Workplace

How to survive as the only remote person in the hybrid room

Experts weigh in on how remote tech workers can be seen and heard when everyone in a meeting is in the office.

Illustration of one lone figure walled off from a big group of figures

Too often those who sign in from afar can feel left out.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

The hybrid approach to remote work can meet the needs of diverse teams of people, but too often those who sign in from afar can feel left out, absent from impromptu hallway discussions or outright ignored on Zoom calls.

When you’re on the outside it’s tempting to just stay quiet and hope things will improve, but if your team isn't aware of your struggles, things will only get worse. I spoke with three experts in remote work and here are their pro tips on how to survive and even thrive.

Build trust through tools

The first step is to make sure that your team has access to the right tools. "Digital tools create a level playing field for collaboration," Darren Murph, head of remote for GitLab, told me. He suggests things like Google Docs, Notion, and Figma for tracking everything from documents to deadlines.

While some products, like Google Docs, are immediately familiar, others like Notion or Asana are a lot more nuanced. When encouraging their adoption, make sure you talk up the efficiencies and benefits they offer everyone, not just you. Get buy-in from some other stakeholders on the team. Most importantly, don't force this stuff if you can avoid it, lest you burn your team out before they're even on Teams.

Formalize team meetings

While sometimes it can be nice to fade into the wallpaper in a meeting, nobody wants to be ignored. To ensure equal footing, Kate Lister, president at Global Workplace Analytics, suggests formalizing rules for meetings, including anonymous polls to ensure everyone's opinion is counted and outright bans on side conversations. My favorite of her rules, though, is creating a "remote/non-remote buddy system." Basically, find someone in the room who’ll make sure you’re heard.

Murph suggests dynamic agendas shared before every meeting: "This way, those in the room can see you typing a new agenda item, which will prompt the current speaker to pause and recognize your written note." He calls these live doc meetings.

If all else fails, Murph says to simply be a little more forceful: "Don't be afraid to speak over those in a boardroom."

Set expectations

Clear expectations are an important part of any employer/employee relationship, but if you're the lone soul working remotely, you need to be crystal. Nobody's going to see you roll your eyes when yet another meeting hits your time zone at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.

Again, tools can help. "I use Calendly to book all meetings," Chase Warrington, head of remote at Doist, told me. "The time I am available is predefined, and I don’t budge on this."

But expectations need to cover performance, too. "Set expectations with team leads on what should be shared, and on what cadence, and ensure that those expectations apply to the whole team," Murph said. Here, again, tools can help on the follow-through: "If your team is on Slack, implement a Geekbot prompt to provide updates without the need for a synchronous stand-up."

That way, that bot is the jerk demanding updates, not you.

Establish a safe, transparent sharing space

Invisibility paranoia is a major side effect of being the lone remote worker. "Regardless of whether people are F2F, hybrid, or remote, transparency is the best solution for staying visible, team effectiveness and efficiency, and building trust," Lister said. "When everyone’s work is visible via a project sharing or management platform ... there’s no question about who is or isn't contributing."

But seeing others' work won't always ensure that people appreciate yours. Murph suggests creating a safe place for oversharing: "Establish 'permission to play' behaviors, which would outline where work is shared, and how often ... If this isn't happening at your workplace, speak up and be the first example."

Watch for red flags

"Hybrid is the future of work for those companies that choose not to adopt a fully remote model, and to do this well it will take a lot of effort and intentionality," Warrington said. The sad truth is that a lot of companies simply won't make the effort.

What are some signs that your employer isn't committed? Murph says that reluctance over accessibility is a concern: "Ideally, global collaboration happens on tools that are digital by design and accessible anywhere." More tasks written on whiteboards than Trello boards? That's a big red flag.

Also, look out for unwillingness to make technology upgrades for in-office facilities. Are you cranking the volume up on your end to try and hear everyone circled around a 1998 vintage Polycom? That's another flag.

Stay strong

The most important thing in all this is to not let the quality of your work be impacted. Being trusted to work remotely means you need to be your own biggest motivator. If your employer isn't providing the tools, technologies, or support needed for you to do your best, it might be time to look for one that does.

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