2020 has seen the way we work change for good. Many employees and leadership teams have been surprised by the relative ease and efficiency with which they have transitioned to remote working, and many are looking forward to continuing to work from home even after the current pandemic fades from prominence. Many large companies have endorsed this sea change, with large organisations such as Twitter, Linklaters, and Capita planning to allow teams to work remotely for the foreseeable future.
While the shift to remote working has been a long time coming, there clearly are elements of office life that can’t easily be replaced. A face-to-face presence allows teams to share nonverbal information and enjoy a degree of spontaneity that’s hard to replicate over the phone or in a Zoom call. This makes real personal interactions irreplaceable when it comes to sharing feedback, planning out projects, and catching up on work. Many businesses also want to ensure colleagues continue to enjoy strong working relationships and minimise the risk of miscommunications or teams feeling isolated from one-another.
Given both of these facts, many businesses are looking to balance more flexibility in working from home arrangements with the need to be in the office. A common outcome is likely going to be that organisations will encourage a more even split between employees working from home and working in the office, while also allowing for greater flexibility in how and when employees work remotely.
However, these hybrid workforces come with their own communications challenges, namely in ensuring that they maintain an integrated whole. If done improperly, this mixed environment brings up the risk of communications mishaps, a lack of transparency, a lapse in engagement, and of social isolation. What can teams do to prevent this?
Create opportunities for employees to socialise
Given the fundamentally social nature of human beings, it’s no surprise that we find our lives more fulfilling, enjoyable, and less isolated if we’re presented with more chances to talk to one-another. This insight has direct implications for company culture, particularly in a mixed environment where remote and office-bound employees may pass each other like ships in the night: taking the effort to create opportunities for teams to bond, regardless of their particular working arrangements, can have a remarkable effect on cohesion within teams.
There are lots of ways to encourage team bonding virtually. You could set up a weekly happy hour over Zoom, quiz nights, or meet-ups over shared interests. Going further, you can also encourage employees to bond over their shared rituals and needs – such as creating WhatsApp groups for parents or coffee lovers. You could also create new opportunities for your team to mingle through encouraging them to attend digital events together, such as now-online conferences or concerts, with the aim of building up camaraderie among teams.
The underlying similarity behind all these examples is management creating fun and unique moments for team members to get to know each other and deepen their sense of camaraderie and trust.
Keep communicating, regardless of context
Four out of five remote workers believe that more frequent team communications would boost their relationships, and the same likely holds for teams that have a mix of remote and office-based workers. While there are a plethora of apps and platforms you can use to handle communications, whatever you choose make sure to pick one and stick with it. The key to untangled digital communication is to swiftly pick a channel as a place for teams to congregate virtually, and to stick with it.
Once that’s set up, make sure that everyone in your team has consistent access to the internet and there are clear means of sharing files and collaborating on projects regardless of where team members are based. Then, encourage collaborating and communicating whenever possible – it’s always better to over-communicate than risk the loss in productivity and morale that comes with teams not knowing that everyone’s up to.
Actively gather feedback
Your system will always be a work in progress, and so there’s always room for improvement. Your teams are going to be the ones who are living with your organisational culture, so they’re the best people to tell you what’s going right and what’s going wrong. Along with getting actionable advice on how to improve, approaching team members for feedback also shows that they’re stakeholders in your organisation and makes them feel valued. This can have profound results for morale, with employees who feel their voice is heard being 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best.
All of the above steps to ensure a mixed environment are predicated on a simple step from leaders: make sure that everyone in your team has an open channel to communicate, collaborate, and bond with one-another, regardless of circumstances. Through doing so, you can make your mixed environment inherit the best of both worlds – the camaraderie of the office, with the flexibility of the home.
The author is managing director of Unipos, Takashi Sato. Originally published in Bdaily , 09 September 2020.