Team communication is challenging in a hybrid workplace With the new pandemic driven hybrid working model still taking shape, companies are in an experimental phase strategizing on a reliable approach to make a seamless transition to it from the traditional work at office model. Pioneering a change in the work culture calls for an overall transformation of HR policies, organizational hierarchy, work management techniques and many other corporate aspects.
Based on the massive ‘Great Resignation’ wave that came with the pandemic, it is clear that employees in today’s workforce are looking for meaningful jobs that not only pay well, but also provide an opportunity to maximize their potential, make a difference and have a better work-life balance. The novelty of the hybrid working concept has created a need for creative leadership. Employee work experience and engagement are significant to retain top talent. Also, managers are compelled to be more tech-savvy and transparent in their employee communications. For managers who have prior experience with managing employees in a traditional office setup, team communication mainly meant frequent or ad-hoc in-person meetings with their team.
Managing team communication in a hybrid workplace is much more complex. Hybrid workplaces are a mix of both onsite and remote working team members, which means the entire workforce will not be available at the office every day. The type of hybrid working model companies choose to implement depends on the pace of work and the nature of the industry. Right software tools and management initiative is needed to successfully manage a distributed workforce in a hybrid working environment.
Best practices to manage team communication in a hybrid workplace
When it comes to efficient team communication, it is not effective to follow a one-size-fits-all approach to get things done. Proficient leadership plays a vital role in implementing comprehensive solutions to enable open and easy communication. Especially important, in a hybrid team that includes remote employees, managers are required to make a conscious effort to make space for equitable communication.
Here are some of the best practices that can help team leaders manage team communication in a hybrid working environment.
1. Provide a clear picture of goals, roles and expectations
When a hybrid team is a combination of employees who rotate between remote work and on-site work or even partially remote working, managers need to make sure each employee is aware of what their job description entails and the goals of their team. Both on-site and remote employees must be trained equally on how to perform their roles and the structure of the workflow. Managers in a hybrid workplace need to ensure that employees are aligned with the vision of the team to avoid unnecessary conflict and confusion.
2. Formulate a team meeting strategy
Meetings are fundamental for the functioning of any team. It is in team meetings that discussions turn into actionable decisions. While it is easy to hold a team meeting in an office setup along with one-on-one discussions, a team meeting in a hybrid model can get complicated and unproductive if not planned well. Studies have revealed that such meetings lead to ‘meeting fatigue’ that affects the productivity of employees and reduces available time to focus on their day-to-day tasks.
For hybrid working teams, following a routine team meeting plan positively impacts productivity and can also provide an opportunity for informal group interactions. Before planning a hybrid team meeting, managers should consider a few important factors:
A fixed time and day when team meetings can be scheduled on a routine basis (weekly or monthly)
A clear understanding of the purpose of the meeting, to avoid long talks that lead to no conclusion
The mode of communication – virtual or on-site
An inclusive space where both remote and on-site employees are free to openly share their ideas and address their concerns
3. Implement standard work management and communication protocols
Devising a strategic framework within which teamwork can take place is key to succeeding in the hybrid team environment. Providing clear guidelines or instructions to employees on how to approach their tasks from start to finish is especially important. For example, employees must know the company’s file saving formats and location, their assigned reporting manager for each task, the team project timesheet format, and communication and collaboration standards that are necessary to be observed on the team’s project management system. This is important to unify the work processes of the distributed team members so managers can direct the team without a lot of overhead.
Not only should protocols be implemented, but managers must also continuously monitor for compliance and evaluate effectiveness. Established guidelines must be constantly reviewed and improvised according to the need of the team and the efficiency of the work processes.
4. Make use of innovation and the right technology to manage team communication
In a hybrid workplace, there is a high possibility of information overload and loss of relevant information with the use of multiple communication platforms. For instance, cloud-based communication platforms like Slack are commonly used for official communication within the team. But the constant flow of unrelated communications in team channels can make it very difficult for managers to keep on top of all team communication that matters to them. Now imagine the complexity when different apps are used for phone calls and emails at the same time. It is very easy to see the stacks of information silos piling up causing stress and loss of productivity.
The Fifth Annual Edition of the State of Remote Work 2021 reported that companies are investing in much-needed tech upgrades to solve this problem of information overload. Cloud-based software that can support not only chat but also calls, emails, shared cloud documents and to do’s are now becoming available. Some innovative tools are also addressing the problem of showing related context in any communication so information can be easily understood and acted upon.
5. Address employee needs and resolve conflicts at an early stage
The world of work has evolved and so should the workforce. For many employees who are accustomed to working together in a physical office, the sudden transformation to a remote working hybrid model is stressful. A pro-active leader must be aware of employee mental health and listen to help team members better cope with the changed situation. Empathy and compassion are must-have qualities for managers to lead hybrid teams.
Research has shown that burnout and digital exhaustion are major problems among remote working employees. Managers need to ensure they take steps to simplify work processes and break down tasks as well as schedule meetings only if there is a necessity.
Timely conflict management is an essential skill that leaders must possess in the modern workplace. Managers in a hybrid workplace must approach conflict resolution quite tactfully. Resolve conflicts with one-on-one meetings and intervene in any roadblock that hinders team performance. Turning a blind eye to conflicts can further escalate into an aggravated situation that will greatly affect the teamwork atmosphere and lead to unnecessary tension within the team.
6. Empower open communication by fostering an inclusive environment of trust
Lack of socializing and bonding is one of the biggest shortcomings of a hybrid workplace. Effective team communication happens only when employees feel that they can communicate their ideas freely with colleagues they are comfortable with. To create a channel for team communication means to create an open environment of trust that encourages creativity and innovation. Employees participate actively in conversations when they feel valued and heard, which inculcates a sense of belonging and purpose. An efficient manager must motivate his team to give their feedback and share their work-related issues in an earnest attempt to improve their performance.
In a hybrid workplace where off-record or informal interactions are limited – specifically for remote employees, managers must make a deliberate attempt to foster social conversations and dialogue between team members.
Good leadership: The key to effective team communication in the hybrid workplace
The start of the hybrid working era has redesigned and redefined many aspects of the business world. As companies are navigating through unfamiliar workplace problems and experimenting with nascent concepts, the role of modern management is to remain agile and quickly pivot based on the ground reality. Managers who want to manage team communication effectively need to create a space that is inclusive, supportive, innovative, agile and empathetic towards employees.