The Commuter. The Virtual. The Hybrid.
Communication strategies for the emerging workforce
The pandemic has not only changed the way we work but has also transformed professional communications forever. Now, as the country’s offices begin to reopen (or consider it), the business world expects employees to communicate with clarity and engage one another confidently both in-person and online. We are entering into a blended reality: some executives, offices, and/or businesses will go back into traditional office spaces, while others will remain virtual.
The idea of a “new normal” emerging soon is a fantasy. Even this mixed workforce will continue to evolve and the debate as to which is better and more profitable will continue. The state of flux we’ve all experienced for months on end will persist for months to come. One powerful upside is that our experiences so far have provided great learning and informed us how thrive in an ever changing professional landscape.
While two types of professionals have been around for some time: the commuters and the virtual; there is now a third one, the hybrid. Each has its unique liabilities and opportunities in the current corporate landscape. All of them will also have some communication and collaboration challenges to consider.
It will feel awkward at every turn. Be transparent. What may be comfortable to you, may not be comfortable to others. For example, a colleague may not want to lunch indoors. Or a vaccinated associate may not shake your hand. He may just wave or do a fist bump. When possible, verbalize where you are in this unmapped territory, and accept where others are in their journeys.
“Covid on Call” work hours to continue. Expect it. While working at home many people found they were working longer hours. Technology was right front of them 24/7 and they couldn’t go out, so traditional work hours shifted. This prompted “Covid on Call,” where emails were answered at all hours of the day… and it’s become the norm.
Your work life and home life have merged. Be open. Zoom brought work into our homes. Our kids, spouses, pets all became real. Your lifestyle was suddenly seen in a whole new way. Add social media to this mix and your personal life is exposed. Don’t close yourself off. It’s out there, so embrace it and foster deeper relationships.
Out of sight, out of mind. Be visible. Your colleagues will drop by one another’s offices with little or no notice. Since most of us haven’t been social in-person for some time, there will be bonding conversations. Take time to connect with colleagues and bosses from your home office. Write notes, make phone calls, and do other personal touches that go beyond work.
Brainstorming will happen without you. Create opportunities. Ideas flow when we’re out of our day-to-day surroundings and in a creative environment. Colleagues will slip into this flow quickly at the office. Do what you can to be in the mix. Even create those moments. This creating-the-moment requires extra effort on your part via emails, calls, and of course, zoom.
Boundaries and expectations will change. Embrace them. Some colleagues will shift back to a traditional 8-hour day, but not all of them will be on the same schedule. Meeting times may be adjusted, as well as deadlines. Also, workloads and assignments may shift. Take time to define what’s important to you and be a proactive part of the changes ahead.
You’re entering uncharted waters. Be a pioneer. There will be more options available to you than ever – and if they’re not presented to you, then ask. Now is the time to create a model that works for you. This includes what days and hours you may be in the office, or how you work. It will take adjustment, but all new pursuits are worth it.
This is all a big experiment. Be flexible. The Commuters and the Virtuals have established modes of operation. They also have sacred workspaces. You will have two workspaces or maybe one at home and another that changes at the office. This will require you to create new practices on how to keep track of everything from your favorite pen and coffee cup to be.
The nomadic lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Check in with yourself. While wandering between the old way and the new way can at first seem like the best of both worlds, and it will be for some for some time, eventually you will want to determine a defined sort of routine that is best for you. And when you do, you may be surprised to discover that you still may miss your kid’s football game, or work too late on occasion, or suddenly realize you must backtrack to make adjustments. The key here is to have an honest and open conversation once you’ve explored this hybrid option for at least one month.
If we’ve learned anything from the past several months, it’s that we cannot predict what’s next. We have to be flexible. For example, when we first went into lockdown, we thought the time period would probably be a matter of a few weeks. Then, we hoped it might just take a few months. And then, we finally accepted the reality that it would be a year and more.
The good news is that we got through it up to now. The bad news is that we don’t know the end. So be optimistic, but more importantly celebrate the moment you are in. Also, continue to build up your resume. This may be the right time to innovate and create change. For example, you may want to “upskill” and learn something that can make you even more marketable. If learning is your thing, there are all kinds of virtual classes available. Invest in one hard skill (for example learning about AI, finances, etc.) and one soft skill (active listening, diversity and inclusion). You never know what good things might happen next.