While many companies with remote employees planned to return to the office as the COVID-19 pandemic subsided, the emergence of coronavirus variants has delayed transition plans. For example, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have all pushed transition plans into the new year.
Even as employees return to the office, many organizations are adopting a hybrid work model, with some employees working in an office, some employees working from home, and some employees doing both. This is an excellent opportunity to consider the communication challenges leaders face in a hybrid working environment.
- Focus on open, timely, and accurate communication
According to a Gallup study, employees that experience open, timely, and accurate communication are more engaged with their work environment and are more likely to stay at their company. Managers with remote employees can schedule weekly check-ins so each remote worker has a guaranteed opportunity for face-time.
- Use fewer screens during meetings
Dr. Tessa West, associate professor of psychology at New York University, shared several communication tips in a Wall Street Journal article. It can be difficult to see the big picture of one-to-one communication during remote meetings. For example, during a disagreement, it can be challenging to gauge facial expressions and reactions and how they are directed.
“If Tom interrupts Sally in person and Sally gives Tom a dirty look, everyone in the room bears witness to it,” Dr. West wrote. If the same situation occurs during a hybrid or remote meeting, it would be unclear to the group who Sally is directing her facial expression at, or people may not notice Sally’s expression at all.
One suggestion is to have in-person employees meet together in one room on the same camera rather than logging into a videoconference with multiple screens.
- Create turn-taking rules
When engaging in a hybrid meeting, remote employees may be left out of engaging discussions. In-person attendees can easily bounce ideas back and forth faster than attendees on the screen. If leaders are careful to include remote employees, they may feel left out and unheard. Dr. West suggests implementing formal rules and turn-taking measures so everyone has a chance to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
- Don’t use chat during group meetings
Instead of allowing team members to get wrapped up in distracting and potentially conflicting sidebar conversations in the chatbox, encourage meeting attendees to speak up to share with their voice.
- Encourage newcomers and independent workers to visit the office
Company newcomers and independent workers are the two groups least likely to see the benefits of coming into the office in person. Interestingly, these two groups likely have the most to gain from in-office interactions. They can network to become more integrated into the organization and showcase their work to coworkers and leaders.
- Give priority to networking
Rather than focusing on getting down the business, when the whole team is together in one location, give priority to networking. Scheduling time for everyone to be in the office at the same time can help isolated employees make connections and help people learn how to navigate the office.
Hybrid work is the new normal
At the beginning of the pandemic, companies painted working from home as a temporary solution. However, as both organizations and employees enjoy the benefits that come with remote work, such as cost savings and work/life balance, hybrid office models are the natural middle ground. Working from home can decrease teamwork and communication, so it is important to proactively resolve communication gaps.
In the Classroom
This article can be used to discuss teamwork and communication (Chapter 7: Organization, Teamwork, and Communication).
- Why do you think communication gaps exist in remote and hybrid work models?
- Which of Dr. West’s suggestions for bridging communication gaps do you think would be the most effective?
- Can you think of additional ways leaders can support communication in a hybrid office?
This article was developed with the support of Kelsey Reddick for and under the direction of O.C. Ferrell and Linda Ferrell.
Jennifer Robison, "Communicate Better with Employees, Regardless of Where They Work," Gallup, June 28, 2021, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/351644/communicate-better-employees-regardless-work.aspx
Michael Liedtke and Barbara Ortutay, "Silicon Valley Finds Remote Work Is Easier to Begin than End," Associated Press, September 8, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/lifestyle-technology-business-software-san-francisco-9e49f60362702a18dc7180e6294599b4
Tessa West, "How to Bridge the Communications Gap in a Hybrid Office," The Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/communication-hybrid-workplace-11628795958