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Insight 14 April 2023

Hybrid teams: keeping up the connections

It may not come as a surprise, but hybrid is the most popular working arrangement post-pandemic. New research from Insights Learning and Development has also found that most employees want this to continue in the future world of work. People relish spending less time commuting, enjoy greater flexibility and want the chance to prioritise family commitments.

The Insights global study of 3,000 employees across seven countries found that an overwhelming 92 per cent are more hybrid since the pandemic, with 72 per cent wanting that to continue. Only 10 per cent of respondents preferred an office-first arrangement. So it seems hybrid working is here to stay, with 59 per cent of people now part of a hybrid team and 65 per cent of companies planning to keep hybrid working permanently.

The day-to-day is largely unaffected by the hybridisation of the workforce. In fact, the research found that 73 per cent of respondents thought collaboration and communication were easier or no different, with 80 per cent happy with in-work support from managers and colleagues.

Lack of deep connection

However, the picture is not completely rosy. 40 per cent of respondents lamented the lack of social connection, saying casual conversation is now a key challenge. Of course, pre-pandemic it was commonplace to bump into a colleague for a chat by the coffee machine, or head out together for lunch. The lack of such opportunities means that it has become hard to build that deeper connection with colleagues which makes everyday tasks and decision-making so much easier. UK respondents in particular confirmed getting to know new team members as the biggest challenge.

While it is possible to operate adequately on a day-to-day basis, a lack of social connection is certain to have an input on building a unified and cohesive community in the longer term. A deep emotional connection among colleagues is an essential element of a positive culture because it builds and is a key driver of longer-term innovation and business success.

So, when you're missing those 'water cooler' moments, how do you manage and build deeper level relationships within hybrid teams? Here are a few tips from my experience of hybrid working.

Be willing to flex and listen

Insights' data shows a strong preference for hybrid working - but this doesn't need to look the same for every team. Indeed, our research suggests there are no hard or fast rules. Organisations should consider the behavioural and work preferences of their teams when adapting work models. As managers, ensure hybrid is appropriate for each person/role and create a safe space for people to share what works and what doesn't. Be willing to listen to concerns, flex and rethink working patterns on a regular basis.

Make community-creation a key focus

One of the best ways to build community is to regularly come together, either virtually or in-person as a team. This could be for exchanging ideas, collaborative working, problem solving, or simply for some team building fun. Currently, 37% of companies encourage occasional in person meetings and team-building events that allow employees to catch up and socialise regardless of their work structure.

Of course, pre-pandemic socialising was easier, as teams were in the same space. As a manager, creating opportunities for community connection in a hybrid working environment is something you need to be intentional about. Regular connection lets your people get to know each other, share different perspectives and experiences, and create a more resilient and inclusive working environment.

Train your team members to communicate

The research found that the overarching relevant skill for successful hybrid teams is communication. Over half of the teams surveyed said that they rely on open and frequent communication to stay engaged. On the other hand, ineffective communication between team members with flexible work structures can cause misunderstandings, uncertainty, frustration and wasted time.

Companies and their leaders shouldn't take this information for granted and assume that all employees know how to communicate effectively. They should use it as a starting point for frequent and in-depth training to increase the skill-set of every team member.

Invest in awareness

Last, but certainly not least, create a solid foundation by investing in building awareness. Awareness of self and others helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses; where and how you can add the most value; how to challenge appropriately; and how to turn your ideas into new realities. Taking the time to understand others - their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes - helps you become more understanding and accepting of others, able to adapt and connect, and collaborate more effectively to achieve better business outcomes.

Hybrid teams are here to stay - so it is more important than ever that we take targeted actions, so that those water cooler moments do not evaporate. Use these key tips and you'll manage and build deeper level relationships within hybrid teams in the future world of work.

Marco Favaloro

Marco Favaloro – Insights Head of APAC

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