Workplaces have come a long way in a short period from a traditional office setting to a flexible hybrid setting that supports a diverse workforce. An Accenture research report has revealed that 63 percent of high-growth companies have already adopted a ‘productivity anywhere’ model.
The hybrid working model has several advantages for both employees and their companies.
For employees, the hybrid working model offers flexibility to work from any location. Unlike the fully remote working model, the hybrid model also makes it possible for them to form interpersonal relationships at work and a better work-life balance. Likewise, the hybrid working model enables companies to reduce the cost of a physical office and also attract talent from anywhere in the world.
However, even though the hybrid working model is being widely implemented by many organizations, most leaders are new to handling team communication in the hybrid working environment. Efficient team communication in a hybrid setting can only be achieved through meticulous planning, implementation, and constant improvisation of team communication strategies.
Effective techniques to improve team communication in the hybrid workplace
Here are a few practical strategies that every manager handling hybrid teams must follow to improve team communication:
1. Formulate a suitable team communication strategy that is inclusive of remote employees
Seamless team communication in the hybrid workplace is still a new concept being tackled by organizations today.
In a traditional office setup where conversations and discussions take place quite naturally, team communication meant spontaneous face-to-face meetings. However, in the new hybrid working environment, the managers need to play an active part in implementing a workable communication strategy within the team.
While formulating a communication strategy, it is important to:
- Set standard protocols and guidelines that is favorable for team communication for a distributed workforce
- Create an inclusive environment that gives equal opportunities for remote team members to express their ideas and collaborate with ease
- Use a mix of synchronous and asynchronous methods of communication based on the need for quick response
2. Use unified communication technology to access all information in one place
In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the use of communication technologies by companies. While several organizations utilized a single all-in-one tool, many small and non-tech businesses communicated using freely available tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other similar virtual communication technologies for team communication and collaboration. However, recent research has pointed out that using multiple communication tools can result in loss of information and confusion among employees.
Therefore, companies must either develop or deploy an integrated communication software that can seamlessly consolidate all their corporate communications under one roof and can be accessed from any location. This can significantly improve team communications in the hybrid workplace as it can ensure centralized access to information and enable systematic communication within the team.
3. Hold regular feedback sessions
While the remote working model was a generally familiar mode of work for many organizations, the hybrid working is a recent development. It has been adopted as a standard working model only halfway through the pandemic when companies felt that there was an increasing need for a more flexible working arrangement. Unfortunately, the newness of the hybrid working style creates apprehensions in the minds of the employees and has many unforeseen challenges that require managerial intervention.
Providing one-on-one or group feedback avenues either through meetings or other chat-based applications can be helpful in understanding the team’s needs and making necessary improvements. During such feedback meetings, managers can address discrepancies that arise in the existing workflow processes from the employees themselves. Employees can also suggest improvements to streamline work processes. This is an effective way to find common ground, especially when handling unfamiliar models like hybrid workplaces.
4. Choose a comfortable mode of communication suitable for all kinds of employees
Traditionally, face-to-face meetings and emails are commonly used to communicate with a team in a physical office. However, to foster effective team communication in the hybrid workplace, managers need to find a balance between synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication to accommodate the interests of both onsite and remote employees.
Managers need to utilize the right mode of communication based on the situation at hand - be it written, video conferencing, instant messaging, or even an outdoor meeting.
5. Create an environment for open and creative conversations
For teams to collaborate successfully, all the team members including the manager must work together towards the team goal. To ensure that there is social cohesion in a hybrid working environment, managers must make a deliberate effort to encourage socialization and interpersonal relationships within the team. In hybrid workplaces, virtual watercooler conversations can be encouraged with the help of many social applications like Slack, Trello.
Studies have shown that having a rewards and recognition system in place encourages employees to know the other team members, interact and encourage positive and light-hearted conversations.
Eliminating social communication barriers helps team members to share their creative and innovative ideas without always following the status quo. Managers must ensure that both on-site, as well as off-site employees, are made a part of these social interactions equally.
6. Maintain a flexible yet organized framework for team communication in the hybrid workplace
Managers need to ensure that along with the flexibility that comes with the hybrid working model, all team communication that takes place is recorded properly and does not fall through the cracks. All team members need to be aware of any team communication that has taken place regardless of their location.
With the help of a good team communication tool, managers can easily keep track of previously discussed assignments. For example, Clariti facilitates context-based classification of topics that needs to be discussed separately. This helps managers to follow up or continue a conversation on a separate thread.
7. Clearly define tasks and workflow processes
Having a team timesheet to assign tasks and timelines to employees is a widely followed practice to ensure that employees are aware of their responsibilities. Managers must communicate goals and the scope of work to each employee in detail to avoid confusion and conflict within the team. Clearly communicating the daily tasks increases employee accountability and productivity levels.
Similarly, it is important to avoid information overload. In a hybrid working team, managers play a key role in ensuring that the right information is passed on to the right employee.
8. Hold regular team meetings
Team communication in a hybrid setting can take place virtually or at a physical location if necessary. However, meetings must be well-planned so that all important matters are discussed, and the next step is planned when the team is together.
Meeting fatigue is a common occurrence among remote team employees. The exhaustion of sitting through long meetings significantly affects employee productivity. Team leaders must ensure that meetings are interactive and on-point. Meetings must be held only when there is a subject that requires the entire team to be present.
9. Review and improve existing and newly implemented strategies of communication
While implementing strategies for the hybrid workforce, it is important to anticipate flaws or shortcomings. These can be improved only through consistent review and understanding of what the team needs to function to its full potential. Before implementing new strategies, team managers handling hybrid teams must take into account the employee’s capacity and the nature of the projects at hand. Managers must also possess innate confidence to try new strategies for the betterment of the team’s work performance.
10. Be empathetic and understanding to gain the trust of the employees
Trust and transparency go hand in hand. Employees are more likely to communicate openly to their managers and actively engage in teamwork when they feel valued and trusted.
Especially in a hybrid workplace that consists of different kinds of employees working from different locations, time zones, or even different generations - the challenges faced by each individual may be different. Managers must make an effort to understand their employee limitations and be a mentor who cares about their employees’ growth and performance.
Moreover, managers must maintain transparency in communication. Transparent communication is key to improving employee engagement and boosting the productivity of the team. When managers actively inform employees, honestly answer queries, and act on issues promptly, employees trust their leaders. This eventually leads to better collaboration, open exchange of ideas, and better work performance.
Agile leadership: The backbone of team communication in the hybrid workplace
It is quite evident that employee expectations have changed in recent times due to the ongoing pandemic. Employees are looking for organizations that offer flexibility, transparency, and personal growth among other factors. Research has also revealed that the Great Resignation has made it difficult for companies to retain employees. This makes it important for leaders in the new era of work to have the skills to adapt their company’s work culture to changing times.
In a hybrid working environment, implementing innovative strategies to improve team communication is a must for achieving maximum productivity. With an agile mindset and a proactive approach to take on workplace challenges, managers handling a hybrid team can make team communication across a distributed workforce possible.