November 18, 2021

The current state of hybrid teams and 5 key focus areas for successful annual planning remotely

Lucy Hitz
Lucy Hitz
Director of Content,

Whatever you call it—hybrid, remote, or distributed— the nature of how work gets done and how our teams interact with one another has radically changed in the last two years. This change has put the following question front and center for leaders: 

If your team is no longer in the same physical environment together every single day, how do you create the space and processes which make employees feel productive, happy, and like they’re having a positive impact?   

As we close out 2021, some teams are still fully remote, some of us are hybrid, and some of us are going back into the office full-time. 


If you watch our mid-day show without me I swear to god… #corporate #9to5 #workfromhome #roommates #fyp

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And that’s not the only change afoot. As employees leave for new opportunities and companies navigate the Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle, strong rituals and a goal-centered company culture need to be powerful focuses for leaders who want to motivate and keep great teams in 2022. 

As the physical lines between where we work and where we live the rest of our lives blur, so have our interactions with our teams. Familial challenges, mental health, and the continued struggle for DEI are no longer relegated to our “personal lives”—a reality we might not have been able to imagine even a few years ago.

The 2022 annual planning process is a great time to focus on trust, collaboration, and transparency as you set a solid foundation for the year ahead.

Recently, joined forces with our friends at HubSpot, Teamwork, and There Be Giants to share tips on just that, including how to conduct 2022 annual planning with remote teams and setting your teams up for success so you can turn your 2022 vision into reality.

Watch the webinar: 2022 Planning for the Hybrid World

What the annual planning process looks like going into 2022 

Regardless of whether annual planning sessions are remote or in person, the common approach was to break down both the vision and the process into smaller, more manageable pieces. 

As Tara Robertson, Chief Marketing Officer of Teamwork pointed out: 

“We’re all in this world of Zoom fatigue. We can’t get through an eight hour planning session the way we can in person.”

Most of us don’t have the luxury of multi-day planning off-sites anymore, and certainly none of us can stay engaged and focused for full-day Zoom sessions. 

Instead, Kyle Denhoff, Head of Strategy and Operations at HubSpot, suggests breaking down the planning session into these three stages: 

  • Where are we today? 
  • Where do we want to be tomorrow? 
  • How do we plan to get there?

Breaking out a separate session or workshop to define your objectives, then another for key results also has the added benefit of giving your team some time to breathe and think. Lawrence Walsh, Chief Operating Officer at OKR consulting firm, There Be Giants, sees this as the most important takeaway for conducting hybrid or remote annual planning sessions.

“Slow down and take your time,” says Lawrence. If you don’t give people space to absorb and process information, you run the risk of rushing through things and ultimately focusing on the wrong objectives. 

The 5 key focus areas for successful annual planning with hybrid teams

For a successful annual planning process with your team, make sure you’re focusing in the following areas. 

Focus #1: Focus

One of the biggest pitfalls of planning is a lack of focus. It’s why we recommend only setting 3-5 objectives and key results.

OKR Example

Tara says:

“[At Teamwork], we focus a lot more on doing less and doing those things brilliantly, than on what are all the big ideas we can do.”

In other words, less is more.  

In addition to reigning in your priorities, it’s also important to reign in your team’s attention. This is easier said than done—especially on video calls.

One of the most effective ways to keep teams engaged in meetings is to simply yet explicitly ask them to put away their phones, close out their messaging tools, and turn off their notifications.

Eliminating these distractions makes a huge difference in our productivity. 

Focus #2: Transparency

If you want people to rally behind the task at hand, you need to give them context and clarity around purpose.

Planning for planning’s sake is not what we’re trying to do here,” says Kyle.

In annual planning sessions, Kyle discloses his intention to his team by telling them, “We are trying to get a better idea around where we need to invest as a business to help your team be successful next year.”  

In a hybrid world, you really can’t over-index on communication.

Read our guide on The Future of Company Culture and Collaboration to learn more about the importance of transparent communication in the hybrid world.

Focus #3: Collaboration

Motivation comes from collaboration.

“Don’t just Slack or email people your OKRs,” warns Lawrence.

Too often, leaders are tempted to speed up the planning process — and spare everyone another Zoom meeting — by skipping over any brainstorming and feedback, and instead simply prescribe organizational OKRs. That’s enormously problematic because, as Tara asks, “How are you going to empower the team that’s actually executing on that plan if they’re not a part of [developing] it?”

Make sure to bring your people along for the ride. The first step in your annual planning process should always be to engage your executive team and senior leaders in both reflection and forecasting. Embrace virtual tools that allow you to collaborate as a team in real time.

Want more tips on how to run a collaborative annual planning process? Check out our blog with best practices for 2022 annual planning.  

Focus #4: Trust 

Trust is what makes this whole process work. And yet, it can be particularly challenging to build trust when we’re not all in the office together. Lawrence reminds us of a fundamental truth:

“People can only feel trust if they feel psychologically safe.”

This means creating a culture where people can be honest and take risks without feeling like their career or their self image is in jeopardy. But what does that actually look like in practice?

An employee that trusts their manager should be able to say, “Hey, I’m falling behind on a project, I really need support.” The benefit here is two-fold: one, employees are more engaged, productive, and satisfied in healthy work environments. Two, your business (or, in this case, your project) doesn’t fall behind simply because your employees didn’t feel they could speak up. 

Focus #5: Preparation 

Tara insists that one of the biggest (and most stress-inducing) mistakes organizations make is “not actually planning for planning.”

Too often, leaders focus their annual planning on setting budgets and goals, without considering the actual process itself.

And yet, it’s incredibly important to make space for this time of reflection and intention. Otherwise, you’ll be so busy trying to execute on the current year’s plan that you’ll have no time to plan for next year.

We recommend setting aside more time than you think you’ll need for planning this year. Remember what Lawrence said? “Slow down and take your time.” 

How do you score? 

Where can you afford to grow as you go through the annual planning process with your team? Are you nailing focus and preparation, but falling behind on transparency? Collaborative and transparent, but lacking the focus you need to refine your big ideas? 

Collaborative goal-setting can give you the clarity and transparency you need to motivate your team and see the impact you’re looking for in 2022. Put goals at the center of your employee experience in 2022, starting with annual planning now.

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