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Managers can keep in-office and remote employees connected with better communication and plenty of social activities.pixelfit

Amanda MacLeod thought she had landed the perfect job. There was only one problem: It was located in Charlottetown and she didn’t want to move away from her home in Amherst, N.S.

Ms. MacLeod, a 38-year-old communications and events professional, applied anyway; it was too interesting a position to resist. Perhaps they would be willing to work out an arrangement, she thought.

Fast forward five months, and Ms. MacLeod is working at her new position remotely from Amherst. She is the marketing and partnerships manager at the Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training in Life Sciences (CASTL), which was created to develop Canada’s biopharmaceutical manufacturing workforce.

Ms. MacLeod says working remote allows her to be close to her family.

“The older generation is only getting older, and the younger generation is important to build lasting bonds with,” she says. “I have a niece and nephew I think the world of and being able to be accessible to them for visits is tremendously important to me.”

Though CASTL’s office is nearly two hours from where she lives, Ms. MacLeod says most meetings are online so she doesn’t feel disconnected. In July, she was able to participate from home when the team dressed up to celebrate Pride Month. She and her colleagues share vacation photos and celebrate birthdays on Microsoft Teams. Communication is frequent and team rapport is excellent, she adds.

“Maybe it’s because we’re a small team, but I think the culture that our executive director has tried to create has just necessitated that communication is a baseline,” she says.

The pandemic had a massive impact on Canadian workplaces as work-from-home became the norm in many industries. But as some employees return to the office while others stay hybrid or remote, employers have a new challenge: How do you keep team members connected with each other when they’re working in different locations?

Diversify how you communicate

A PwC survey of more than 2,000 Canadian office workers in 2021 found that the majority prefers working in a hybrid environment. A 2022 report from registered charity The Prosperity Project found that 63 per cent of women said they would turn down promotions in order to keep working from home.

Clearly, the hybrid workplace isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Kate Cassidy, a lecturer with Brock University’s Department of Communications and research associate with the Niagara Community Observatory, says that communication can be challenging with remote work. When people are in the office, interaction happens organically – in the office, in the hallway or the ubiquitous lunchroom chat.

When someone is working remote, they don’t have any of that and it can be very easy to end up feeling isolated, she says.

In her research exploring the essential factors for ongoing remote work success, Dr. Cassidy found the most important factor involves ensuring everyone is informed with clear, timely and consistent communications.

“This includes being clear on how people should communicate and for what purpose,” she says.

The key to bringing your remote and in-person employees together is diversifying the way you communicate with them, says Natasha Jeshani, president and CEO of Career Contacts, a human resources and recruitment firm based in Vancouver.

“It’s about [having] various ways of inviting your employees to connect. There can be Zoom team events [or] one-on-one conversations, whether that’s online, on the phone or in person,” she says.

Schedule in fun

Dr. Cassidy notes that successful companies have a workplace culture that provides social cohesion, identity and belonging. Studies have confirmed a link between close working relationships and high organizational performance.

Even 20 years ago, work was more about task completion, she says. Now, as tasks have become much more complex, work is often based around collaboration, with multiple teams working on something simultaneously. As a result, relationships are more important in the workplace.

When co-workers don’t see each other every day, relationship building must be more intentional, says Ms. Jeshani. During the pandemic, companies hosted trivia nights, book clubs and weekly lunches to foster connections. Some offices set up ongoing virtual workspaces, where employees could drop in and work on their own tasks. These kinds of efforts can reinforce the connections that may be lost when some employees are remote.

Dr. Cassidy notes that managers must also be more transparent about the goals and values of the organization and clear on how employees fit into those goals. If employees don’t understand how they contribute, they won’t feel like they belong.

When employees know how they fit into the company’s mission, everyone works to move it forward, says Ms. Jeshani.

“That type of bond is really strong because once those goals are set and you’re communicating with each other, it’s a really great way to show, okay, we are in this together, we have a common purpose.”

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

Question: I’ve recently entered into a mentorship with a senior-level manager through a matching program at my workplace. However, I feel like it’s not going well. I’m an introverted person and I feel as if I’m not asking enough questions or showing that I am an ambitious and promising leader-in-training. My mentor is very accomplished, which is likely a cause of my nerves. As a result, they often have to carry the conversation and I worry they aren’t getting a great impression of me. How can I get the most out of these meetings and show I am someone that has a lot to offer?

We asked Paulina Cameron, CEO of The Forum, a registered Canadian charity with a mission to help women entrepreneurs access resources and community, to field this one:

First of all, I want to recognize you for investing in your leadership development. Your organization saw something in you, and all leaders (including you) deserve kindness, patience and grace when starting something new.

The success of your mentorship can only be defined by you, so consider why you chose to step into this process. The role of a mentor is to share knowledge, support and offer perspective – the goal of mentorship isn’t having to prove yourself, though I can understand why it can feel that way in this context.

Let your mentor know that one of your goals is to practice building confidence in external-facing relationships, and that this is a growth edge you’ve identified for yourself. You can ask your mentor how they approach preparing for these kinds of conversations, for networking, and even for public speaking. While it may seem this comes natural to them – and it may indeed be one of their strengths, most talented leaders are also intentional in how they think and prepare. And your mentor could share these insights.

Think about the arc of time of your mentorship as a learning journey and consider what topics you want to cover. Map out the meetings with a focus area for each session. Prepare a list of questions and key concepts you want to talk about.

Consider what skills and strengths you admire about your mentor and explore how they acquired them. Ask questions about how they navigated key decisions in their career, how they identified their strengths and invested in their own growth, what tools, experiences or communities propelled them, what challenges they faced, what they read or which events do they attend, and if they were back in your shoes, what advice might they have for themselves.

Introverts can be mislabelled as ‘quiet’ when they’re actually very thoughtful leaders and active listeners. Susan Cain’s book on introverts, Quiet, really highlights all the strengths introverts can bring and offers tactics on how you can appreciate your strengths and allow others to see you shine.

Lastly, remember this will likely be your first of many mentorships in your career, each offering a unique experience. Kudos to you for stepping into this opportunity today. Though it may feel uncomfortable, you’re embarking on a journey of growth and I am cheering you on.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.