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Hybrid working: how to communicate effectively

If we’re no longer eyeballing each other at work, how will workplaces continue to flourish? A key success criterion of hybrid working is good communication. In this blog we look at how L&D professionals can support middle management.

The introduction of hybrid working – a blended approached to remote and in-office work – places new demands on the way businesses operate. While some employees want to keep a more flexible approach, many bosses are divided on how to deliver their business objectives within this set up.

Remote work vs team collaboration

One of the biggest fears is losing the opportunity for collaboration. Microsoft’s World Work Index published earlier this year says cross-pollination across teams is a major concern in the hybrid work environment.

Individual teams on the other hand are more likely to be thriving – having been through a turbulent time. But how does that same closeness percolate across the company?

This is a very real issue for HR leaders who are trying to balance employee engagement with business performance. In a recent study by Gartner, 71% of HR leaders said they are more concerned about employee collaboration this year than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

As discussed in our introductory post about hybrid working, clear communication is a critical success factor.

Leaders need to be creative in ways of connecting their teams

A good manager lays the foundations for clear channels of communication, implementing them in an equitable way regardless of where someone carries out their work.

In addition, they will have open and honest conversations about how they are going to communicate either in person or online in order to set precedents.

This requires them to be very intentional about how this will work and also remember to include those opportunities – the water cooler moments or chats in the kitchen while the kettle is boiling – that will help people make those informal connections that are so vital to collaboration. It means adapting management style to build trust

As we wrote in this blog, managers needs to be consistent in approach and leadership style in order to gain trust. Employees are going to be a lot more demanding going forward – the last 17 months has proved many things managers thought were not possible!   

Leaders need to make the business case for new approaches to working life clearly. For some employees, there is a lot of anxiety about getting back into in person working – from wearing business attire, to commuting, to seeing people face-to-face.

Bringing teams together for a low-level meeting or even a social event is a good way to start communication flowing before moving onto client meetings.

BiteSize’s communications expert Catherine Bonner explains: “Everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been unique so managers need to be considerate of this. Think of it as running a marathon and how this next phase is like the recovery period before performing again.”

Let’s look at some of the other practical points to consider:

Adopt a remote-first approach

If teams are not going to be physically together anytime soon or ever, then do managers ensure they feel included? By adopting a remote-first approach, they will be instantly putting everyone’s communications on a level playing field. It’s about making interactions virtual even when some of the team are sitting opposite them. Encouraging online discussions rather than splitting off into groups also helps to foster a more cohesive experience.

But let’s not forget what happens after lots of meetings – the casual pop in from the MD or the quick after-meeting discussion that was adds some new relevance to a point just made.

Managers need to be ready to share information in a fast-moving environment, especially those not physically there. Our course on managing remote and hybrid workers offers solid skills in this regard.

Ensuring everyone contributes

It’s easy for people to feel invisible if the only time they are seen is via a screen. One way managers can ensure people are heard and listened to is to help them run effective meetings. This was an important skill even before the pandemic. Now it’s really vital as you’ve probably noticed yourself after several months of being glued to a screen!

Our course on running effective meetings helps managers look at devising meeting strategies with their teams and other collaborators.

In a hybrid setting, it’s about establishing what works as a meeting structure. Knowing the parameters for a calling a meeting – hybrid workers need time to work alone too! Good meetings require a purpose, demand planning and require reliable technology.

Articles coming out of the pandemic have found diverse groups struggling with online communication. Women – already likely to fall foul of “manterrupting” – face similar challenges in online meetings.

A good chair includes time for team check-ins. They will also remember to mention the name of the participant about to speak.

Flexing the comms but keep it simple

Being open to different modes of communication is a key part of becoming remote-first and ensuring everyone agrees what constitutes good etiquette.

People use technology in different ways. One person’s preference for Slack is another’s no-go zone. Whatever your company’s attempts at introducing set technologies for communication, teams will adapt and evolve other strategies too. Individuals might prefer different technologies for day-to-day contact as well.

In this article about managing an entirely remote workforce Johnny Boufarhart described the tools his 500-stong tech workforce uses various tech tools to ensure his teams communicate and stay connected. A bot patrols Slack and randomly selects employees once a month to set up an online coffee break together.

Managers need to flex and bend to the tech formats reaching and responding to people. Helping technophobes to make friends with tech is important too.

Recognise the needs and motivations for physical and remote work

People can communicate and collaborate in different ways. Obviously the physical way is what we’re most used to which is why it’s often preferred. But how do people learn to collaborate when they don’t know who it would be useful to collaborate with? HR leaders can help their managers to look at team structures. How can they be changed to improve functionality to help collaboration and open working?

Consider using both virtual and physical ways for different teams to network and bond to help strengthen collaborations. Management will need to pay close attention to the very young members of the team. Their work life experience has been completely different to older generations so far. They are still at the start of establishing their networks.

An opportunity to build more skills…

Being clear in communications, developing questioning skills, and building opportunities for bringing ideas to life through storytelling are all useful traits for building successful teams and deepening collaborations. The good news is that all these skills can be enhanced with training.

Our five-star courses tackle subjects quickly and are accessible to remote workforces. For more information, please contact Abby Hodder.

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