Expert advice: Keeping teams connected in a hybrid working environment
Now that hybrid working seems to be here to stay (new hires at beginning to demand it be included as an option in their contracts), business owners need to consider how best to ensure they keep their office and home-based workers connected, engaged and happy. Here, Jackie Black, Virtual Communications Skills Trainer and owner of Digital Business Communication Ltd, explains why robust communications methods are key to making hybrid working work.
Making hybrid working a success
The hybrid working solution takes many different forms according to work a preference, business structure and practicability. It is therefore vital that you spend time with your team clarifying roles and responsibilities. This will ensure everyone is aware of who they need to collaborate with, when and how.
Having a robust method of communication is key to making this work; teams need to be able to share information easily, work on projects in real-time or asynchronously and feel included in the decision-making process even when working at a distance.
Where can businesses start?
Doing a quick technology audit is a good place to start if you manage a hybrid team, ask yourself these three questions:
- Is the technology we have fit for purpose?
Tip: if you can afford it, invest in good quality, noise-cancelling headphones for those working from home. It will minimise background distractions and the microphones produce much better sound.
In addition to this, consider buying and installing a video-conferencing device in a dedicated quiet area to enable those based in the office to hold on my meetings without being disturbed.
- Does everyone know and feel comfortable using it?
Tip: Do a quick, informal survey to gauge people’s preferences. Some will always default to email and not think of using instant messaging, even when communicating internally. Others may not have the know-how to use a document sharing applications available in it, for example, MS Teams. Knowing how your team likes to communicate could guide your choice of hardware and software too. This article by a leading technology supplier makes interesting reading.
- What best practises exist in your business to ensure it is used consistently across the team?
Tip: Best practises provide a firm foundation for collaboration between those in the workplace and those home-based. The set-up process also allows individuals the opportunity to voice expectations and raise doubts before miscommunication and confusion arise. Investing time and energy in getting the relationship and the procedures right will lead to greater efficiency and productivity in the long run.
Supporting effective communication
Once you have explored which technology works best for your team and they are happy with how it’s being used to communicate, take a closer look at how effective that communication is.
Is there an over-emphasis on real-time communication which demands people stop what they are doing and attend online meetings, webinars etc. Rather than using tools which allow people to contribute their ideas in a written form later? If the answer is ‘yes’, ask yourself what the impact of this dependence on real-time communication has on productivity and team motivation.
We all know how much time is wasted in online meetings which are badly run, lack purpose, and fail to produce satisfactory outcomes. Levels of engagement among attendees are generally low, with people checking mails or messaging each other instead of actively participating.
In this case wouldn’t it be more productive to encourage your team to share their thoughts and ideas via a different channel at a time that suits their work agenda? Think how you can facilitate a mindset shift (if you don’t currently promote asynchronous communication) so people feel assured that expressing themselves through other channels will work just as well as doing it in person.
Some feel they must attend a meeting in person to be heard, to make an impression or simply get information first-hand. You need to persuade them to see the value of using voice messages, or other forms of written exchange instead. A great first step would be to introduce ‘meeting free’ days to encourage people to communicate with each other differently.
- Don’t forget to factor in regular slots in the week to promote team building and tackle the feeling of isolation which home-based workers may experience will.
- Be visible to your team and check in with individual members to see how they are coping emotionally and physically.
- Your team needs to be able to share information easily, work on projects in real-time or asynchronously and feel included in the decision-making process even when working at a distance.
- Spend time with your team in the transition stage clarifying roles and responsibilities to ensure everyone is aware of who they need to collaborate with, when and how.
This article was first featured in the Digital Enterprise Digital Transformation Directory.