In our previous blog post we described what hybrid teams are and how Strategy & Culture, Infrastructure & Processes and Social interaction & loneliness influences hybrid work environments.
We show what needs to be considered in the transition to a hybrid workplace model, what role the office will play in the future and, in particular, why the future of work puts individual freedom of choice in the foreground. In this blog post we will focus on Communication & Transparency and Inclusion
2.4 Communication & Transparency
Too little, too much, not the right information or something that is no longer up to date. Communication and transparency are cornerstones for collaboration in virtual or hybrid teams.
Internal company communication, but also communication within the team itself, has always been a great challenge. But if communication also takes place in a context in which not everyone in the company is physically present, or in a 100% virtual organization, it becomes even more essential to ensure that the communication is precise, clear and transparent. Especially in virtual or hybrid teams, however, it often happens that one or more team members have the feeling of being excluded or not knowing everything. Often projects are also discussed in the corridor, or spontaneous decisions are made between “door and angel” in which remote colleagues cannot participate. A feeling of unfairness, often coupled with lack of transparency, can arise very easily here. If several colleagues have a similar feeling, the trust of the employees in their own team, the organization and the common goals is in danger. Transparent internal communication is indispensable for this.
But this is exactly where it becomes difficult: What is “enough” of information and communication so that all employees are on the same level, and when does a feeling of communication overload arise? All employees must be informed as soon as possible about significant changes. This also tends to mean communicating the same message several times and even on all different channels.
Transparency also means relevance
Communication must be target-group-specific. In addition to timely communication, a target group-specific orientation or distribution of information is also of particular importance when it comes to ensuring transparency and building trust. This can also ensure that there is no information overload, which can often lead to a complete disregard of any communication efforts. Any kind of communication must be clear, precise and target group oriented.
Synchronous and asynchronous communication
The Meeting Marathon in the first half of 2020 is partly because most organizations were not yet used to using the two basic ways of communication effectively:
- Synchronous communication means that information is exchanged at the same time or in real time. Synchronous communication, which takes place, for example, in virtual/hybrid meetings, should be used for complex topics, meetings with an interaction character or team building.
- Asynchronous communication means that information is not exchanged at the same time. Asynchronous communication is also described as time-delayed communication. An e-mail is a typical asynchronous communication medium. The sender sends an e-mail, the recipient replies when it suits him/her best. This means that the recipient is given the freedom to receive, edit and answer the information when he/she is ready.
Whether synchronous or asynchronous, don’t forget the fun in your virtual communication! Fun, team spirit and productivity in hybrid teams are strongly related. For example, the first 10 minutes of a team meeting can be used for informal exchange with each other. Do not start immediately with the first agenda item but take the first minute for a casual check-in so that everyone feels comfortable and even consider preparing fun short questions so that everyone gets to know each other better. It is particularly important to include these 10 minutes “informal check-in” explicitly in the team meeting agenda, because otherwise this is often forgotten. Once we are in a virtual meeting, we tend to become very task-oriented and therefore often forget that relationships are indispensable. However, studies show that virtual/hybrid teams, whose share of non-task-related exchanges is higher, are more successful than those that have a lower share of informal communication. Successful hybrid teams also make extra meetings to cover this social aspect, e.g. a virtual birthday party with virtual karaoke, once a week a joint virtual lunch.
In addition to team meetings, clearly structured 1:1 meetings (between the supervisor and an employee) are also particularly essential.
Another challenge of hybrid team leadership is that communication is not always equally synchronous for all team members. Team members who are physically present, especially if the manager is also physically present, often have at least a temporal information advantage. This makes it even more important to communicate decisions, procedures, and changes transparently and synchronously. It is recommended to immediately send asynchronous communication, e.g. an email/Slack message, to all team members, and especially to address those who could not be present.
2.5 Fairness & Inclusion in Hybrid Organizations
Companies must become aware that the interaction and collaboration of employees on site and virtual colleagues usually leads to unequal access to resources, information and to a different visibility. Employees in the office tend to have quick and easy access to technology, infrastructure, typically with faster internet and easier access to information. The so-called “coffee machines or Xerox communication” included. Being in the office also means emotional and social support from colleagues – whenever you need it.
In contrast, employees who work virtually often find themselves with a weaker technological infrastructure with slower connections, difficulty accessing certain resources from home, a less professional facility in the home office that is contributing to a feeling of a weaker position. If you can’t be part of the “Xerox communication”, it is typically the case that you miss some essential parts of a hybrid meeting or learn about a new project as the last. Furthermore, virtual colleagues frequently feel socially isolated more quickly and with less support.
The technical term for this is proximity bias, which means that we prefer colleagues or employees who are closest to us, for example who are also present in the office. This can lead precisely to virtual colleagues or employees being neglected or treated unfairly.
Visibility, or rather, as seen by senior managers, is “location-dependent” and studies show that employees who are not on site have several disadvantages: employees, who are being seen more often in the corridor are also the employees who are first thought of in new projects. Even if the supervisor works from home, it is the case that the actions of employees on site tend to be carried to the supervisor rather than actions by virtual employees. With virtual employees, we don’t see the late nights or early mornings in front of the computer so easily. The laurels are usually reaped by the employees in the physical office, even if it is a team success (Mortensen/Haas 2021).
Bad news: There is no one-for-all solution.
Good news: There is a suitable solution for every team.
Hybrid working is individual: For every industry, for every company, every team there is a suitable solution, which is ideally developed together, adapted to the possibilities of the company, the needs of the stakeholders, legal, regional conditions, resources, and compliance. Step-by-step measures are just as useful as pilot projects. In any case, the decision to hybrid will pay for itself in any case, because: THE FUTURE OF WORK IS CHOICE.