Evaluating Remote-First Practices in a Hybrid Work Model

Over the past year, many people have learned what it’s like to work remotely due to covid-19 pandemic restrictions. This remote-first experience differed from a typical remote work situation in two primary ways.

The Remote-First Model

Most obviously, we were working remotely during a pandemic! Many parents were providing childcare at home in addition to working. Other folks were struggling with long-term isolation. Under normal circumstances, working remotely could be complemented with social activities such as going to the gym, working from a coffee shop, joining a co-working space, meeting a friend for lunch, and taking advantage of childcare. Many of these options weren’t available to a lot of people over the past year.

But remote work was different in another, more subtle way over the past year for many people. Most people who moved from in-person to remote work were working in a remote-first mode because all of their colleagues were also working the same way.

Remote-first is an approach to work that prioritizes accommodating remote working situations as the primary mode of work. When everyone on a team or in an organization is working remotely, achieving a remote-first mindset isn’t difficult with the right tools and tech. It’s easy because everyone is in the same remote context.

Avoiding Falling into Old Habits

As people begin to return to in-person work in shared spaces, the behavioral short circuit (everyone is remote) that allowed for a great remote-first experience won’t be there any longer. It’ll be easy to fall back into old habits, especially with meetings.

Beware half of the boxes in a standing Zoom meeting coalescing into a single box with no camera feed, representing a conference room full of people more audible and present with each other than they ever can be with the rest of the team who’ve “dialed in.” This is what working remote feels like in a hybrid mode without a remote-first approach. It’s an asymmetrically negative experience for remote participants.

To avoid this as we transition to more in-person work, we need to make what was implicit during covid-19 office closures explicit as they open back up. Teams and organizations need to strongly consider what remote-first practices will be necessary during a return to in-person work or for a long-term hybrid model.

Here are a few basics I think are important for everyone to keep in mind.

All In-Person, or All-Remote Meetings

Try to favor either all in-person or all-remote meetings when possible. This will create environments that incentivize people to create equity in the experience. For example, a senior exec will make darn sure their mic is on and working in an all-remote meeting. However, that same exec might not think about it when in a board room surrounded by other colleagues.

Tips for Hybrid Meetings

Here are some tips for when you can’t avoid mixing in-person and remote folks in meetings.

  • Stick to business when you’re on the in-person side. Avoid side chatter and joking around unless you directly address the entire audience. Nothing is more annoying when dialing in than hearing that the in-person side isn’t fully engaging with the entire set of participants. They’re taking themselves to Chuckletown without bringing everyone else along.
  • If you’re in-person, speak clearly into the nearest microphone and leave pauses in between speaking. This allows folks participating remotely to chime in without being penalized for any lag.
  • If your remote colleagues have their cameras on, then get one on the in-person group.
  • Make sure the in-person group only speak one at a time and identify who is speaking.
  • Lastly, make sure your equipment is working.

Remote-First in a Hybrid Model

In short, practice thinking of the context your colleagues are in first. Then consider what advantages your context offers you which aren’t available to them. Finally, make a conscious effort to not use those advantages as much as possible.