With the Delta variant and the end of summer ensuring that we’re still a long way off from “back to normal,” whatever that even means at this point, most firms will be dealing with a hybrid work environment for at least the rest of the year. While we’ve all had time to adjust our own personal working habits to the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic, many businesses are still figuring out how we can best work together while most of us are still spending a lot of time apart. Putting a comprehensive plan in place can be the difference between seamless hybrid collaboration and endless back-and-forth frustrations.
Creating an ideal foundation for teamwork requires leaning in on a combination of policy and technology. You need to establish ground rules that keep everyone on the same page but also maintain enough flexibility that nobody feels uncomfortable or boxed in. It’s not an easy task, as evidenced by a recent WeWork study that found brainstorming dipped by at least 15 percent during the pandemic. Luckily, we have more technological tools than ever before to help smooth the transition and allow for all types of collaboration. Think creatively, listen to your team, lead with confidence, and you too will be able to devise a system that works for your firm.
Prioritize safety and avoid controversy
The first step toward fruitful collaboration is ensuring that all team members feel comfortable. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have an entirely vaccinated staff who all feel okay about working in the office. Most workplaces aren’t so lucky, though. And if you try to force people with different views about health and safety to comply with a unilateral policy, you’re only going to cause resentment and foster antagonism. Your strategy needs to allow for the entirety of the team to feel secure, whether that means allowing everyone the option to work from home or only opening the office to those who are vaccinated or test negative for Covid.
Make time for small talk
With everyone’s calendar full of Zoom links, it’s obvious that we’ve figured out how to have meetings remotely. But what do those meetings look like? Does everyone arrive in time for a formal discussion and leave as soon as it’s over? If so, you’re losing the benefits of casual conversation, which can sometimes generate powerful and important ideas. Try leaving 10 minutes at the end of the meeting for an unguided session of chit-chat. You may also want to leave open sessions for members of teams to get together if they want, creating a virtual water cooler of sorts, a place where people can freely collaborate without the pressure of a formal meeting.
Use asynchronous tools
Asynchronous collaboration means allowing collaborators to work on the same project at different times. A classic example is the relationship between writers and editors. In many working relationships, a writer submits a piece, an editor edits it, and it’s then sent back to the writer. This process can happen in all sorts of team environments, especially in a world where we have the tools to share nearly everything over the cloud. Sometimes, everyone on a team will need to work on something simultaneously. But more often than not, giving folks the time and space to work on projects when it makes sense for them will yield better rewards. Users can ask questions via commenting features, share thoughts in suggestion mode, and brief their coworkers on what they’ve been up to. Allowing for a certain amount of asynchronous collaboration will also give team members the freedom to do their jobs in a way that makes sense for them.
Have leaders check in individually
There are always going to be some workers who flourish less in a group setting, especially when that setting is part virtual. It’s a good idea for leadership to reach out to their team on a one-on-one basis to check in on everyone. These check-ins will make team members feel seen and heard, but they may also provide crucial feedback about improving your hybrid policies.
Maintain a flexible mindset
I probably don’t have to tell you at this point that everything regarding work policy is subject to change at a moment’s notice. Hybridity allows us to adapt quickly, but only if we’re willing to do so.
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