Is your organization heading toward a hybrid work future? Communication is the key to making sure your shift to hybrid doesn’t fall flat.
Without effective communication, you run the real risk of teams getting bogged down dealing with crossed wires and miscommunication. Or worse, you could unintentionally create a workplace culture where remote people feel like second-class citizens.
Getting everyone working together effectively – whether in the office or remote – will take effort and reimagination of what you’ve done in the past. The good thing? Putting in the time now will pay off hugely down the road. As John Powell said, “Communication works for those who work at it.”
If you’re new to hybrid – or if your communication approach could use a little polish – here are 11 things you can do right away to create a great hybrid work environment.
1. Be transparent
After the past couple of years, we’ve gotten used to the quick pivot to new ways of working. But you may not have had the time until now to really talk about what hybrid work could or should be in your organization. It helps to have a frank conversation with team members where you clearly define what your hybrid work environment looks like.
For example, will there be core days when everyone’s expected to be in the office? What’s your work from anywhere policy? How will you run effective hybrid meetings? Discussing questions like these openly and honestly helps avoid faulty assumptions that will cause bad feelings to fester and grow.
2. Go asynchronous
If your teams have been working remotely, you likely have some asynchronous communication tools in place. But once people are back in the office, it’s tempting to let your Slack® or Teams channel gather dust as you fall back into the habit of side conversations in the hallway. Team members who aren’t in the office may be left without the information they need to do their jobs.
To avoid creating two tiers of team members, make sure to keep remote people in the loop – either by having conversations online or filling them in immediately on what they’ve missed. Also, consider using your UC&C chat window during hybrid meetings to increase participation, especially from remote participants. Those in the room just need to use their phones or laptops to join in.
We’re all busy, so taking more time to communicate can be a hard sell. But in a hybrid team, it’s easy to lose track of who heard what. And that can cause teams to become siloed, disconnected or just plain ineffective.
For hybrid work to be successful, it’s crucial that everyone has access to the same information, no matter where they tend to work. Keeping a written record of decisions, changes in practices and any other key information can save hours of rework later.
4. Stay remote-first when meeting
When a meeting includes both remote and in-person participants, it’s usually those joining from home that feel left out. Taking a remote-first approach can help. For example, remote participants can be called on directly for ideas and input. When questions are asked, leave a bit more time for people to respond, in case the call is lagging. And if people are going around the table giving updates in turn, make sure that remote people aren’t always left for last.
If most meeting participants are in the office, it can help to assign an in-room facilitator to focus on the needs of remote team members. This could include troubleshooting tech issues or simply making sure they get a chance to speak during a heated debate. Try rotating this job amongst team members so everyone becomes more attuned to the remote experience.
5. Watch your timing
When dealing with a hybrid workforce, you need to be crystal clear about when everyone is available. Thanks to commute times, some people might keep slightly different hours in the office than they do at home. And that’s on top of actual time zone differences you might have with fully remote employees.
Knowing working hours matters when booking meetings, but it also helps with informal communication. It’s tough to log into work and be greeted with a long and confusing conversation on Slack or Teams. Instead, either collect your thoughts in a single clear message, or wait until everyone can respond in real time.
And speaking of timing, if your meetings consistently begin a few minutes late, it’s extra frustrating for remote people. At least when you’re in the same location, you often know why someone hasn’t shown up yet. Create a culture of on-time meetings so no one feels like their time is devalued.
6. Prioritize great audio
“Can you hear me? What about now? Now?” You never want to start a meeting like this. So make sure your meeting room audio just works, without constant adjustments and troubleshooting. You need a solution that lets remote people hear the full conversation in the room and find it easy to join in.
In practice, this means audio that doesn’t cut out when someone turns away from the mic or moves away from the table to show something on a display. You also need audio that can handle it when people talk at the same time or when a noisy HVAC system turns on. (Here’s how we can help.)
7. Remember nonverbal cues
While clear audio is the number one priority in a hybrid meeting, video also helps bridge the gap. When remote people can see everyone in the meeting room, it’s easier to track the conversation and pick up body language cues.
People in the room also need to see the people at home. If team members feel comfortable, having their webcams shown on a large screen does a lot to strengthen communication. But if being on display feels awkward, even just showing a name and avatar means they will be less likely to be forgotten.
8. Choose equitable tools
Every tool you use in your hybrid meetings need to work equally well for those at home. So if you’re in the habit of using a sticky-note wall or a whiteboard, ask yourself – can remote people really see and participate as easily as those in the room? If the answer is no (and it probably is), you need to make a change.
Luckily, digital whiteboarding tools are plentiful and easy to access from home and the meeting room – plus they help with asynchronous planning and communication. Polling apps are also a useful addition in large hybrid meetings.
9. Eliminate the meeting after the meeting
How often does it happen – the meeting ends, and then the real problem solving happens on the way back to workstations. This habit can be incredibly damaging to hybrid teams, leaving remote people out of key decisions and information sharing.
Avoid these side conversations as much as possible. And if they do spring up, reach out to remote people right away to loop them in on what was missed.
10. Be social
Communication isn’t just about getting the work done – its about building trust and connection. When the pandemic forced us all to work remotely, teams found creative ways to connect at a distance – with virtual happy hours and more. But in the hybrid workplace, staying socially connected can be more complicated.
If everyone has the ability to get together in person, you could say goodbye to Zoom team building for good. But if there are full-time remote team members, keep some of your social activities virtual. After all, you don’t want anyone to feel left out.
11. Check in often
You may think your hybrid work approach is going well – and perhaps it is. But it’s still crucial to ask your team for feedback, early and often. Holding 1:1 meetings where you directly address the hybrid work situation can help. But it’s also important to listen carefully to team members and address communication challenges as they come up.
This past couple of years has been a rollercoaster, and sometimes we forget just how many adjustments we’ve had to make. We’ve become used to changing on the fly and making do. But creating a hybrid work approach that will stand the test of time is more possible than ever. And the time you put into ensuring that communication is strong and effective can only help set you up for success in the future.
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Posted on Mar 16, 2022 6:00:00 AM