Last summer, people were panicked. It was the height of global Covid-19 lockdowns, and uncertainty was everywhere. Companies grappled with long-term solutions for one very open-ended question: How are we going to keep working together, apart?
A year later and parts of the world are finally reopening. Organizations proved they could survive. Some even thrived. Brainstorms, planning meetings, debriefs—teams figured out how to make it work remotely.
Now comes a new challenge: how to foster collaboration in a hybrid workplace, where some employees are in a conference room and others are on a screen. And it just may be the trickiest challenge yet.
Follow along for five ways managers can create productive and engaging collaboration regardless of where their team is. This guide helps leaders fight against the “out of sight, out of mind” principle, set up in-person offices to facilitate collaboration across the organization, and outlines the technology solutions that will keep everyone aligned, no matter where they’re working.
Prepare to re-onboard
The working world is not the same. There are new standards, new priorities, all of which need to be communicated clearly by leadership. This means companies of every size will need a “re-onboarding” plan that outlines expectations around working hours, locations, and ways to stay flexible.
This plan shouldn’t be a top-down mandate either. To get full buy-in, allow for input at every level. And, no, a single survey won’t cut it. Create open communication channels that let workers share their preferences as needs and concerns shift. Perhaps you even test plans with small beta groups to see what works and what doesn’t before rolling out to the entire company.
Once it is time to unveil your hybrid strategy, give everyone plenty of details and plenty of time to adjust. It’s fine if plans change, just keep communicating. Taken together, this transparent and collaborative approach will help keep your team engaged and ready to dive headfirst into the brave new hybrid world.
Six steps to reopening your business
Carve out consistent times for co-creation
As much as possible, keep meetings within certain days or working blocks. This consistency lets people plan ahead, like when they want to be in the office or which days they should be available to pop into impromptu meetings while working from home. This measure also allows for more concentrated and uninterrupted working.
For example, Asana has a No Meeting Wednesday practice that, post-pandemic, has now stretched to include Work From Home Wednesday. Making both policies consistent across the entire company ensures everyone has protected time for high-focus work and creates more collaborative clusters throughout the rest of the week.
How to manage your time and energy as a global leader
Lead better meetings
This is a goal companies should forever strive towards, particularly when team members are behind a screen and bombarded with every imaginable distraction. Video conference fatigue is very real. If you want better collaboration, lead a better meeting.
Of course, the best meetings are actually messages. Context and clarity are essential, but you don’t always have to meet to give or receive it. To combat meeting burnout, try recording your team status updates instead to allow for more personal and effective asynchronous communication. These video recordings provide all the benefits of a face call (tone, expression, etc.) without eating up your calendar.
The next best meetings are 30 minutes or shorter, with a clear agenda. As the old adage goes, work expands to fill the time allotted. Tighter timeframes keep people on task, and agendas, sent in advance, give attendees the info they need to come prepared. (Ask anyone: Unstructured brainstorms rarely work.)
What it takes to run a great hybrid meeting
Invest in tech for the long haul
You don’t need to read tea leaves to see that hybrid work will be with us for a while. So, invest like it will be. This means reconfiguring physical spaces and systems to foster in-person collaboration AND accommodate remote workers. We have a feeling the A/V in your conference rooms could be better. And with fewer people coming in, rearrange your office space to create informal lounge areas with monitors in order to let remote workers hop in on impromptu meetings, too.
Beyond hardware, companies need to double down on software that promotes transparency, clarity, and supports asynchronous working. Inclusive and streamlined software solutions are perhaps the easiest and smartest way to make sure everybody feels empowered to contribute, no matter where they’re working.
You can’t simply throw tech at a problem and call it a day. Switching from app to app for every task takes a cognitive toll, and the cost is well-being and productivity. In a recent Quartz at Work (From Home) workshop, Joshua Zerkel, head of global engagement marketing at Asana outlined a solution: “App sprawl typically happens when there aren’t clear guidelines set for what each tool should do and how they fit into a workflow… choose specific tools that solve specific problems and communicate that with the team.”
How to get the most out of a hybrid work environment
Start scheduling offsites
Eventually, people will need to meet face to face. Flying in workers to operate in a shared space carves out time for deep strategy and camaraderie without the normal distractions. Depending on the team and function, these may need to happen more frequently, like once a month or quarter.
At the very least, you should have one annual company-wide retreat. These in-person assemblies are the single best way to build trust and rapport that will color all future virtual communication. Carve out the budget and make it work. It’ll be worth it.