By Donna Weston- Executive Coach
How effective is your team communication in a hybrid world? As an executive coach working with organisations and individuals, what I hear from clients is that, overall, they are delighted with the opportunity to have the best of both worlds and greater levels of freedom around when and where they work. However, everyone’s communication preference is unique to them. There are those who are excited that this is an exceptional moment in time to leverage and make work better for everyone. And those who feel weary, who are missing the deeper sense of connection with their team and feel drawn to the routine of regular in-office working.
With the shift to hybrid working in mind here are my top 6 ways that communication in organisations will need to change:-
1. Leaders need to communicate regularly about the shift in working practices and frame it as a universal experiment; nobody has all the answers and every solution is nuanced based on the unique context. There will be trade-off’s that will need to be made explicit and managed thoughtfully in an agile way. The adoption of a coaching mindset and a commitment to co-create solutions rather than a top-down, hierarchical approach will result in more successful outcomes. To explore this further I can recommend Lynda Gratton’s new book “Redesigning Work” as a comprehensive guide to the new working world.
2. Discover what is actually happening, right now, in your team Each job family within an organisation will have their own signature hybrid working model dependent on the unique combination of tasks that are undertaken to meet stakeholder requirements. A time and motion study at job family level will show how the working week breaks down into tasks based on time and place; each will drive different styles of communication – understanding this will enable people to work better together.
3. Identify frameworks that provide additional clarity when agreeing how to work together. I have found that Lynda Gratton’s ‘4 Elements of Productivity’ framework provides a useful structure to analyse tasks and determine whether they are best completed in the office or out of the office, working together or individually. The charm of this framework is that it gives people the language to clearly articulate the demands of the task and indicate to others what communication style is expected for the duration of the task.
The ‘4 Elements of Productivity’ are:
Energy. Careful thought is required to identify high energy tasks and the conditions required to enable that level of energy expenditure. Being at home and ditching the commute for the day may be appropriate for planning a critical meeting or, if a project deadline is fast approaching being co-located with the project team may provide the energy for a last push to get the project over the line. It is also worth considering what is required to replenish energy levels – usually a quiet day at home completing easier, regular tasks will do the job. Understanding the requirement for energy will enable teams to clearly communicate their decision making about where and when they do their best work.
Focus. Focused tasks such as writing a report, analysing data or writing code require an environment without interruption whether that be at home or a dedicated quiet spot in the office. In terms of diary management, think about when in the day you are best able to carry out focused tasks and block this time out (ideally a 2 hour slot). Agree as a team not to interrupt colleagues during scheduled focused time.
Coordination. These are activities that require the achievement of goals through effective coordination with others. Often people will default to virtual meetings to undertake coordination tasks which, in my experience, can crowd out other essential activities. Have a think about the required outcome and whether a virtual meeting is really necessary – updates, for example, can often be successfully provided by email, and consider how others can contribute to a project without having to join a virtual meeting. As a team, agreeing blocks of time in the week when you are happy to be interrupted to support co-ordination activities can also be helpful.
Co-operation. These activities require people to work together to develop new initiatives and full team engagement. For tasks that require co-operation, co-location works best. Agreed days when the team are in the office as well as intentional, facilitated events enable co-operation. Also think about how serendipitous meetings can be engineered to instigate the blending of disciplines for innovation. Some businesses shift teams around the office every 4 months to expose them to new teams or randomly pair people in the organisation who haven’t met before for a virtual coffee to spark new connections. Deliberate planning for collaboration and time for team reflection enables continuous learning which is a core discipline for high performing teams, and in my experience, is the first thing to go when schedules get busy so requires ring-fencing. Finally, if you can’t all get together in one place which leaves some team members working remotely, buddy up a virtual working team member with someone in the office who can advocate for them and make sure the virtual worker is not overlooked (this strategy also works well in hybrid meetings).
4. Every team should develop a team charter that outlines the teams agreed rules of engagement, regular points of connection and boundaries. As we move to hybrid working more and more communication has shifted to digital channels. As part of the team charter it is worth agreeing as a team how you will handle communication issues before the heat of the moment! Potential issues to consider include too much brevity, ambiguity, using a communication channel that is inappropriate for the complexity of the message, passive-aggressiveness and slow responses. Additionally, with increased working-from-home, boundary management is especially important to mitigate stress and overwork.
5. Consider the employee journey and how communication needs to be adjusted through the lens of hybrid working. For example, communication about hybrid models and flexibility is often out of step at the recruitment stage of the employee journey. A recent Timewise study undertaken at the end of last year noted that 3 in 4 online vacancies make no reference to flexible working options. However, 4 in 5 candidates rated seeing information about flexible working as ‘very important’ or ‘essential’ in their next move. This may mean that talented groups who value flexible and hybrid working are being excluded from your recruitment process (see the report here – https://timewise.co.uk/article/flexible-jobs-index/)
6. Put extra effort into demonstrating that you value others. As the balance of communication shifts from face-to-face to digital channels we all miss out on subtle physical cues, such as smiling and open body language, that indicate our appreciation of others, so we will need to be explicit about this through our words and actions. A general rule of thumb is rather than treating people how you would like to be treated consider the ‘platinum rule’ – treat people how they wish to be treated. Life’s Work Consulting often works with teams to support this reframing by carrying out DISC workshops – which highlight individual behaviour preferences and encourages discussion about how team members can work best together. The explicit valuing of people can also be shown by ensuring regular 1:1’s and check-in emails, showing respect by not leaving messages unanswered and ‘watching the clock’ to respect work and leisure boundaries. Erica Dhawan’s book ‘Digital Body Language’ provides a comprehensive guide to improving digital communication in organisations.
What has become clear in my conversations with clients is that there is no going back, work is changing for good. There are still things to iron out, however, people are genuinely committed to exploring new working models. Critically, what these models look like will differ dependent on the tasks that are undertaken and will need to be discovered through the adoption of a test and learn approach.
If you need to build better communication within your team please get in touch
Undertake a Digital body language assessment at www.ericadhawan.com/digitalbodylanguage
Digital Body Language by Erica Dhawan
Redesigning Work by Lynda Gratton