The world of work has changed dramatically in the past 18 months. We’ll explore how your team can stay connected in the age of remote and hybrid working.
No one could have predicted the events of March 2020. Social distancing, lockdown, quarantine, and self-isolation quickly became the by-words for the ‘new normal’. As a result, businesses and companies around the world encouraged their employees to work from home where possible.
This new world of remote working was a challenge for many people, and making the transition from in-person work to digital and hybrid working has been a learning curve for us all. Though we’re now over a year into this new world of working remotely, some industries are looking to continue the digital working way, at least to some degree.
But how do you keep your team connected and engaged when you’re not having much, if any, face-to-face time? While it may be a different scenario from the office, having a support network for your team has never been more important. Let’s take a look at how you can keep your team connected in the remote working world.
How has lockdown changed the world of work?
Every single person in the world was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all had to adapt to the situation, from our personal lives through to our working lives. Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts – these pieces of software became all too familiar for many of us, both in our working lives and our social lives.
Remote working is now firmly in the public consciousness. As technology advances, having an office in our pockets is a genuine reality – a reality that employees were quick to harness. The challenges that hybrid working presents to both employers and employees are enormous, and it has been a process for everyone involved.
We’ve had to become our own bosses, and find our own groove when working from home under lockdown. The psychological effects of working from home can’t be ignored. As can trying to harness productivity in the digital world – something that can be a real struggle, especially if you’re juggling work with homeschooling.
However, it can work and actually be beneficial if it’s done in a constructive and focussed manner. 86% of people believe that it reduces stress, and some reckon that they’re actually more productive when working in a hybrid work environment.
What is hybrid working?
For generations, the model of working was the same across nearly every company or business, bar a few that might have implemented slightly different structures. After the events of March 2020, though, hybrid working has come to the fore. To put it simply, a hybrid work model offers employees much more flexibility in when and where they work.
Some companies could have employees working onsite (in the office) for part of the week, and then remote working for the rest of it, or they could have employees working remotely full-time or working in the office full-time. Most businesses will employ a combination of onsite and remote working.
Hybrid work models have taken the world of work by storm – so much so that 48% of people said they would start looking for alternative employment if their employer didn’t offer a flexible hybrid work model.
Pros and cons of hybrid working
So why would some companies implement this method? Other than the fact that it has been enforced owing to the legislation surrounding COVID-19, there are many reasons why a hybrid work model works – and reasons why it doesn’t.
A hybrid work model can mean that you’re able to hire talent from across the globe, meaning you can build a team with exceptional skills and unique standpoints. Plus, they could be based in different time zones, meaning you can have ‘round-the-clock’ coverage and additional brainpower if and when there are lulls in your local team.
The necessity for a large office space would also be void in a hybrid work model, so the company could actually save money by downsizing their workspace too. Hybrid working also keeps employees safer, as there are fewer people in the office mixing with each other, meaning there is a lower health risk.
One of the biggest cons to hybrid working is the issue of remote workers feeling isolated. Plus, by having employees scattered across the globe in different time zones, getting quick and simple answers to questions could take hours or even days. There is also an increased reliance on exemplary communication within your team – something that can be tricky to keep up.
And this reliance on communication means reliance on technology, meaning that everyone has to have the same systems running. This can cause a headache for IT departments, as they have to ensure people across the world are properly connected, while also maintaining suitable cybersecurity.
Things to consider when hybrid working
Staying connected and engaged in this new, virtual world is really important, and it can be a challenge to make sure everyone is on the same page. From making sure your team is engaged and connected, but also happy and comfortable, let’s take a look at some of the things you should consider when hybrid working.
Communication is vital in a hybrid work model. You may have people dotted across the world in several different time zones, so communicating with every employee equally is really important. Think carefully about the mode of communication you might use – video and voice calls will make your team feel included, seen, and heard.
The importance of employee wellbeing is critical in the hybrid work model. Pay close attention to stress levels, and encourage your team to let you know if they’re feeling burnt out. Employees who are feeling physically and emotionally healthy are more likely to be engaged and connected, as well as more productive and committed.
When you have a team in the office, it can be tricky to make those working remotely feel part of the team. Proximity bias can create an ‘us and them’ culture, which isn’t conducive to productivity. A method of circumventing this is by having all your meetings via video, even if there are team members in the office. This levels the playing field, putting everyone in the same boat.
The unpredictability of the future has been everpresent in the past year or so, and being flexible to all changes, good or bad, big or small, is a key leadership skill. Laying out the most important tasks and priorities can also build flexibility in managing your remote team. Practice flexibility as your team gets used to remote working, too – it may take some adjustment.
Remote working blurs the lines of working hours, and there’s been a lot of debate about out-of-office emails. Some team leaders wrongly expect their employees to be perpetually connected – establishing definite working hours will contribute to lower stress levels and increased productivity in the workplace.
The importance of engaging and connecting with your team
Hybrid working isn’t without its benefits. From potentially lowering the companies expenditure on rental costs for office buildings to saving the employees money that they might have spent on commuting to and from the workplace, there are many positives about hybrid working.
To fully harness the power of hybrid working, though, you need to make sure you’re engaging with your team. Remote teams who meet virtually might feel less engaged with their roles and might have less of a connection with the company, which could severely affect performance and productivity.
Keeping a remote team engaged is an essential skill in becoming a team leader. Knowing the different methods of doing this will avoid isolation and loneliness – two of the biggest hindrances to remote working. You can overcome these hurdles with a bit of creativity and adaptability, as well as expressing plenty of emotional intelligence.
Ways to keep connected and engaged
So what are some foolproof ways of keeping your team engaged and connected with each other when you’re all working remotely? There are many different ways of doing this, and it could be a process of trial and error to see which one works best for your team.
You could consider casual hangouts or quizzes to foster personal connections, or even try and gamify your teamwork to encourage engagement. There is one thing that underpins all of these options, however – communication. Communication is essential in collaborative working, and open lines of communication will help your team express openness.
Let’s have a look at some of the best ways to keep your virtual team connected and engaged.
Reward and celebrate
Remote workers won’t be able to benefit from any perks that the company might provide, like gym memberships or yoga classes. Consider rewards that you can give your team if they’re working remotely – they might be care packages, or food deliveries.
Celebrate their successes in work with virtual drinks and make your team feel like they’re connected on a personal level. Or send a card and have a virtual birthday celebration if a birthday is coming up. Appreciate the hard work they’re doing, and you’ll find that your remote team members will engage more rigorously with their work and the company.
Ask for feedback
As a leader, there will always be things that you might be able to do better. Ask for feedback from your team, as miscommunication is rife in a remote working environment. Catch up with each team member individually, to make sure that they’ve understood the task too. This will make your team feel like they can reach out to you whenever they need to.
Making your team feel comfortable in voicing their concerns or asking you questions will help build confidence in your team and contribute to a healthy working relationship. Take action if there is something they think you could change as well.
Make sure your team knows that you’re on hand to answer any questions or queries – but also make them feel like they can just have a chat if they need a break from work. Keep on the lookout for team members who might be struggling or burning out, and be flexible to these needs and desires of your team as they crop up.
Asynchronous communication is an excellent leadership method to consider. This is when you communicate with your entire team without the need for them to respond right away. It leaves the work in the hands of your team, letting them work at their own pace. Make sure that your team feels comfortable enough to ask you questions if they need to, though.
Meaningful goal-setting is essential for remote working. Remote employees have the freedom to work when and where they want, so having a set goal and a structured timeline means that they have direction. Plus, remote employees may be losing sight of the bigger picture, so common objectives can unite and engage.
Without goals, remote workers might end up feeling disconnected and stressed with what they’re doing. It becomes more challenging for them to see that they’re making an impact, and thus they become less engaged. By defining your goals, you can create excitement and purpose.
Create a culture of connectedness
We all want to feel included and connected to each other. We want to share jokes, pictures, stories, and each other’s lives. Remote working makes this tricky, but not impossible. Start every meeting off with a lighthearted chat or ask about your team’s weekends or personal lives.
Not only does doing this ease tension during difficult times, but it also can allow you to celebrate milestones and offer support to each other, as you have a better understanding of your team. Bridging the gap between your office team and your remote team is also essential to create the ‘watercooler’ atmosphere that many people have missed this past year.
As life slowly rumbles to a start again, many companies and businesses will be looking at the effects of hybrid working, and if it is something that can be used in the future. So, for the interim, hybrid working won’t be going anywhere. Knowing how to thrive in this new digital workplace will be essential, and connectivity between digital teams will be crucial.
However, adapting to this ‘new normal’ won’t work for every role, as some roles are better suited for remote working. In addition, it will be down to the employee to communicate their desire to either work remotely or in the office, depending on their experiences of the past year or so.
Keeping your team connected in a hybrid working environment is really important – not only for the purposes of productivity but also when it comes down to the well-being of your colleagues, both in the office and out of it.