How Hybrid Work Continues to Shape the Workplace 

Association leaders discuss the post-pandemic workplace and how hybrid work works.

By Alexandra Bradley

Woman With Back Pain Working At Standing Desk Home Office

As COVID-19 took the world by storm, many associations shifted to remote work to protect their staff and members. Membership numbers suffered, technology experienced glitches, but the work got done. As the pandemic subsided and workers reemerged, a sense of comradery prevailed for having successfully navigated the crisis together.  

In 2021, Achurch Consulting partnered with Association TRENDS on the State of Associations Post-Pandemic Survey Report. The survey, which included more than 350 association leaders, revealed that 79% of those association leaders were considering a hybrid or fully remote workforce moving forward. Seven percent planned to go fully remote. Communication and change in culture were top concerns in transitioning towards a permanent hybrid or fully remote work environment. 

Over 65% of survey respondents reported that they physically go into their organization’s office less than two days a week, on average. Nearly 30% work entirely remotely or visit the office only as needed.

Nearly three years later, how did we—the collective association community—fare? According to more than 100 association professionals surveyed last month, pretty darn well.  

Over 65% of survey respondents reported that they physically go into their organization’s office less than two days a week, on average. Nearly 30% work entirely remotely or visit the office only as needed. While 58% percent of total respondents—and 60% of the less-than-two-days group—wouldn’t change their frequency, 45% of those going into the office more than two days a week preferred fewer in-office days. Regardless of their in-person frequency, staff say they are reasonably satisfied with their organization’s hybrid/remote work policies. 

At the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), hybrid work was the norm long before COVID-19. “The expectation was always three days in the office, two days of telework,” says Sandra Mason, APR, AEM’s Public Relations Director. However, how people divide their days is up to them. “Some people like to keep it very consistent. I like teleworking on Thursdays and Fridays, because the rest of my team also teleworks on Thursdays and Fridays.” 

Eileen Murray, MM, CAE, CEO of the American Epilepsy Society, emphasizes transparency and accountability as key to successful hybrid/remote arrangements. “We allow substantial flexibility with the caveats that no individual’s work schedule or location adjustments should risk service to our members or support to each other. We agree to keep personal calendars and a shared master staff calendar current as to availability and location (where applicable), to respect both flexible schedules and traditional schedules, and to work together to assure that coverage and availability is coordinated both within and across departments and for all member-facing needs,” Murray explains. 

However, remote work isn’t without its challenges. Survey respondents cited inconsistent policy enforcement, technology limitations, and lack of transparency and communication from leadership as key pain points. 

To foster transparency, Callan Stapleton, CAE, executive vice president and president of business and education services at Illinois Bankers, meets with each of his seven team members weekly and schedules biweekly team meetings. “We also do twice-a-month all-staff ‘sound-off,’ which provides staff the opportunity to recognize work and other happenings in the office, as well as anything personally,” he says. 

Recognition is a big theme at AEM, as well. “We have a Kudos Channel on Microsoft Teams, where we can give recognition to folks who are doing a great job, a thank you, or a shout out,” says Mason. The organization celebrates staff milestones and anniversaries. 

While association professionals enjoy the hybrid workstyle, keeping staff—both in-person and remote—feeling connected and engaged should continue to be a priority. 

AEM President Megan Tanel hosts quarterly Sounds & Bites events with lunch and, oftentimes, a guest speaker—like a board member. “Everyone gets to mingle, chat beforehand, and eat with someone you usually don’t eat with,” Mason explains. They also have a whiteboard in their café that regularly poses questions for staff to get to know each other, like “What did you want to be when you grow up?,” “What are you thankful for?,” “What is your favorite restaurant in the area?,” “What are you looking forward to at our upcoming tradeshow?,” etc.  

“We reinforce reminders to use Teams, Zoom, or the old-fashioned phone rather than rely solely on email or Team messages,” says Murray. “Just that little added personal connection can make a world of difference in building strong work relationships.” 

As we have moved from in-person to remote to mostly hybrid models, some wonder whether associations can keep up with businesses that offer remote-only work, particularly when it comes to recruiting top talent. “The people who work at AEM are just as passionate, just as dedicated, as anybody you would find anywhere else around the country,” says Mason. “And the nice thing is: You get to know them as a person, because you’re in the office with them.” 

About the Author

Alexandra Bradley is the director of marketing and communications for the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery and a member of Association Forum’s Content Working Group. She’s also vice-chair of the ASAE Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a recipient of Association Forum’s Forty Under 40® designation. 

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