How to collaborate in a hybrid working world
Asha Page explains how small but meaningful changes can help your business deliver higher value outputs and help harness the full power of collaboration in a hybrid working world. For office workers everywhere, the last two years has taught us that being at work no longer means being in the office. Covid forced organisations and […]
Asha Page explains how small but meaningful changes can help your business deliver higher value outputs and help harness the full power of collaboration in a hybrid working world.
For office workers everywhere, the last two years has taught us that being at work no longer means being in the office.
Covid forced organisations and employees into a great working-from-home experiment. And for many, there has been significant benefits in untethering work from one fixed location.
However, there is now a growing appreciation in the value of the office to bring people together to achieve organisational objectives and instil collective culture. There are just some things that are better done in person.
Equally, the desire for flexibility is here to stay. Recent research by Warren and Mahoney and Six Ideas by Dexus confirms that post-pandemic, only six percent of workers surveyed expected to be back in an office full time, down from well over 50 percent of people surveyed who were working in an office full time pre-pandemic.
Enter the hybrid working world, where for some, this is working from home full time, and for others, attending a physical office is crucial for their fulfilment. For most, we sit somewhere on a continuum between these positions, based on personal and organisational needs and expectations.
“In this hybrid world, the act of collaboration has suffered.”
But in this hybrid world, the act of collaboration has suffered. In collaboration scenarios when you have two or more people together ‘in a room’ and at least one person ‘not in the room’ contributing virtually, our research revealed a genuine sense of fatigue, with layers of small and large annoyances contributing to an overall sense of complexity, frustration and dissatisfaction.
At present, these hybrid collaboration scenarios are too often characterised by some participants gathering in an ill-equipped meeting room, with the token gesture of adding a Microsoft Teams link for any virtual participants unlucky enough to be dialling in. The result is remote participants often feel as if they’ve been ‘cc’d’ in on the experience, rather than feeling like a meaningful participant.
The research also revealed the importance of collaboration to generate and exchange new ideas and help people to grow, develop and learn holistically; so, the discontent is a huge challenge for organisations, and it’s this challenge that the research sought to reframe as an opportunity.
Warren and Mahoney and Six Ideas by Dexus held a series of workshops and surveys with over 140 employees from a diverse range of organisations on both sides of the Tasman to create a comprehensive research report on the ‘hybrid collaboration and the new rules of engagement’. This not only revealed the widespread discontent experienced by most in collaborating in a hybrid world, but more importantly, identified actions that can improve the experience so organisations can thrive with an increasingly distributed workforce.
The key to successfully enabling hybrid collaboration is carefully considering your company’s hybrid working etiquette, environments, and culture.
Encouraging staff to adopt new behaviours can be the biggest enabler of success, so defining hybrid etiquette and expectations is a critical first step. When collaborating with some people together in person and some people contributing virtually, this can be as simple as nominating a facilitator for the meeting and defining expectations; have them clarify whether the meeting is formal or informal; whether cameras should be on or off; and consider how the chat function should be used. As the saying goes, ‘good manners are just a way of showing other people that we have respect for them’ and they are critical to successful hybrid collaboration.
Now that expectations are clear, is your physical office conducive to hybrid collaboration?
To start with, work with what you have. That open-plan office you opted for in 2015 mightn’t have the best acoustics for a video call, but any remaining meeting rooms will work well. For example, simple moves like swapping out the table for a sofa facing the screen or putting in a higher table with a screen at eye level, can create a more engaging, equitable and dynamic environment for hybrid collaboration.
Even better, invest in flexible furniture so you can switch it up depending on the meeting. Ensure all content is accessible. Optimising sight lines to content and collaborators makes a big difference and using more than one camera helps.
Considered workplace design can make a big difference to the individual, and shared experience of hybrid collaboration and organisations need to stay agile, work with what they have, and keep looking for new and better solutions.
Finally, organisational culture is the pivotal factor that ultimately determines how change is approached and managed. Our research showed that the more hierarchical and rigid a company, the more difficult it was to adapt to new ways of working – such as hybrid collaboration. An ‘early-adopter’ attitude and a supportive and open culture – rather than low digital literacy and a fixed mindset – will attract and nurture the best talent and foster a positive culture no matter what changes in working styles lay ahead.
For organisations and employees, change can seem daunting, but there is so much to gain from hybrid collaboration which can surpass being all together in person. Put simply, making some small but meaningful changes can help your business deliver higher value outputs and help harness the full power of collaboration in a hybrid working world.
Asha Page is an Associate Principal and Workplace Interior Design specialist at architecture firm Warren and Mahoney.