called in on their phones from the road and several manufacturing employees gathered around a laptop in the breakroom. 

The result was less than successful. Employees in the main room didn’t learn anything new. Everyone else felt disconnected—as if they were listening in on someone’s party. 

In some ways, we have it easier in this era of more employees working remotely. After all, we have fewer distinct groups to deal with and better familiarity with meeting technologies. But we still have the challenge of making a large group meeting work in a virtual world. 

The solution? A town hall meeting that has two components. Part A: Start with a common web-based meeting where you introduce high-level topics and hear from key parts of the business. Employees join from their preferred devices, so they’re able to watch speakers and participate. Part B: Later that day, host local in-person meetings to encourage interaction on issues discussed during the bigger meeting. Facilitate separate web-based meeting(s) for those who can’t join in person with the same intent: encouraging interaction on key topics. 

 

Here’s your checklist to create a dynamic town hall experience:  

  • Easy for employees to join  

  • Opportunities to ask questions  

  • Opportunities to network  

  • Opportunities to hear from colleagues  

  • Interaction/participation 

  • New content (not shared in other channels) 

  • Focused content: that is, one theme 

 

  1. Promote asynchronous communication tools  

Simply put, asynchronous communication tools don’t require real-time participation. Email is a classic example. A colleague sends you an email and you respond when it’s convenient (at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work).  

 

Asynchronous tools are a critical element of your channel mix—ensuring employees can choose when and how they receive information, and when and how they participate.  

 

Here are examples of asynchronous tools and how to use them:  

  • Internal social media, such as Yammer and Slack—increase engagement with polls, share updates on key topics, ask and answer questions  

  • Video—increase leader visibility with short clips on organization-wide topics or ask experts to provide tips and tricks 

  • Intranet—treat the homepage of your intranet as a news hub and make it easy for employees to find content that applies to them, such as their business or region 

 

  1. Host bigger and better in-person meetings 

Now that Zoom meetings are the default approach for all-hands meetings, invest in (annual?) extraordinary meetings that encourage old friends to work closely again and new employees to feel part of the bigger team.  

 

How do you plan an in-person meeting that’s new and different, and will excite employees and feel like a success for leaders? Fewer talking heads and more interaction are key. 

 

Here are tips to make your next big, in-person meeting more engaging and worth the investment:  

  • Design activities where employees work together to solve a challenge or rework a process  

  • Give employees something they can’t get anywhere else, such as interaction with a senior leader or a chance to interact with team members they’ve never met in person 

  • Focus on one idea or theme and create a memorable experience; for example, perhaps your focus is customer satisfaction: how we’re tracking, roadblocks, hearing from a key customer, solutions... 

 

  1. Encourage employees to make personal connections 

One of the biggest challenges of remote work is the loss of everyday interactions with colleagues—those watercooler moments and impromptu conversations that often spark ideas. Our new normal can make it difficult for employees to successfully work together.  

 

The solution is to encourage interaction that leads to personal connections. People managers and project owners are a great place to start. They are often in a unique position to foster personal connections. But they need coaching on how to make it happen. 

 

Provide a short handbook reminding people managers and project owners about the power of strong relationships—how they improve collaboration and work deliverables. Then provide tips and tools, for example:  

  • Start meetings with an icebreaker designed to help team members connect. Here’s an example, “What’s your earliest childhood memory?” 

  • Set up challenges that can run in the background while work is getting done—from fitness challenges to fundraisers 

  • Encourage team get-togethers, such as lunches or coffee breaks—virtual or in person 

  • Create social threads (on Yammer or other internal tools) for like-minded employees to connect 

  • Facilitate frequent one-on-one or small group meetings (Our experience tells us that eight participants are the ideal number that encourages interaction and discussion.)  

 

Why make this extra effort to reach remote/hybrid office employees?  

It’s simple. These employees want to feel part of a community—a critical element of a high-performing organization. Internal communication can lead the way in helping all employees feel part of something bigger and understand how their work contributes.  

 

 

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