Let us be open: It is really nice to have clear agreements on where we are expected to work. If it is the office space or the comfort of our home – with the suitable infrastructure available, we can basically make most of the things work nicely. The challenge arising now in the current phase of the pandemic is to make hybrid settings work. To deal with the fact, that we constantly have to work on a fit of different working modes where parts of teams are working virtually, while others are physically present, shifting these modes periodically. Keeping up our own productivity is one of the challenges: beside this we also have to find ways of collaboration and coordination with our colleagues some of whom might be in different places or working rhythms. 

One of the challenges is certainly around setting up the hybrid structure: who is where and whenhow to change from virtual to physical, what proportions of employees should be in one or the other mode, how to ensure business continuity, how to communicate, etc. Once ready with the formal setup, there are a few areas to focus on for successful collaboration both at team and leadership level.  

Let’s have a closer look at them.  

 1. Be as transparent as possible (do not worry – this cannot be overdone)

  • Transparency about priorities and overall direction: with people in several locations it is challenging to reach a similar understanding of what the current priorities are and where the teams are heading in the nearer future. Redundancy in communication definitely helps and it is also essential to have the necessary information accessible in an asynchronous way (e.g. meetings recorded and available).  
  • Transparency about current status of tasksthe importance of virtual Kanban boards and instant communication platforms is crucial in keeping everyone informed. 
  • Transparency about what is known and what is uncertain at a certain point in timeprobably all of us have recently seen good and not so successful examples of communicating about this. Saying openly what is a certainty and what is unknown gives the chance to change the direction quickly with the understanding of the larger team. While communicating about a certain direction as the essential one and discovering it as a dead-end road reduces the credibility of the management. In the current context none of us knows much more than the other one, so relying on each other’s’ resources is essential for success. 

Tools for increasing transparencyOKR’svirtual Kanban boards, 

 2. Empowerment & Trust & Authority

With less physical presence and face to face interaction, leaders will not be able to check, supervise, control and support: therefore, it is crucial to have clarity about the level of empowerment and authority delegated to the employees. Having a dialogue and a conscious learning process about this will ease the process. It proves essential how leaders create and sustain trust. The bad news: leaders’ ways of creating and sustaining trust is a result of a long-term process, often unconscious. Taking it on the conscious side can take effort, time and a lot of openness from a leader’s side. 

Tools: the leadership formulafeed forward conversations 

 3. Autonomy & Responsibility

On the employee’s side clarifying the level of autonomy is a necessary first step. Less or different (e.g. less context-related information) interactions with the managers and peers will require more autonomy and taking responsibility on the employee side. This is again a learning process which can be speeded up by conscious and focused dialogue. 

Toolsthe leadership formulafeedback and feed forward. 

4. Space and time of joint thinking & informal conversations

With the extra effort of keeping the team informed and the energy drain caused by the virtual meetings it is tempting to focus dominantly on the operational sideEven if tasks go well, team members need to be connected, feel that they belong to the team. Beside the task mode there is a need for joint thinking and exploring – this can ensure the long-term productivity of the team. It is challenging how to create the space for informal conversation and joint thinking – probably the best approach is to set-up regular interaction opportunities driven by team members, with a minimum fixed agenda and then going towards topics which emerge from the check-in of the participants. Scheduling two types of meetings: operational and team events should also be helpful. 

5. Awareness of team dynamics

Even if everything is done, teams can have difficult moments and sometimes quick interventions are needed. Team development can happen also virtually. Very often regular rituals (e.g. periodical virtual townhalls) will be enough, however sometimes more focused interventions can be needed. It helps if teams ask for support from someone external to the team. The interventions will be totally context dependent. 

Some of the factors above are easier, some more difficult to grasp and implement. We know for sure that the minimum of addressing them is a meaningful dialogue within the teams working in a hybrid setting. We are all learning these ways of collaborationour success depends on our consciousness for capacity reflection and learning. With good dialogues we can connect and make the learning a joint experience.