As more Fortune 500 companies issue sweeping edicts making a return to the office mandatory, I confess, I’m surprised—and disappointed.
Despite a growing mountain of research data that tells us most remote and hybrid workers are actually more productive and happy than onsite employees, some corporate leaders continue to cling to the belief that “butts in seats” equals productivity and satisfaction.
Like others who prefer to rely on data and adapt to change, I think hybrid work is here to stay, as it makes more sense for today’s diverse, global workers and for business.
“It’s time to wake up and realize we are in a new era. Just as we moved from the fields to factories to fabric-lined cubicles, work will now forever be flexible … Successful companies, like they always do, will adapt to changes in the world of work … and those that don’t will fall by the wayside.”
I believe the companies that adapt to and thrive with hybrid work will create thoughtful, inclusive, effective communication channels and practices.
In this blog, we’ll look at three key strategies to do just that.
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Embrace the Hybrid Reality With a New Mindset
Many studies and surveys before and since the pandemic have surfaced a disturbing disconnect when it comes to perceptions of worker productivity. On the one hand, many remote/hybrid employees report feeling more focused and productive, while on the other, a large percentage of leaders and managers find that hard to believe.
Microsoft released a report last fall that found . . .
“People are working more than ever, while leaders—already worried by signals of macroeconomic decline—are questioning if their employees are being productive. The majority of employees (87%) report that they are productive at work, and productivity signals across Microsoft 365 continue to climb … At the same time, 85% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive … even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased”
Accenture’s “The Future of Work 2022” report, which surveyed 10,750 workers and 200 CEOs worldwide, revealed even more telling data:
- 66% of CEOs know that things need to change, but they are reluctant to pursue work models and approaches that differ from those used in the past.
- Only 26% of CEOs have a future-ready strategy that is holistically focused on changing how, why, and where we work.
- 68% of high-growth organizations have enabled a “productivity anywhere” workforce models (up from 63% in 2021).”
They conclude that, “. . . although most companies are now promising some degree of flexible work, many are not effectively enabling their people with the technology, tools and empowerment they need to be healthy, happy and productive across work locations.”
So, it seems the first hurdle we need to face has to do with adopting a new mindset. As leaders, we need to question the old beliefs about what drives productivity, and discard those that aren’t supported by current data and people’s experiences.
During a recent PowerSpeaking Live! on the topic of hybrid communications, two of our panelists offered some concrete examples of how leaders can make the best decisions about where and how their employees work, connect, and collaborate.
In the video clip below, Jenny DeVaughn, VP of Transformation Communication at ADP, talks about how a company with 60,000+ employees is managing hybrid work—with an emphasis on clear communication and expectations. And leadership coach and PowerSpeaking Master Facilitator Amy Riley shares the advice she gives to leaders on shifting to a new mindset . . .
I love the point they both make that the nature of an individual’s work is a more logical determinant of where they’ll be most productive. And that as long as we establish clear communication channels and expectations, remote and hybrid work can be every bit as effective and productive as working onsite—if not more so.
A 2022 Harvard Business Review article, “What Great Hybrid Cultures Do Differently,” offers some interesting insights about what leaders need to do to enable a successful hybrid workplace.
Authors James Stanier, Michael Li, and Jesse Anderson say that great hybrid cultures occur when there’s “consistent action from leaders” in these five areas: 1) Embracing asynchronous communication, 2) Making communication boundaries clear, 3) Championing documentation and artifacts, 4) Broadcasting communication, and 5) Providing the tools to succeed.
They stress that hybrid work environments succeed “only when all employees are treated as remote employees,” and that means “giving everyone access to the same information, people, tools, and opportunity to succeed, regardless of whether they are sitting in an office in Berlin or whether they are doing their work from a coffee shop in Jakarta or a bedroom in Tokyo.”
Couldn’t agree more. Once we as leaders and managers embrace the new hybrid reality, we can support the whole organization in making the best use of the communication channels and tools available—or create new ones.
Employ Best-Practice Communication
It’s everyone’s responsibility, no matter their position in the organization, to use best practices and tools to ensure clear, effective communication in a hybrid environment. Here are a few things to consider:
- When to use asynchronous vs. synchronous communication
- How to run inclusive, efficient hybrid meetings
- Tips for best-practice hybrid presentations
Let’s look at each of them . . .
When to use asynchronous vs. synchronous communication
One of the best ways to create a more efficient, productive hybrid workplace is to understand when it’s best to communicate independently (asynchronous), and when real-time connection (synchronous) is best.
Asynchronous is often best if you simply need to share information and/or get input from others. If the matter really doesn’t require live dialogue, don’t call a meeting when you could have simply sent an email or collaborated on an online document. This allows people to review and respond on their own time, and avoids the hassle of yet another (unnecessary) meeting—especially if the work team crosses time zones.
Here are some examples of communication best done asynchronously:
- Project, process, and event updates
- Document and media review collaborations
- Meeting notes and action items or meeting recordings
- Non-urgent information requests/questions
- Non-sensitive organizational announcements
Upwork gives some great advice for making asynchronous communication successful:
“A key to successful asynchronous communication is writing clear, concise messages on all platforms that your team uses. If your thoughts are ambiguous, it will confuse your team members and result in unnecessary back-and-forth responses.
Any time you write an email or message, think about the follow-up questions team members might have and try to address them before they’re asked. Before you hit send, read through your email or message to determine whether it conveys all the points you’d like to get across. Also consider using bullet points or sections to make your asynchronous communication easier to digest.”
Synchronous communication still plays an important role in our work lives. Meeting with people live via video, phone, or onsite is best when you want to brainstorm innovative solutions live, or when you need to make sure, in real time, that everyone is on the same page regarding key decisions/actions.
It’s also ideal for relationship building, especially when there are people involved who haven’t met each other or are new to the organization. And of course, connecting with people live is great when you want to celebrate a win or acknowledge an individual’s or team’s accomplishment.
On the other hand, if people don’t make wise decisions about when to call a meeting, work becomes less efficient and everyone feels less productive. This is true for both remote and onsite meetings, but even more so for the latter because it might require remote people to commute.
How to run inclusive, efficient hybrid meetings
Effective hybrid meetings share a lot in common with face-to-face meetings, but with the added challenges and opportunities of technology.
Here are some tips that address both . . .
Ask yourself, “Is a meeting necessary?” As we discussed earlier in regard to asynchronous and synchronous communication, think about whether you really need to call a meeting. If you just want to share information, maybe the best way to accomplish that is email.
Define and communicate a clear purpose. When you send the meeting invitation, make the purpose clear. Do you need the group to help solve a problem? Or to generate ideas? Or develop a plan? Or maybe to make a final decision?
Decide who should attend. Only invite those who are critical to the purpose of your meeting. If there are others who will need to know about the outcomes of the meeting, send them a summary email or a recording of the session.
Create and send an agenda in advance. This will not only clarify the purpose and goal of the meeting, but also, it’s a great way to give people time to gather their thoughts and be better prepared to contribute. Also, if there are documents or source materials that they’d benefit from seeing in advance, send with enough review time prior to the meeting.
Use the best tools and technology. From meeting platforms to webcams and collaboration tools, select those that will build a sense of connection and easy contribution for all in attendance.
Identify tactics to start and end on time. There’s no better way to show your invitees you respect their time than to adhere to the clock. Make sure you’ve attended to all of the technical aspects of the meeting (platform, tools) to ensure a timely start and manage the interaction. Ask one of the attendees to be the timekeeper.
Make extra efforts to involve remote participants. Virtual attendees can’t help but feel like they’re on the sidelines of a meeting unless you work at making them feel seen, heard, and just as important as the in-person folks. When you start the meeting, acknowledge or introduce them first. If you ask for ideas or feedback during the meeting, ask them to contribute first. And make sure that throughout the discussions, the in-person attendees don’t overlook or talk over their remote coworkers.
Agree on and document action items. This might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many meetings we walk away from, not being clear about what, if any action items or next steps were identified. And that can cause all kinds of miscommunication later. So, be sure to summarize what was decided and follow up with a written list.
Tips for best-practice hybrid presentations
Presenting in a hybrid environment presents its own challenges.
In that same PowerSpeaking Live! panel discussion, Master Facilitators Amy Furber and Amy Riley talked about what I consider three of the most important strategies for hybrid presentations: practice in the environment in which you’ll be presenting along with a partner in the other space; be crystal clear about communicating the expectations and tools for engagement during the presentation; and never let your virtual audience feel left out.
Finally, the third key strategy for improving hybrid work and communication has to do with the connections we make, as humans.
Make Building and Nurturing Relationships a Priority
With all of its advantages, hybrid work means we lose a lot of the opportunities for connection that we had when we were all onsite. There are no longer those brief but valuable moments walking down the hall to a meeting and crossing paths with others. And impromptu “water-cooler” chats are nonexistent for remote employees.
So, making time to build and nurture relationships whenever possible is crucial to creating a strong sense of connection and continuity with team members and across the organization.
One opportunity for connection presents itself in meetings. The problem is, we are often so focused on getting the work done that we don’t make time for connecting as humans.
I love how Master Facilitator Amy Furber described the importance of these connections during that Live! conversation . . .
I remember a meeting our executive staff had last year, where we gathered to talk about budgets. I was so deep in task mode when the meeting started, that I dove immediately into the topics at hand. Throughout the meeting, I had this vague sense that people didn’t seem as engaged as they usually were. Finally, toward the end of the meeting, I stopped and commented, “It feels like there’s unusually low energy here today. Am I right?”
After a pause, our President Mary McGlynn said she just couldn’t concentrate because of what had happened the day before.
What had occurred was the tragic mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Of course it had been on my mind, too, but I was on business-first auto-pilot. Suddenly, I realized what a mistake I had made in not taking five minutes at the start of the meeting to connect. I opened up the conversation and we spent the next 30 minutes sharing our thoughts and feelings.
An industry colleague, Chad Littlefield, has a wonderful phrase for capturing this concept: “Connection before content.” I think it’s more important than ever to make those vital human connections along with tending to business in this new hybrid work world.
Final thoughts . . .
Communication that is clear, timely, thoughtful, and inclusive is at the heart of how well we adapt to and thrive in this hybrid work environment. And our willingness to invest in and practice strong communication skills now will prepare us for all of those inevitable changes in the future.