In the final stages of the Great Return, as the last companies transition from 100% remote to a hybrid work schedule, many employees are looking forward to the opportunity to work with their colleagues after two years of isolation. However, just because the team is back in the office does not mean real collaboration will necessarily occur.
“More than two years into our national experiment in working from home, one of the most popular arguments for returning to the office is about collaboration: Employees need to be on site, we’re told, because collaborating with one another has been harder to do when everyone is working from separate locations,” Alison Green, creator of the work advice website Ask a Manager, writes for Slate. “The problem is … much of the time, it isn’t happening that way.”
Green reports that many people who have returned to their offices are the only ones on site, or they are staying isolated from others — saving most collaboration for email and digital tools like Slack and Zoom.
But the spirit of teamwork does not have to be a relic of the pre-COVID workplace. By taking a proactive approach, leaders can foster a more collaborative environment in the hybrid work model. Here are five ideas to get started:
1. Continue to Emphasize Safety and Cleanliness
While the worst of the COVID-19 crisis seems behind us, business leaders should recognize that anxieties are still high as employees return to the office, even on a part-time basis. In a survey by Upcity, 53% of respondents said they would feel stress if required to return to a shared office space. Even if a workplace vaccine mandate were in place, 54% of respondents said they would still be just as stressed.
Creating a safe environment will not only coax employees into the office more frequently, but they will be more likely to interact with their coworkers while on-site — and comfortably.
According to the commercial cleaning experts at SERVPRO, businesses across all major industries have adopted the following cleaning and sanitizing practices since the pandemic:
- 83% are investing more in cleaning
- 64% clean several times per day
- 51% have added more hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing stations
- 46% are committed to deep cleaning for as long as COVID-19 is a threat
- 34% use both a certified CDC-approved cleaning company in addition to a janitorial service
- 28% use CDC-approved products and methods
- 12% use a special UV light sanitizer
Consider implementing or adopting a cleaning and sanitizing policy for your hybrid office. In addition to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and its variant, these efforts can also limit the spread of the flu, common cold, and other contagious illness thereby reducing sickness-related absences — another barrier to collaboration.
2. Give Your Company Culture a Makeover
By making the switch to hybrid work, you have already made great strides in offering your employees greater flexibility and work-life balance, which will lead to higher happiness and engagement. On the other hand, the new hybrid work model has taken its toll on company culture — a vital ingredient in facilitating a collaborative environment.
The solution? It is time for leaders to dream up a new vision for their culture in the post-pandemic workplace, with values and practices that will boost morale and foster connection even as employees divide their time between remote and hybrid work.
Take an honest look at your company culture today and see what changes you can implement to breathe new life into it. Here are a few ideas for improving your culture from the communication experts at 4PSA:
- Reimagine your meetings. Limit the meeting size by inviting just the key stakeholders. Schedule meeting-free blocks to ensure your team has time to focus on their work. For other ideas on how to make your meetings better, invite suggestions from your team.
- Empower your managers. When managers can act on their own bright ideas and suggestions from team members, they will be more open to listening to their direct reports. As a result, your whole team will be more engaged.
- Normalize regular breaks. By making sure associates are taking their lunch and other breaks during the workday, you can help increase job satisfaction and prevent burnout.
- Celebrate the contributions of your team. Make it a point to express your appreciation for your associates on a regular basis. Even a simple “thank you” can go a long way.
3. Make Your Meetings Hybrid-Friendly
At the heart of productive collaboration is a constructive meeting. But now that they are attended by both in-office and remote employees, it can be a challenge to make meetings inclusive. Take the following steps to ensure your meetings are hybrid-friendly:
- Make sure every meeting has a dial-in number or link to a video call.
- Invest in the right technology to make hybrid meetings effective. For example, a 360-degree camera can ensure all attendees are seen easily.
- If possible, reserve meetings for days when most team members are in the office.
- Email an agenda ahead of time, so that all attendees are familiar with the talking points.
- Ask quieter attendees both in the office and at home for their input.
- Ensure in-office attendees speak directly into their cameras so that remote team members do not feel excluded.
- Send post-meeting notes with clear, actionable next steps to all invitees, even those who were not able to make it.
4. Invest in the Right Digital Tools
While your company may have operated successfully with spreadsheets before the pandemic, digital collaboration tools play an essential role in the hybrid workplace.
As UCToday reports, “Hybrid working tools must enable collaboration in a location- and device-agnostic manner so that employees everywhere receive the same collaboration experience, and the workflows stay consistent even as employees switch between locations.”
Here are some essential digital tools to equip your team with:
- A cloud-based file-sharing service such as Dropbox
- A team collaboration platform such as Microsoft Teams or Slack
- A project and task management tool such as Trello, Asana, or monday.com
- A cloud-based CRM such as Zoho or Hubspot
- A collaborative brainstorming application such as Bubbl.us (for mind mapping) and Miro (great for online sticky notes)
- An HR management platform, especially one designed to strengthen your internal culture, such as BambooHR
Smaller teams will be happy to discover that many of today’s hybrid workplace management tools offer robust functionalities at a cost-effective price.
5. Implement Team Building Exercises
With everyone spending more time apart from each other, it takes a bit more effort in the hybrid workplace to build team spirit. Break the ice and bring team members closer together with regular team-building activities in your weekly or monthly meetings. These can range from daylong off-site retreats to small icebreaker games. Ideally, save these activities for when all your team members are in the office together, or make sure they are inclusive of both on-site and off-site employees.
Ideas for in-office activities include:
- Trivia games
- Two Truths and a Lie
- Office Jeopardy
- Scavenger hunt
- Lunch and Learn
- Show and Tell
- Team potluck
Laying the Foundation for a More Successful Team
While fostering a collaborative workplace can take some effort on the part of managers and business leaders, it is well worth it for the positive impact this work will have on your business — from higher productivity to a happier, more engaged team.