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  • Matt Brown

Out of sight shouldn't mean out of mind – Collaboration in the Hybrid Workplace




A 2023 survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development on Flexible and Hybrid Working Practices showed that 83% of workplaces are offering some form of hybrid working, and this is creating challenges for both managers and employees – how can we create effective collaborative working relationships with people we rarely see in person?


The biggest challenge for managers


Most organisations have historically promoted people on technical ability – if you were technically good at the job you would be put in charge of people doing that job, even though you would now need an additional skillset that hasn’t been considered!


In this post pandemic world, the skills required to manage a hybrid team are underpinned far more by relationship building and trust. No longer is technical ability the only factor to consider when promoting someone, they now also need to possess increased empathy, social sensitivity and emotional intelligence to succeed, and organisations also need to consider how they will develop these skills in their existing management population.


Trust is essential for effective working relationships. If your team is working in a hybrid pattern you have to trust them to deliver on agreed priorities – agree deadlines and then let them decide how to complete the goal. We need to rethink how we measure productivity.


Trust works both ways, of course, you need to be trusted by your people. One of the best ways to achieve this is by following Blanchard’s ABCD Trust model. For your people to trust you as a manager you need to demonstrate that you are:


  • Able – demonstrating competence

  • Believable – act with integrity

  • Connected – care about others

  • Dependable – honour commitments

 

Organisational challenges


According to a recent study by Gallup, employee engagement has hit an 11 year low in the first quarter of 2024. Employees feeling disconnected from the organisation’s mission and purpose is also at the lowest level since 2011. Belbin’s recent Hybrid and Remote Working Survey showed that employees felt a greater connection with the organisation’s culture when they were working in the office


To address this, team meeting’s need to include a focus on sharing - ‘what I am working on and how this impacts on the organisation and the strategy' - and not just as an opportunity for the manager to impart information. Sharing this information not only creates a connection between the individual and the organisation it will potentially lead to opportunities for team members to collaborate.


Employee engagement will also be influenced by how hybrid working is managed – forced or mandated office attendance will increase disengagement.


Achieving collaboration


As a team leader it is very easy to fall into the trap of dictating that everyone works the way you want to work. If you prefer to be in the office then that is how the team will work but, as already mentioned, this will negatively impact engagement. If you are getting the team together in person (and it doesn’t necessarily mean in the office) you need to be able to answer ‘why’ – saying everyone has to be in the office every Wednesday can end up being self-defeating and could bring a new meaning to the term ‘hump day’!


There needs to be a purpose to bringing the team together and the individuals who are most likely to benefit from collaborating need to be in attendance. In pre-pandemic days so much was achieved through the informal discussions, whether that was at the kettle, at the water cooler or just in general conversation, and re-creating these opportunities is essential to create a collaborative environment. Some people will enjoy meeting just for a virtual coffee, or for an after work cocktail hour, while others will hate the idea – you need to know your people and not just go with what you want to do.


Obviously as the manager you can promote collaboration by suggesting ‘You should take to X about that’, and while that will work, the collaboration is more likely to be effective if instigated by the employees themselves.


One of the first things that suffers in a hybrid environment is inter team communication so addressing this is essential. One idea I came across was having a set time (for example 2.00 – 4.00 on a Friday afternoon) when all employees needed to be on a Zoom (or similar) call (even those in the office, to remove ‘in-crowd’/’out-crowd’!) with their camera on. It will seem a bit strange to begin with, but it won’t take long for the informal ‘what are you working on’ conversations to start, with the potential for collaboration.


The new normal


Hybrid working is not going away, it is the ‘new normal’ and work is becoming something you do, not somewhere you go. As a manager you need to ensure that you role model the behaviour you want to see from your people – you need to work both in the office and remotely. And you need to demonstrate what you are doing in each instance - working in the office on tasks that need input from others and working remotely on tasks that you can deal with alone.


If you would like to discuss the challenges that you face adapting to hybrid working and how we can support you in addressing them, whether it is for your managers or your team, please contact me at matt@developyourpeople.co.uk.

 

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