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Hybrid work is here to stay, and while many organizations are deciding how many days a week people can be remote and protocols for Microsoft Teams calls, they are forgetting to train staff on what human interactions should look like.

As a result, workers describe a "perceived frenzy." Meetings are canceled without clear explanations. Managers are multi-tasking during calls, and workers detect that they are distracted.

While these are certainly not malicious acts, they create a "heads down, get your work done" culture where workers are at best hesitant and at worst afraid to express concerns, questions and ideas. In other words, there is less "psychological safety" for workers, according to research conducted last year by Peggy Kendall, professor of communication studies, and Triston Thomas, a student, at Bethel University in Arden Hills.

The research started after surveys showed managers saw less creativity from their teams when workers were remote.

More than 36 million employees will work remotely by 2025, according to research. While most love it, nearly a quarter of managers find their teams are less creative when they work from home.

In Minnesota, the Federal Reserve estimates one-third of workers are remote at least part-time. Other surveys show workers would quit if forced to work in the office 100% of the time.

So managers need to figure out how to make the arrangement work.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, ranked 34th on the Star Tribune's Top Workplaces list of large companies, has shifted the culture of achievement to be outcome-based instead of activity-based.

"You have to be very intentional when you have a remote workforce to understand what they need to deliver and being clear and setting expectations with that," said Lisa Kramer Rodacker, senior director of organization development and enterprise learning. "You're really focusing on: What do I expect out of them in terms of those outcomes and then holding individuals accountable to that. And that's a mindset shift, for some of our leaders."

Before the pandemic, 20% of BlueCross workers were fully remote. Now, two-thirds of the workforce is.

That reality means the organization's commitment to flexibility requires managers to know their employees on a deeper level, Kramer Rodacker said.

"What may work for somebody who's twenty-something is different than somebody who has little kids and something different maybe than empty nesters," Kramer Rodacker said.

That type of relationship needs to be built, said Kendall, who suggests managers make time during one-on-one meetings to ask about employees' well-being and build that relationship.

If you need to cancel the meeting, give a clear reason why and be fully present during it, she said. That means no background work or checking messages.

"If you're going to be an online manager, you have to give your employees enough information and check in often enough that they're not making up their own stories, like, 'My manager is too busy for me,' or, 'Nobody else really cares. I've got to figure this out on my own.' You have to interrupt the story," Kendall said.

To fully engage virtual participants in a meeting and show them their ideas are important, BlueCross teaches leaders to let those who are hybrid go first. Everyone also must have cameras on, so everyone's faces are seen, Kramer Rodacker said.

"If you're not actively including, you could be accidentally excluding," she said. "You can have a tendency of kind of 'out of sight, out of mind.' You've got to be really purposeful and intentional about making sure that you're engaging remote employees."

"Over-communicating" also can counter misperceptions, Kendall said. "Let's not assume that everything is OK."

In a physical workplace, employees can see when a manager or co-worker is intensely concentrating or busy, so during a lull, they can ask a process question.

But workers in the Bethel study said they were worried about seeming unprofessional, rude or disrespectful by expressing concerns through on-screen messaging because they didn't know their co-workers well, Thomas said during a presentation of the research at Bethel.

This meant that, at times, they went online to try to figure something out instead of asking a colleague. This resulted in a feeling of loneliness and being disconnected, he said.

So being intentional about communicating expectations and feedback on work, and asking regularly if workers need help or have questions can add to workers' comfort levels, Kendall said. Trust is essential in any work, but especially in a remote relationship.

"It takes longer to build; it has to be more intentional [with remote employees]," Kendall said. "It's going to take longer to build, and it can be destroyed much faster online as well."

About 30% of Field Nation's workers are remote, up from 10% before the pandemic.

Engagement scores at the company for remote U.S. employees were "very positive," which Teri Calderon, executive vice president for people and marketplace operations, attributes to a long-established corporate culture where cross-functional team members work together to solve problems.

Field Nation, which was 21st among midsize companies on the Top Workplaces list, brings all its U.S.-based workers to its Minneapolis corporate office twice a year for "Field Week." The event combines in-person learning and community building, which Calderon said is another important part of the culture for the company that matches information technology workers with companies.

The company also stresses regular one-on-one meetings with managers and remote employees and hybrid team meetings and town halls.

Field Nation also is intentional about helping employees build their internal networks, starting during the onboarding process. New employees are given a list of workers they should meet, Calderon said.

Another lesson: Training works better when employees in a session are all on site or all virtual, she said.

"Doing hybrid learning is really difficult because somebody feels left out of a conversation," Calderon said.

Employees also must feel connected to their employer's mission, said Dan Schiappa, chief product and services officer at Arctic Wolf, a cybersecurity firm based in Eden Prairie that ranks 11th among large companies on this year's Top Workplaces list.

"Great companies are built around employees who are empowered to take ownership of their individual mission, not just clock in for a paycheck," Schiappa wrote in an email. "That means granting all employees, especially those who are remote, the opportunity to speak their mind, share new ideas and influence those around them, regardless of their job title."

Strong leadership from managers is the only way to achieve that goal, though, Kendall said. Over-communicating and non-distracted talks are good techniques no matter who you manage but are key with remote workers.

"You have to be intentional about community," Kendall said.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His email is