Creating connection in hybrid working

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Written by James Scott on 17 November 2021 in Features
Features

James Scott offers his advice on developing a collaborative, connected culture in a hybrid work environment

Some of your employees are back at their desks, while some are still working from home. So how can businesses keep their hybrid workforce connected?

It used to be that connecting with others at work was the easy part of the workday. The traditional, in-office experience offered a number of opportunities; from the formal in-person meetings, to impromptu interactions in places like the coffee machine or printer. Not to mention the less frequent, but no less impactful, team outings or corporate events.

Heralding in the hybrid workforce

But we remain in a very COVID-19-centric world, and we’re securely in the age of the hybrid workforce, where some team members are fully remote, and others are in the office some or all of the time. Some companies are struggling to keep their employees connected in the aftermath of this disruption to the traditional work environment.

We’re not likely to go back to the old way of working anytime soon. According to the recent Work-from-Anywhere Done Right report by Metrigy, just 12.4% of companies intend to bring employees back on a full-time basis, even after it’s safe to do so, and 87.6% of companies say they will continue to support remote work. 

This is a stark contrast to pre-pandemic days, when only 8% of meetings included a remote participant and collaboration was very much an in-person activity. But even though hybrid is the new norm, it does come with challenges. Of those who work remotely, 49% say it’s harder to build relationships with co-workers and 32% say their connection to company culture has suffered

Others feel the strain, as well – in-person workers may feel resentful toward their remote colleagues. Leaders must determine how to establish a connected workforce despite its hybrid nature. Every employee at some point may experience challenges with communication, team engagement, collaboration and coordination. 

However, 75% of remote employees reported being able to maintain or improve their productivity during COVID-19, and 60% of employees still want flexibility in where or how they work. 

Find new ways to recreate camaraderie, social connection, and a strong sense of belonging for every employee

Since this hybrid work environment will be the norm, at least for the foreseeable future, you may have wondered how exactly to bring together hybrid teams. There are four ways to not just help teams collaborate successfully, but connect, as well. 

1. Reimagine the concept of connection
Rather than take an accounting of the myriad challenges of hybrid work, or wait patiently for a return to normal, now is an opportunity to see connection in a new light. If you’re an HR or corporate communications leader, throw out your old playbook and find new ways to recreate camaraderie, social connection, and a strong sense of belonging for every employee. 

HR or comms teams shouldn’t do this single handedly or in a silo. Engage other leaders and team members in designing and executing creative new strategies for connectedness and cohesion within your organisation, for all team members. 

2. Train your leaders how to effectively drive performance and ensure connectedness in this hybrid environment
Teach those on your leadership team to recognise this period as a truly human moment that we are all part of and provide training that enables them to lead with heart, empathy, patience and flexibility. That includes understanding how to take different approaches with different employees, and to recognise that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing and leading a hybrid workforce. 

Another piece of the leadership responsibility in this age is ensuring that leaders are visible to all employees, regardless of work location. Likewise, employees must feel that they themselves are visible to leaders, regardless of where the employee performs his or her work. When employees feel both understood by, and connected to, leadership, a culture of connection is much easier to cultivate.

3. Establish the necessary technology to facilitate connection from all angles 
In the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey taken this year, the top most important factor that executives reported will make remote and virtual work sustainable was the introduction of digital collaboration platforms. 

Collaboration here is certainly one factor, but it’s not everything. Collaboration technologies can lead to stronger communication and connection amongst a hybrid workforce, but it may not be enough. Evaluate new technology based on more than its ability to help teams meet deadlines or hit a sales goal. 

For example, will the technology you’re considering allow you to engage with workers on more flexible terms? Does it enable inclusivity and allow everyone to be seen and heard whether they’re in-person or remote? Does it have the ability to bring colleagues together regardless of location, role, working style, or device? 

4. Emphasise celebration to foster connection
There’s almost nothing like a celebration to bring people together. But rather than zero in on celebratory moments often found in pre-pandemic days, which may have been reserved for exceeding quarterly objectives or the successful launch of a new product, today’s celebrations should be inclusive of, and responsive to, today’s unprecedented challenges. 

Executives who participated in the Global Human Capital Trends survey agreed, saying the most important action they can take to transform work is that of building an organisational culture that celebrates growth, adaptability and resilience. 

Finding ways to ensure that all employees can share and collectively celebrate initiatives, progress, and wins big and small, is paramount when it comes to a culture of connectedness. 

Next steps

Companies that can foster a connected culture will be better positioned to attract and retain talent in this new era of the hybrid workforce, and an employee app can be instrumental in connecting employees. As many industries focus on rebuilding after a turbulent year, retaining a loyal, hardworking team is the key to success.

James Scott is CEO and founder of Thrive.App

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