Before 2020, remote work and hybrid teams were not necessarily the norm. Sure, some industries and companies had embraced a work-from-home culture (like WriterGirl did 20 years ago!). But many people were still commuting to an office every day.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything changed. Healthcare marketing, communications and operations teams suddenly spent more time on Zoom and Slack and less time in conference rooms and cubicles.
Now, as vaccines roll out and we learn to live with the virus, more offices are starting to transition back to some form of in-person work. But many non-clinical teams in the healthcare industry are staying remote. Others are using a hybrid team model where some people work remotely and others work in the office, or individuals work a combination of in-office and remote.
If you’re part of one of these remote or hybrid teams, you’re not alone. Even before the pandemic hit, remote work was gaining momentum. A 2019 survey from Zapier showed that 95% of workers in the U.S. prefer working remotely. And a 2020 GetApp report showed that people who work from home at least once a week grew by 400% since 2010.
All this is to say that remote and hybrid teams are here to stay, and our internal communications have to meet the needs of this team structure. Ultimately, better communication keeps employees engaged with their work and your organization’s mission.
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Quick review: What is good internal communication anyway?
Let’s first review the basics of good internal communications. I love how this Forbes article, written by BrightMove’s vice president of marketing Heidi Green, doesn’t beat around the bush in explaining the job. She says about internal communicators what many are thinking but never dare say:
“They are seen as the ‘ra-ra crowd,’ trying to instill a sense of community and create a culture among workers. They share boring information like benefit options and the latest employee handbook updates.”
But Heidi goes on to say that that’s not the main role of an internal communicator. The real purpose of internal communications is to present “honest, truthful, transparent communications that all employees can understand and digest, while not upsetting the rest of the executive team.”
Heidi then lays out a ton of tips for nurturing company culture and creating a sense of community among your employees in a way that doesn’t just spread “company propaganda.” I like how she says that: not just spreading company propaganda. It makes me understand why I’ve been so pleased with companies like WriterGirl — they genuinely want to connect with me and even hear what I have to say (hello, the chance to author a blog post). Not to mention the recent introduction of WG Insider, a quarterly communication to better connect with our outstanding, remote, we-do-it-all team.
And do you know what happens when you follow Heidi’s tips? Your workers feel respected and cared about, which makes them care about the company and its mission and values. They’ll reward the company with their good work, and positivity will abound.
*Cue confetti and heart emojis*
Let’s dive into ways to create that honest, truthful, transparent connection with your remote and hybrid team.
Assess your communication channels
Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that work-from-home employees are just as interested in engaging with their coworkers and staying in the know about company affairs.
Use these thoughts as a springboard for creating your health system’s own internal communications plan that considers your remote employees:
Use an online technology that mimics the cohesive office experience
Ideally, there should be one project management tool that everybody — whether they’re in-office or remote — uses to communicate, find information and post work updates. Employees should be able to access it from anywhere — on a mobile device, too, if possible. If information security is an issue and access to your health system’s intranet is necessary, be sure the resources are there to give every remote employee easy and safe access.
Find a chat tool that gives that ‘water cooler’ experience
Whether it’s at the water cooler or in the break room, impromptu “meetings” and conversations happen all the time in the office. Make sure you allow your remote and hybrid employees to have these convos with chat apps like Slack or Google Chat. Bonus points if the chat tool can integrate with your central project management platform.
Encourage your team to use the chat tool to talk about non-work topics, too! You could set up hobby-based rooms (hiking, cooking, gardening, etc.) or a “random” channel where they can post that day’s trending meme.
Make sure your newsletter speaks to remote and hybrid employees
If your internal newsletter is filled with in-office news and events, will a remote employee bother to read it? Probably not.
Keep remote and hybrid employees engaged with newsletters by including content that can apply to any employee in any location. Organization-wide news (like vaccine mandate updates or merger news), productivity tips and team member features are relevant to most employee audiences.
You may also want to consider a newsletter exclusively for remote employees. The newsletter can focus on them, including their professional and personal accomplishments and other things they care about. Consider including information on the unique challenges of working remotely. Encourage readers to share tips that help them stay successful and happy outside an office environment.
Set communication expectations
Once you have your communication channels laid out, make sure your team knows when and how to use them. Give examples of when it’s appropriate to send an email vs. a Slack message, a text vs. a phone call. Clarify daily, weekly and monthly check-ins and who needs to attend which meetings.
Aside from communication preferences, talk to your team about their preferred working hours, so you know the right time to connect with someone or schedule a meeting. Setting these boundaries can be especially important if you have a team stretched across different time zones.
Schedule regular check-ins and face-to-face meetings
Just because an employee is remote doesn’t mean they should miss out on important meetings and check-ins with managers. We’ve all been using virtual meeting platforms for (at least) 18 months now, so there’s no excuse!
Keep up with regular meetings no matter where the employee is located
It doesn’t matter who works in the office or remotely; regular check-ins between a manager and their team are crucial. These meetings are not only a time for work-related updates, they’re also an opportunity to provide critical human interaction. Remote employees can often feel isolated and lonely, and regular face-to-face meetings can alleviate that feeling of working on a virtual island.
To that end — don’t be afraid to chat about non-work topics during meetings. Coworkers don’t pop into your office to see how you’re doing when you work from home. Having a manager or teammate call just to talk and ask how you’re doing can make a big difference. It makes you say, “oh, they care!” Reminding remote workers they are valued and appreciated for who they are, not just what they do, can go a long way.
Solicit feedback from remote and hybrid employees
Avoid having managers use email as their “suggestion box.” Instead, encourage your managers to schedule regular face-to-face meetings with remote and hybrid employees and ask for their feedback during these sessions. This is how true relationships form. It’s much easier to be honest, truthful and transparent when you’re communicating with real comrades and not strangers.
Rethink your current meeting setup
Don’t forget to look at your existing meeting schedule and adapt it for employees who may be working remotely. You can avoid that last-minute scramble of setting up a Zoom room or virtual meeting link when you realize not everyone is physically in the conference room.
Also, try encouraging every team member to call in with your virtual meeting platform, regardless of whether they’re in the office or at home. That means everyone calls in individually — whether it’s from their desks or each with their own computer in a conference room (on mute, to avoid echo). This can help prevent communication issues that stem from having a large group in a conference room and one or two individuals calling in from home.
Show your appreciation and make connections
When working in an office, it can be easy to build connections and relationships with people you sit next to or pass in the hallway every day. But what about your remote and hybrid colleagues? The fact is: Honest, truthful, transparent communications and camaraderie depend on more than just Zoom calls.
Mail a package to remote workers’ homes
Sending a memorable gift and a handwritten note is a wonderful way to show appreciation and make a tangible connection — not virtual. Consider something like useful gear branded with your hospital’s logo. Bonus tip: On the front side of the notecard, print your health system’s logo. Below that, in smaller font, print the system’s mission and values statements. Now you’ve also sent a soft reminder of what they represent as an employee.
Create opportunities for in-person events
Working from home doesn’t mean you never want to see your coworkers in person. Ask your remote workers to come into the office a few times a year for donuts, coffee and informal, friendly chats. Invite them to company events when budget and space allow for it. And bring them in for important meetings.
Watch for burnout on your hybrid team
Working remotely has plenty of perks — no commute, flexible hours and sweatpants, to name a few. But remote work can also have some downsides, and burnout is one of them.
When you work from home, it can be easy to pop into your office for a few emails or to finish up a report after dinner. Before you know it, you’re suddenly putting in 10-hour days. Office space can also start to bleed into living space, and not having that clear delineation between work and home life can send someone straight to the burnout zone.
Whether you’re a team member or a manager, keep a watch for signs of burnout. Behavior changes are a big sign — someone may seem more quiet than usual or get frustrated easily. You can also keep an eye out for performance issues, such as missing deadlines or low productivity. If you notice these changes, don’t hesitate to reach out to the individual, offer to ease their workload and, most importantly, listen to their concerns.
No matter what format your team takes — in-office, remote or hybrid — improving internal communications comes down to understanding your colleagues’ needs and interests. What gets them excited about work and allows them to be successful in their role? More importantly, what keeps them connected to your mission?
You can create a highly functional, engaged team with ample and consistent communication, effective tools and technology, and genuine, personal connections. Before you know it, your hybrid team will be a well-oiled healthcare marketing/communications machine.
Improve internal communications with a content partner. WriterGirl provides expert internal comms support, helping you craft content that engages your workforce and keeps them connected to your mission. Drop us a line anytime to learn more.
Editor’s note: WriterGirl Content Marketing Manager Melanie Graham contributed to this post.