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How to Improve Collaboration Across Hybrid Teams

The modern workplace is like a cocoon from which ideas keep emerging like butterflies as it continues to evolve.  

New tech, new working styles, innovations in office design.  Every decade in recent times has brought with it new ways to work.  The ‘60s brought us cubicle working, the ‘70s telecommuting. The shoulder-pad ‘80s saw the beginning of the home computing revolution, and the following decade sailed in with email on its mast, the world wide web in its sails, and a deck filled with glorious open-plan offices. The new millennium ushered in a new era of co-working, nicely complemented in the next decade with the advancement of digital collaboration tools and breakout spaces.  And now in the ‘20s, we find ourselves evolving yet again into a world where hybrid working is the new normal and we are learning to work in multiple locations to numerous working models.  

There are several themes here in our working evolution.  The quest for more control over our working lives, the move towards mobile and flexible working, the innovations in tech to bring about a connected world and open up global opportunities.  And the need to create, encourage and embrace collaborative working.  

At the heart of any business and a key driver for its success is the ability of its teams to work together.  

How this looks in practice can vary from company to company. Collaboration is possible in almost every facet of a business.  Within large teams and small, between partners on a one-to-one basis, using technology to capture ideas or simply brainstorming with a pad and pencil.  It’s in meetings and phone calls, by email and text.  Its aim is universal – to achieve a goal, to complete a project, to create a product – to move the company forward.

In the pre-hybrid world, collaboration was largely based around physical workspaces and typically one main workspace.  This would be a blend of planned, structured collaboration time and then some more impromptu, ‘water cooler’, serendipitous time.   The flexibility was there, and everybody was in the same place on a level footing.

But how does this look in hybrid land?

Broadly speaking there are two types of workplace collaboration. Synchronous or ‘same-time’ collaboration, and asynchronous or ‘staggered-time’ collaboration. Synchronous collaboration may be more familiar, involving meetings, presentations and working groups, for example.   These are straightforward to plan for and their outcomes and outputs can be easily measured.

Asynchronous collaboration may be unfamiliar to many, but it has a very valid and useful place in the hybrid world and enables employees to share and respond to information in their own time and is more conducive to positive employee wellbeing because it allows colleagues to respond at their own pace.  

There are of course other models within these that researchers have identified as necessary in the workplace, such as the 4 Modes of Collaboration proposed by Gartner, or the 7 Models considered by Atlassian as useful tools to help aid teamwork and collaboration.  

With hybrid working, the way companies approach collaboration has to change.  Companies now need to adopt a hybrid approach to how their teams work together and this works best as a blend of synchronous and asynchronous methods.

There are challenges to consider.  For example, distance, as hybrid working literally divides teams and can limit opportunities for those ‘water cooler’ moments or impromptu meetings, or even just the chance to mop up news or insights that can be overheard in the office.  There is also the risk of proximity bias where colleagues present in the office may be more connected with what’s going on than their remote colleagues. Any collaborative working plan should consider these.

Wherever you are in your hybrid journey, we believe there is always room to learn more and continue to improve your practice.  

Here are some pointers for successful hybrid collaboration.

Agree your vision

You need a clear plan for what collaboration will look like in your company.  What models will you use?  What methods will you adopt within these?  What is their purpose? And how will you communicate to staff so that they share the vision and know what to do?

Lead from the top

It should go without saying but it is so important to show at the very top of your organisation how much you value successful collaboration across the company for all employees wherever they are based and whenever they work.  This then trickles down and becomes embedded in the culture of the company.

Plan well

This isn’t just about how collaboration will work for your company, but also what methods you will use to make it work.  

You may already be using software to help with your hybrid work scheduling, such as Team Today, and the good news is, you can use it for collaboration too.  From being able to see where colleagues will be on any given day, to being able to book desk space to hold a meeting or have some creative time, hybrid working management software can help enable successful and fluid collaboration for your teams.

Tools & Equipment

You should ensure every colleague is properly equipped both at home and in the office and has access to communication tools and virtual meeting software.  Having a company intranet can help people feel connected, and using platforms such as MS Teams and Slack can facilitate chats and discussions and can help bring about opportunities for brainstorming, ideas, and knowledge sharing.

Mirror your worlds

Use the tools at your disposal to make your virtual collaboration provide the same experience as the in-person collaboration.  Make full use of virtual meeting software, virtual breakout spaces, visual aids, screen sharing, chat, and messaging.  Ensure meeting facilitators are able to include all members and not allow loud voices to dominate.  Make sure everyone is prepared in the same way for any information sharing and nobody is without materials.  We have some tips here to help you when you are running hybrid meetings.

You can also be creative with how you capture ideas and suggestions, particularly from ad hoc discussions.  Consider whether collaboration needs a space or whether it can happen anywhere.  Be prepared to spot when innovation is happening that is unintentional and be sure to capture it.  And help your staff to know which tasks need in-time collaboration and which can be dealt with more fluidly.

Take time to reflect

As with anything, keep stepping back, keep reviewing, keep pausing to reflect on its success and anything that needs changing.  Never forget the voice of your staff.  Include reflection from them and space to capture their views.

For more insights and articles about hybrid working from Team Today, visit our blog here.

Madeleine Thompson

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