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Darren Menabney, Global Employee Engagement at Ricoh

To kick off our newest interview series, we connected with Darren Menabney, Lead of Global Employee Engagement at Ricoh. Darren's primary role at Ricoh's global HQ in Tokyo is leading core global HR initiatives, such as employee engagement. With the support of their worldwide HR community, Darren runs projects that support 80k employees in over 50 countries.

This level of organization and facilitation, has meant putting a lot of thought into communicating, collaborating, and creating with teams made up of individuals who are far apart in time, place, and culture and bringing those teams together to create value for Ricoh's stakeholders. Darren has recently begun looking after Ricoh's global D&I program and supporting the corporate communications team on press releases and internal communications. Apart from this, Darren is a remote work advocate and a part of a stellar global hybrid team.

Way of Working at Ricoh

Darren's team at Ricoh operates in a remote-first model and follows hybrid working practices, and let's just say, they're champions of it. Not only are they setting a wonderful example of what it means to offer employees flexible working options, their practices encourage other organizations to think about adopting a flexible working model too.

"My default is working from home and has been since the pandemic started. I am a huge advocate of remote work. Even before Covid, I was working from home for two days a week."

How They Make Hybrid Work

Ricoh, is a company focused on fulfillment through work and has been championing remote work since 2018. They had been planning for all operations in Japan to go fully remote during the Tokyo Olympics when originally scheduled in 2020. To prepare for that, Darren shared that they had stress-tested all their IT systems, assigned test days when everyone worked remotely and made sure their workforce had the right tools to work remotely, whether it be everyday, or only on occasion. Thanks to their testing and solid preparation, they were well-positioned for the move to work from home in early March 2020.

"Here at Ricoh global HQ, we allow employees to work remotely—from home or co-working spaces—without any limit on the number of days, though we suggest teams try to get together in-person for at least two days a month to focus on communication and collaboration."

For Darren, he tends to go into the office a few times a month when it makes sense to do so based on the work—for example, when he is helping out with a video recording, brainstorming sessions, or just to catch up with colleagues.

"Socialization also matters, so I've also been looking for opportunities to meet up in the real world with my new colleagues and reconnect with others."

Hybrid Insights Q&A

We asked Darren to share his experience of hybrid in five words or less.

— his response —

'When' matters too.

"Meaning…with hybrid, there is an over-focus on place, but less thought on the role of time. We know to match the work we do to place—use time in the office for collaboration and socialization, for example. But we don't think enough about how to match work to time. How do we align work around what is best done asynchronously and what is best done synchronously? How can we create and collaborate asynchronously, as well as synchronously? This has been an ongoing learning experience."

Has the transition to hybrid had a positive impact on performance and/or employee happiness?

Definitely. We have seen that in employee surveys. On our November 2020 "Work Life Management Survey", 89% of employees said their performance was equal to or better than the previous year. We've also seen a 5% jump over pre-pandemic levels in the number of employees saying they were happy in both work and life. Remote and hybrid have been working for us.

How do you combat the isolation experienced by employees working remotely?

We need to engage and over-communicate with our remote workforce first to notice if a team member feels isolated. Not everyone will be upfront about it. Talk to them remotely—use video chat to recognize body language or physical cues. Be curious about them and listen to their situation; what is working, what is not, and how you can help. Make sure to arrange 1-1 meetings—where and when—around their schedule, not yours, and around what works best for each individual. Some may prefer in-person, some may feel more comfortable opening up when communicating remotely.

At Ricoh, since 2018 we have made regular 1-1 meetings between managers and their direct reports a requirement. These make a difference, particularly when managers listen more and talk about more than just the work itself.

✨Being less transactional in communications with our team members and engaging more with them to show they are being listened to can go a long way towards fighting isolation.✨

And when the conversation does turn to work, make sure you can share how impactful their work is. Remind them of the purpose in what they are working on, help them find pride in that. Showing employees that they are part of a team doing meaningful work can combat isolation.

What do you do to foster better trust, teamwork and understanding at Ricoh?

Recently we launched a three-month pilot to improve team strength. Teams are asked to discuss the challenges they face around communication and decide on how to improve the situation.

✨As a baseline, we recommend that teams get together at the office at least twice a month to hold face-to-face communication. By including the entire squad in this discussion, we get more relevant solutions, and the team feels ownership in those solutions, making them more likely to succeed.✨

What I've often found to be immensely helpful is to continuously remind the team about the purpose and the "why" of our work. When we all know how our work contributes to something greater, and who it helps, we can overcome a lot of the challenges around distributed teams. On global HR projects—where we can positively impact our global workforce—it's very easy for team members to see this even when they are not in customer-facing roles.

How do you personally build psychological safety within your hybrid team?

✨Start right away and build it early. ✨

One of the first things I do with any remote or hybrid team is to understand the team's diverse work styles and preferences. I ask each team member to fill out a workstyle questionnaire that asks them to rank themselves on things like how introverted/extroverted they are, where they do their best work, are they a morning or an evening person, a quick thinker or need time to process info, etc. By knowing everyone's work style and trying to accommodate it as much as possible, folks know that they can bring their authentic selves to the team, and I can see how to lead the team most effectively and how to best engage with each individual.

There is also a huge value in having a kickoff or launch event for any team to get to know each other, build trust through those social bonds, and connect over the work's purpose. When launching a project, I make sure to do this on the first meeting or call and limit the work talk. We also do a soft team re-launch for an existing team moving to hybrid to recognize that our work environment has changed. Make the first team meeting back in the office about this, catch up with each other, and re-build those bonds in a new work environment. Have everyone do the spectrum activity to reflect on the hybrid environment and discuss the findings of that. Trust built early on in a team can set up the psychological safety that will help them see that everyone has each other's back, as does the team leader.

👉 Read more about what Darren feels are the top five ways to build trust and psychological safety with your hybrid team.

What other challenges do you see hybrid posing for your organization?

Many managers and team leaders will need to re-learn and re-skill to manage hybrid teams better and let go of many pre-Covid habits, like equating face time with work. Specifically, leaders will need to improve at ensuring employees work differently when in the office—when physically with the team—and when working at home. We need to ensure that managers structure work and meetings so that the team does collaborative and creative work together and avoids administrative work and report-writing while in the office. Employees and managers will need to see that they should prioritize head-down work when working at home and leave in-office time for teambuilding and creative collaboration.

— If you enjoyed the insights Darren shared about his experience working within a remote-first hybrid team, share this post on social and tag a remote or hybrid leader who you feel is an accomplished peep. —