About a year and a half ago, I wrote about keeping connected virtually while our office was fully remote. Things sure have changed in the last year! Our office is now fully open, the coffee flood that shall not be named is a distant memory, and I’m once again preparing for in-person office events. But now there’s one change I’m adapting to: managing a hybrid office.

On any given day, we have a group of Rusticians who come into the office every day, those who lean into the hybrid aspect and a group who are considered remote employees. Balancing keeping the last group feeling included has proved a fun challenge since the office reopened. Here are a few of my tips, tricks and ideas for keeping your remote or hybrid employees engaged when you’re having in-office events.

“My favorite thing that Liz does is how when I’m in town she arranges for me to have an office set up as I’d like it when I am able to be in town. I have a box to keep things I want there for my next trip, and she stores it and puts it in the office I’ll be using when I come in town. A ‘virtual private office,’ if you will.” – Ben Clark

The big events

At Rustici, the big events are Quell and Thanksmas. Everyone is invited to visit the office, and many of our fully remote people do participate in person. For those who are unable to make it, I try to help them feel included with virtual hangouts.

For Quell, all of our meetings were virtual, even for those in the office. We’ve all been in a call where some people were live in the meeting and others were remote. When the talking gets loud in the meeting, it can be hard for those on the call to hear everything. I also planned a fun activity everyone could participate in: a virtual escape room! The winners even got a little gift card to celebrate escaping the Arctic with the most points (proud to say my team actually won! And no, there was no foul play).

At Thanksmas, we always have some sort of competitive game. Last year, Tammy designed a game where we built bikes to donate to Safe Haven Tennessee. We broke everyone up into teams, and each team had to accomplish different tasks in order to receive their bike parts. Our remote staff had their own task where they competed via a Google Hangout to solve anagrams and receive a critical piece of the bike. Many groups kept the Hangout going throughout the night.

“Liz takes the extra time to set up virtual windows into in-person events. I always have a DoorDash dish on standby. Plenty of games and nonsense times. Sometimes the best part of Liz is that she just checks in and makes sure I’ve got what I need, even though I’m a world away.” – Chris Tompkins

Little gestures add up

Don’t discount smaller moments, such as adding a virtual Google Meet for remote people to join when there are in-office festivities or hosting your own Olympic events with virtual events during the Olympics. These small events help keep people excited to come to the office while providing out-of-towners a chance to win as well. They didn’t have to be in the office to win the gold for the Wordle challenge!

I use an app to host (almost weekly) trivia competitions and games. We’ve also had great success at the occasional virtual game Code Names. It’s fun to see how teams work together to think like the codemaster does. And it’s fun for them to watch me school my features and not give away the answers! Sadly, I’m still trying to make Among Us happen, but we keep getting sabotaged.

“Being remote, engagement is a two way street. It’s never lost on me that the other side of the road is welcoming and laden with goodies. It’s meaningful to me to know that someone is making it as easy as possible for me to engage with company things, if and when I can/want. And it always makes me smile a bit and feel included when a random package shows up.” – Josh White

My secret weapons

I couldn’t keep the office culture going for fully remote coworkers without the help of a few secret weapons. OK, maybe these technology tools aren’t really secret, but they sure are handy.

  • Gmail – Did you know that people can respond to meetings and specify if they will be in-person or virtual now? Since we have a fair number of in-towners working remotely at least partially, this feature has saved me many food ordering headaches. It’s not yet a perfect science, but this might be one of my favorite tools for planning events.
  • Google Calendar – Gmail also added a calendar setting that shows whether someone plans to be in-office or virtual on any given day. Not only is this really handy with seeing who will be in the office for events, it’s great for teams to know if they can stop by an office for a chat or if they should schedule a virtual hang.
  • Owl camera – This one is a real hoot! The Owl has a 360 degree camera to detect who’s talking. We use this primarily for larger meetings when some people are in the meeting room and others are home. Teams also use these cameras for department meetings. Someone can be jotting notes on a whiteboard and everyone on the team can see, contribute and collaborate.
  • Slack – Last but by no means least is Slack. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without Slack, so much so that I think I should have bought stock in it years ago. I use the in-app polls for food requests, and we’ve created different channels to communicate important messages, like birthdays and anniversaries. Of course, we also have fun channels where anyone can review what TV show they’re watching, what they’re listening to or even what gross foods they’ve come across lately. Also, I’m not a parent right now, but I joined the parenting Slack channel for pure entertainment value. Rusticians’ kids say some amazing things, and I cannot resist an adorable baby photo.

“My favorite thing that Liz has done for me while working remotely was her sending me a funny grandpa T-shirt when my grandchild was born. Other than that, just the general attempts to get us on a video chat to play games (which I normally don’t) and sending us gift cards to enjoy a meal when we can’t be in the office with others.” – Brian Rogers

While our Delight team prides themselves on their 100% satisfaction on the Delight-O-Meter, I pride myself on bringing that same delight to my fellow Rusticians. And sometimes delighting our staff also means reminding them that events are not mandatory. We like to say we have a “no fun-ishment” policy. If you don’t want to partake in the fun, you don’t have to. But if these events and hybrid style of work sound like just the environment you’re looking to work in, check out our job postings. We want to hear from hear from you!

If you have any questions on how we delight our staff, our customers and, well, everyone, reach out and ask! We’re always happy to answer any questions.

Liz is a great listener. With her background in therapy, she loves diving into people’s stories and motivations. No wonder she makes for a great office manager as she’s always in tune with everyone’s needs.