We’re two years into the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s becoming increasingly clear that we won’t be returning to the ‘normal’ we once knew.
In fact, ‘normal’ has been redefined, from where we live and how we work to everything in between. For many people, their back-to-office plans have shifted again and again. For others, there’s no office to go back to. Some folks have moved far away from their offices. And plenty now exist in a liminal space of hybrid work, sometimes being in an office but often choosing not to commute when they don’t have to.
Whatever your return-to-office plans, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the future of work will not include all of our employees and teams working together in person all of the time.
As engineering leaders, our challenge is to foster inclusivity in this new world. Creating an inclusive remote team and work environment takes intentional effort and dedication. It also takes time to iterate on in order to get right. However, there are a few quick wins you can implement to make this transition easier and ensure your remote employees feel part of the team sooner rather than later.
1. Clearly communicate time zones for meetings
If your organization wasn’t hiring many or any remote employees before the pandemic, it’s likely your team isn’t used to thinking about time zones. Even if you have offices distributed across the globe, the people in your office might be used to only collaborating with each other. But the moment that your team starts to span more than one time zone, things get trickier.
A weekly standup is no longer at 10:00 for everyone. It might be 11:00 for some and 16:00 for others. To be more inclusive of all your employees, start by being explicit about the different time zones for your meetings (for example, 10:00 EST / 16:00 CET). Whether you’re talking about an upcoming meeting in conversation or scheduling a meeting with a report, being explicit about time zones shows that you recognize not everyone is in the same place. Taking the extra time to be mindful of this also alleviates the mental burden you put on anyone who isn’t in your timezone, who may have to ask for confirmation or calculate the time difference.
If you have remote employees in many different locations, however, specifying every single time zone might not scale very well and could be overwhelming for everyone involved. In these situations, try picking one or two standardized time zones for all meetings. I saw this in my previous company where all company-wide meetings were standardized as UTC, which put everyone on an even playing field (and more importantly, did not put anyone at a disadvantage).
2. Schedule meetings with remote colleagues in mind
You should also consider time zones when scheduling meeting times. Depending on the location of your teammates, it’s possible that some folks in other time zones may be perpetually left out of a meeting if it falls outside of their working hours.
If you notice this is a problem in your team, it's worth evaluating whether or not that meeting can move to a more async format. If you really do need face-to-face time, you could create two versions of the same meeting so that everyone gets the in-person time they need during an hour of the day that works for them. Alternatively, you might want to consider rotating the meeting time so that everyone has the opportunity to attend without having to consistently sacrifice their sleep or personal time.
3. Make information easy to find
Once your organization reaches a critical mass of remote employees, you quickly realize that async communication is your new best friend. I always urge teams that are new to remote work to default to recording meetings and writing everything down (outside of Slack!). But even if you record your meetings and take diligent meeting notes, you’ll do your remote workforce a disservice if you don’t make that information easy to find.
Make it easy for the remote folks on your team to find important context and knowledge by consolidating all of it in one centralized place. This is far more effective than putting the onus on them to ‘catch up’ on what they missed, without a clear way to do so. An organized library with directories for past meeting recordings and minutes is a quick win for keeping remote colleagues in the loop.
Don’t force your remote teammate to ask for the notes from the meeting that happened after they went to bed. Instead, get into the habit of updating and maintaining your knowledge base so that everyone knows where to look without having to ask and wait for an answer. Take advantage of automatic recording settings on services like Zoom, and automations that can post updates to Slack. Everyone should know where the information lives and not have to depend on anyone else to find it.
This goes for casual communication too. In a hybrid environment, it’s natural for things to come up impromptu. You might have an insightful conversation with someone in the office or hop on a call with a teammate to solve a problem and learn something useful along the way. Be sure to treat those situations as diligently as you would a pre-planned meeting: summarize the information in a written format, and surface it in a team channel or organizational wiki so that people who weren’t around have the opportunity to be brought into the loop.
4. Treat remote work as a forethought, not an afterthought
Ultimately, the most effective way to learn to be more remote inclusive is to be empathetic of the remote experience. Take the time to consider what work is like for your remote team members. If you adopt this mindset, you’ll start to notice little things you can do every day to make them feel more included.
Be mindful of including remote workers in your more informal work activities, too. Consider what remote-friendly activities everyone can partake in. If that’s not possible, try to find a remote equivalent for your teammates who aren’t with you in person. For example, if you go out for a team lunch to celebrate a big release, urge your remote team members to expense their lunches, too.
These small moments of appreciation show your remote teammates that you care about their work experience, and it may even get them thinking about ways to help you make the remote experience better. And considering that your in-person employees might go remote at some point too, you’ll also be showing them that you treat remote work with the same compassion and consideration as in-person work.
The age of remote and hybrid work is here in full force, and it’s here to stay. It’s crucial for all of us to treat the remote experience with the same care as the in-person experience. Creating an inclusive remote environment requires a little extra effort and intentional thinking, but adopting these habits is a great place to start.