Hybrid Work: Collaboration in hybrid meetingsBlog / July 8, 2021 / with Lisa Debatin
HYBRID TEAMWORK: HOW TO ENSURE SUCCESS
Since 2020, most office-based organizations have introduced some kind of hybrid work policy. They’ve also had to grapple with the challenges of hybrid team collaboration to ensure their employees are just as effective and creative, wherever they work.
It’s important to understand that hybrid work doesn’t always look the same but can vary by company or department. Google, for example, announced in May 2021 that they would offer a flexible and hybrid work model in which employees not only combine home office and office but also take advantage of “work from anywhere” for up to four weeks a year.
However, offering workers maximum flexibility has downsides as well as benefits. If you can’t predict when and where an employee works, you can’t easily keep them connected to their team. Collaboration is one of the main areas that can suffer when some employees work remotely.
In this article, we’ll examine some common hybrid collaboration challenges organizations and employees face and some strategies to overcome them.
HYBRID COLLABORATION – WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
According to research by Lucid, which polled over 3000 knowledge workers in five countries, improving the quality of hybrid collaboration will be key in 2023 and beyond. Their 2022 report, titled “The Way We Collaborate,” revealed that 90% of knowledge workers say that virtual and hybrid meetings will continue, while 80% say that virtual meetings are essential to their jobs.
However, 67% still prefer in-person meetings, for various reasons, from imperfect technology to feeling that they don’t have the opportunity to speak up in hybrid meetings. For example, 56% of respondents said virtual and hybrid meetings were often dominated by the same voices, while 70% of people admitted to multitasking during virtual meetings.
Here’s a list of the major challenges that hybrid work poses for collaboration:
- Employees that aren’t in the office can feel excluded and that they have fewer opportunities for career development (also known as “proximity bias”)
- Less personal on-site interaction with supervisors
- Difficulty networking and meeting colleagues from other teams
- Lack of face-to-face onboarding of new employees in a hybrid work environment can mean that new hires struggle to integrate
- Erosion of company culture as there is no single place for all workers to be together
- Reduced innovation, creativity, and brainstorming as employees may be less spontaneous about collaboration
- Difficulty integrating remote colleagues into hybrid team meetings
- Lack of clarity on when different team members will be in the office and available for collaboration in-person
TIP: When it comes to planning in-person office days for collaboration, some teams use booking systems or Excel sheets to track who will be in the office and when. These systems are often difficult and time-consuming to use. Hy!There is a simple and free tool to help your teams plan their office time more effectively. Why not try it today?
EFFECTIVE TEAMWORK AND HYBRID COLLABORATION
One thing is essential to successfully overcome the challenges of hybrid teamwork: communication. Communication should happen every day and include the whole team in some way.
While colleagues working in the office can briefly exchange ideas on specific topics and projects in the hallway or break room, those working from home can’t catch up on these developments spontaneously. Therefore, you must find a way to keep them up to date with the status of shared projects. Whether that’s regular virtual meetings, a dedicated Notion page, or a Slack channel where you can share ideas spontaneously, you cannot have people falling behind because the information isn’t shared.
To successfully manage a hybrid team, you also need an overview of all employees’ office and home office days. You might decide that, for certain key meetings, all team members must be present in person. This could be particularly useful when you’re planning annual or quarterly strategies, or when you’re delivering important company news.
Regular teambuilding activities are also important for effective hybrid teamwork. Corporate culture is made of components such as connectedness, trust, and shared values. A strong corporate culture reduces employee turnover and increases productivity. Often, company culture is centered on where everyone is: the office.
However, company culture must be maintained even when this common place of connectedness is gone. Regular team events that include remote team members are key to making sure that all employees feel connected and valued. Virtual escape rooms, quizzes, and online coffee breaks are all techniques your team can use to get to know each other and develop a truly hybrid company culture.
MANAGERS AS AN ESSENTIAL LINK
To create a truly collaborative hybrid work culture, companies must equip team leaders and managers with the right skills.
Managers are the link between team members and the organization. They are essential in building an employee’s positive relationship with their employer and teammates.
So-called “soft skills” such as empathy and emotional intelligence are essential tools that managers have always needed. However, in the world of hybrid work, it is even more important that managers have these skills.
Great hybrid managers remember to check in on employees that they don’t see every day. They take the time to check in with every team member and ask them how they feel the hybrid work environment is working for them. Do they need support to be able to speak up in meetings? Do they feel their ideas are being overlooked in favor of those in the office? Are they getting all the information they need to do their daily work? It can be harder to notice when someone working remotely feels frustrated and needs extra support. However, a great manager will find a way.
But the managers of hybrid teams can’t solve all these problems alone. All employees need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of hybrid work and take responsibility wherever possible.
For example, someone might notice that they’ve received a key piece of information from their boss in person that their remote colleague didn’t. Still, a quick email sharing decisions with any relevant team members can help to avoid misunderstandings and level the playing field.
SUCCESSFULLY SHAPING HYBRID MEETINGS
What does the day-to-day work of a hybrid team look like?
Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco Webex, and Zoom, for example, are now standard terms in our vocabulary.
However, these tools can reach their limits when half of the team is in the office and the other half works from home – or even further afield. Moreover, colleagues working remotely can’t participate equally in meetings despite their virtual presence. Subtleties such as body language, mood, emotions, or off-screen interactions between colleagues are often invisible to remote participants. Therefore, other tools are needed to support hybrid collaboration within teams in these situations.
To choose the right tool for each kind of collaboration, you must understand what kind of meeting you need.
We can distinguish five types of meetings, each of which requires a different type of collaboration:
These meetings are the simplest kind – the person leading the meeting needs to deliver information about the company or specific projects to the attendees. You may also need to distribute tasks to the team members in response to the new information.
These meetings are best handled via Teams, Zoom, or another video call software. However, even though the attendees might not need to participate for most of the meeting, you still need to know that the information has been received and understood.
Some tips for making sure your attendees are engaged include:
- Having a moderator collect questions from the remote attendees, ready for a Q&A
- Asking all remote attendees to keep their cameras on
- Using specialist cameras in your meeting room that can follow the person speaking so that people working remotely can see the people in the room
- Collecting digital reactions after each stage of the meeting
Creative meetings aim to develop new ideas, brainstorm together, and gather input on a topic. You don’t necessarily need to reach a decision; you want all participants to be able to share their ideas without fearing judgment.
If you use the correct tools, these meetings don’t need to be daunting. Virtual whiteboards are a great way to gather ideas from individuals before discussing them in more depth. Miro, for example, is an ideal tool for collecting ideas together. However, you should know that each team member needs to log in separately to work on a Miro board – so you’ll need all in-person attendees to bring their laptops to participate. Another handy tool is Lucidspark, a virtual whiteboard where teams can gather their best ideas.
Using these tools, you could also ask yourself: do we need a meeting in order to collaborate successfully? Or does it make sense to have individuals brainstorm separately, add ideas to the digital whiteboards, and then come together to debate and discuss the different options?
Decisions are made, and discussions take place. Of course, this works best on-site, as it is easier to perceive the other person’s posture, facial expressions, and gestures. In hybrid teams, it is important to ensure that remote employees also have their say and participate in the discussion.
This might mean you have to actively ask for participation and feedback from employees that aren't in the room. You should also ensure they have any relevant documents or agenda items so they can prepare properly. This is also useful for people attending in person, of course, but it’s extra helpful for those who can’t easily “read the room” from their home office.
For an optimal overview of the decision-making process, you should consider keeping proper records or minutes of each meeting. One suitable tool for this is Notion, an online wiki where all participants can simultaneously note down their questions or open points.
“What are our goals, and how do we achieve them?” is usually the leading question in strategy meetings. Usually, these meetings bring together managers and key personnel from different departments. They might not work together daily and may have very different viewpoints and needs.
It is, therefore, essential that all participants have equal access to the information presented and are given equal time to speak. Microsoft Teams Rooms offer an optimal opportunity for hybrid meetings: all participants can see each other, review documents together, and participate equally. Microsoft Teams Rooms are also more secure than other video conferencing platforms, meaning that company decisions will remain private until you decide otherwise.
Operational meetings enable teams to exchange information about the status of specific projects. Team Gantt is a perfect tool for maintaining a good overview in hybrid teams. This free project management platform allows all team members to view and update the project’s progress together. In addition, any changes to the plan that have been agreed upon outside the meeting can be easily entered by using a comment function for each task. This facilitates communication about the project and helps the meeting’s moderator to use the meeting time more effectively. If everyone is informed about the overall progress of the project, then you can stay focused on the problems that still need solutions.
FACE-TO-FACE TIME IS STILL IMPORTANT
Of course, all these meetings, especially decision-making and strategy meetings, can be arranged face-to-face. Fundamentally, in-person meetings have a lot of benefits, from allowing you to see other people’s body language to giving you a chance to build rapport between team members.
If your business no longer has an office, one solution is to temporarily rent co-working spaces or conference rooms. The tools mentioned, such as Team Gantt and Miro, can also be used to coordinate and document the in-person meetings to ensure a good overview once all participants switch back to remote or hybrid work mode after the meeting.
HYBRID COLLABORATION AS AN OPPORTUNITY
Hybrid work shouldn’t only be associated with challenges. Even though hybrid collaboration can be tricky, it offers new opportunities for everyone, from management to individual team members.
Firstly, hybrid companies are more attractive to young Gen Y and Gen Z talent, who often prefer a flexible work environment. Therefore, companies can attract and retain the best talent from these generations. This reduces employee turnover and minimizes recruiting and onboarding costs.
Secondly, employees who have wanted a more flexible work situation for years, due to family circumstances, a disability or chronic illness, or even a long-distance relationship, will find the hybrid work concept appealing. Happy employees mean less sick leave and higher performance, which also benefits companies.
However, hybrid working will only work well for your organization if you set up your company for success. That means using the right tools and building a positive and inclusive company culture that reaches out to all employees. Want more tips about how to integrate your employees into their hybrid team? Contact us and we’ll share how we help organizations around the world to improve their corporate culture.
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