Communication challenges in a hybrid model of work.
For Employers

Three Communication Mistakes Hybrid Teams Must Avoid

By June 28, 2021 3 min read

The rise of hybrid teams has divided employees into two classes: information-haves and have nots. A recent report stated that it has reduced workdays to purely transactional communications and killed spontaneity between in-office and remote workers.

Additional takeaways: 

Uneven visibility and access to information leads to inconsistent decision making

Hybrid teams often face uneven information sharing. Consequently, in-office employees have a considerable advantage over remote employees. This contrast creates an uncomfortable information hierarchy between team members. Hybrid teams should acknowledge this challenge and establish a few ground rules to encourage consistent information sharing. Handbooks with organizational protocols, FAQs, policy terms, and training resource links can help here.

Influence is a product of visibility. Those who are “visible” influence the flow of work and decisions. Naturally, in-office employees have the edge over remote workers in this aspect too. Remote employees often find it challenging to share their opinions during discussions; when the rest of the team is collectively debating an issue in the office, all they can do is rely on their laptop screens. Remote employees may be working longer hours and increasing productivity but still going unacknowledged compared to in-office workers. And thus, hybrid teams should adopt practices to even out these disparities.

One way is always to encourage input from members that logged in virtually before the rest. Additionally, managers must focus on equalizing employee experience by ensuring equal information accessibility. They should ensure that employee benefits are beneficial for both in-office and remote workers. 

The “Zoom gloom” dampens team morale

Hybrid teams tend to suffer from the “zoom gloom.” This phenomenon is a result of the stress and lack of human contact brought by virtual meetings. Zoom offered advice for eliminating the gloom of too many virtual conferences. It shared that seeing oneself during meetings heightened anxiety levels. And hence, hiding self-view could help in reducing stress. Another research found that when participants got a break and meditated between sessions, their stress levels dropped significantly and did not build up over time. 

Using informal communication channels to build employee relationships is a big challenge for hybrid organizations. More than two-thirds of workers wish to spend more time with their in-office peers to develop better connections. The virtual workplace gets work done but ends up losing out on ‘hall talk.’  Hall talk is crucial for organizations as it encourages new ideas, information-sharing, and relationships. What’s more, virtual workplaces eliminate spontaneity and hamper the quality of communication. Eventually, this can dampen team morale. 

Promoting relationship-building activities in day-to-day work calls can help fix this issue. Activities like ‘creative introductions’ and ‘team kudos’ can help build a rich hybrid workplace. 

Inconsistent engagement leads to misunderstood concepts

The physical office space does not serve as the central hub for engagement in hybrid teams. The absence of a central hub makes it challenging to conduct events that require high levels of engagement, like high-value client meetings. Video calls, although convenient, cannot replicate the richness of face-to-face communications, especially when complex issues are under discussion. As a result, 53 percent of remote workers fear being left out of crucial team meetings and other activities in the office. And thus, managers are in a constant quest to find arrangements that satisfy the communication needs of hybrid teams.

Managers should design a selection guide that allocates workplaces based on the task. This guide can help in identifying and harmonizing activities that genuinely require face-to-face conversation. Similarly, leaders should invest time into equipping hybrid teams with the tools and resources necessary for rich engagement. 

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Sanika Tamhane
Sanika is a writer, editor, and researcher who contributes to The Times of India and Femina. She works with The United Nations, its specialized agency: UNESCO, and The British Council as a delegate. She has also worked with the Ministry of Women & Child Development in India as part of its Government fellowship program.
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