It’s now been over 18 months since we polled the team and subsequently announced that we were going to move to a flexible hybrid working model indefinitely – where we get to keep our office and as a member of the team, you get to choose when you come in.
It’s a journey that thousands of other businesses have all embarked on with various levels of flexibility. Microsoft in the US was one of the first big tech companies to announce that with the risks of the pandemic lessening, they now wanted their team to work half their time in the office. Apple and Google announced a similar policy shortly afterwards. Twitter have reopened their offices but have stuck with their ‘wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work’ mantra. Kyan has also stuck with this level of flexibility.
Hybrid is hard
Yet this is hard. I think it’s harder than a pure play remote offering. We all know of companies that have cracked the fully remote offering and have their asynchronous working patterns and annual meetups sorted.
It’s harder than the old traditional model – you must show your face and be present in the office (although I suspect there is another challenge here now around recruitment and tenure as the rest of the world has moved on).
So how can you accommodate a fully distributed team where you regularly have some of the same people in the office, some once-a-weekers, once-a-monthers, once-in-a-blue mooners? How can you stop silos from happening? How can you remove the risk of proximity bias? How can you ensure everyone is still treated equally and how can you ensure everyone is engaged and enjoying working together and feels a part of something bigger?
I can admit that we’ve struggled in re-creating our all-hands meetings with a distributed team from an audio/visual perspective. We’ve been struggling to find the sweet spot where the tech works to serve everyone (at home and in the office) equally and clearly. We’ve been seeing problems like feedback, video playback quality, ease of setup, and so on. In the days of full lockdown when everyone was fully remote it was much simpler.
There are some challenges here, but things are looking hopeful since we’ve taken a ‘back to basics approach’ – good old fashioned microphones, a soundbar, some cables and a clever USB audio interface. It took some time and a little bit of budgetary flexing, but we’ve realised that a significant part of making hybrid successful is doubling down on general good business practices. Fundamentally, a low quality meeting is a poor meeting.
Doubling down on our values
We’d fortunately done some work around distilling our values over the last few years and they have been thoroughly stress tested throughout the pandemic. Having this lodestone has helped us to navigate change and remain true to ourselves.
Living our purpose
Over the last few years we’ve also looked at how we can become a more purposeful and responsible organisation. We submitted our B Corp application last year (hoping to hear imminently!) and this framework has helped us move more steadily towards a better balance between the three pillars of People, Profit and Planet. We will never claim that we are radically changing the world but we do strongly believe that a re-balancing across the world of commerce is long overdue and it’s something that our team can all get behind. Importantly, it helps to bind us together.
We have found ensuring the regularity of intentional communications is more important than ever. We now deliver weekly, monthly and quarterly all-hands meets which happen in realtime across Zoom, which we also record as video and as text and then share in Slack for those who are unable to make it. They can then view at their leisure in their own time. Multi-medium is the message.
Being mindful that the best communication is often a dialogue rather than a one way broadcast, we have been trialling a question and answer format recently. We are using this in our meets as well as using surveys to get a more rounded view on what the team feels. We’ve also started to build ‘communities of interest’ around specific areas of the business such as the Social Squad who help fashion the Kyan social calendar and events schedule, the Green Group, who help us to come up with ideas to improve our sustainability, and many more.
There have been many books and blogs written about good and effective meeting etiquette and this has become more important than ever… agendas up front, only go if you really think you should be there, everyone on time, someone facilitating, someone writing up notes, a clear objective for the meet and actions at the end. All meetings should, by default, be online-first. Try scoring them to keep that continual improvement moving forward.
What’s going to work? Teamwork!
Moving to hybrid has also accelerated our push to hand over more of the day-to-day decision making to our department heads. This has been very positive and we’ve seen our OfficeVibe pulse surveys report better engagement as the heads have worked hard to build their team dynamic and are closer to the action to solve challenges as they arise.
Hybrid events and the mountains of madness
We’ve tried running hybrid social events this year, one of our most successful being the hybrid beer tasting club, part-Zoom and part-cellar of a local taphouse. Our social calendar is fuller than ever and we have a few standout events including the Three Peaks Challenge come July. It’s important to bring the team together in new ways and a challenge where we all have to push ourselves beyond the norm is a great way to do this.
Office to Clubhouse
We are now seriously looking at changing up our office setup, but rather than go for one big impact change, we are looking at making more incremental gains and see what gets traction. There is a definite need for more flexible video call spaces, more communal seating arrangements and fewer desks.
We wouldn’t have been able to move to a hybrid working model without the underpinning of some solid technology and it would have been impossible without some of the gains the video calling platforms have made over the last few years. Getting your People Ops tech stack right has become increasingly key. We have G Suite and Slack for our day-to-day comms, Lattice for team growth, alignment and feedback. OfficeVibes for engagement reporting, Timetastic for booking that important time out, Vitality for the team’s health needs and Zoom for video.
Open and experimental
We thought we had hybrid working pretty well initially but now can start to see some of the challenges it presents. We have to keep an open mind and take a more experimental mindset and apply some of the thinking we use for our product development into our internal and cultural operations.
We have a good thing at Kyan and I want to be careful not to break it. But it is also important that we can be playful and experimental, and I’m mindful of pushing out new initiatives too quickly.
But I do believe that by being open with the team and doubling down on some of the basics, we will all move together, step-by-step, to a better hybrid working world where the focus is on health, happiness and productivity.
We are Kyan, a technology agency powered by people.
Previously from Piers: