Communication skills in a hybrid world
Two years ago, our world changed. COVID-19 forced many employees to work from home, and workplace technology evolved to make it possible.
Since then, many companies and their people have realised the productivity and wellbeing benefits of working in locations other than the office. So, what are the communication skills you need to thrive in a hybrid work environment, where you might be working virtually or in person, with different teams from home, the office, a client site, or another location on any given day?
1. Establish a human connection
Make small talk before big talk
Make time to connect with your colleagues on a personal level and ask them about their family, friends, and life outside of work, or seek out other common areas of interest, such as sport, arts or culture. Be curious. This can be done at the start of a meeting: making small talk before you get onto the main topic of discussion (‘the big talk’).
Icebreakers are short, simple games designed to prime our brains for planning and problem solving. They are a great way of connecting with distributed teams across different locations and can help new members feel more connected by learning new things about each other. Atlassian suggests 7 icebreaker games to help your team build authentic connections.
Be aware of your body language
As we increasingly interact with others virtually, understanding what our body language is conveying about us is arguably becoming more important than ever. Do you bite your nails or cross your arms while on video calls? Or do you lean forward and smile a lot? It’s worth asking a trusted friend to give you honest feedback on what your body language says about you. Or do some research and upskill your body language to make sure you are connecting in the right way.
2. Build trust
Since hybrid work is a relatively new concept, managers who were used to having their teams in the office may find it hard to trust them to get work done remotely. Conversely, employees that have not had the option of meeting with managers face-to-face have had to trust those managers are also being transparent about what is expected of them.
You can build trust and confidence with your manager and colleagues by:
- Being clear about your goals and contributions
Take the initiative and ask your manager or team leader for a weekly meeting to confirm what’s expected of you. You may both have different perspectives on what hybrid working means, so it’s worth clarifying that you are on the same page.
- Being clear about when, where and how you want to work
Everyone works in different ways and a big benefit of hybrid work is that it frees people from the idea that work only takes place in the office, from 9am to 5pm. So, be clear with your manager and your team about what your preferences are and listen to what theirs are. You will need to be flexible, work as a team and accommodate each other, so that the client work can be delivered in a way that works for the majority.
- Use your calendar to clearly communicate your working schedule and situations (hours, locations, and time blocks across teams)
Create ‘focus time’ blocks on your calendar, or hold time for a personal event like breakfast with family or friends, or just taking a walk to reset. This helps others quickly see how and when to best engage with you.
3. Strengthen your EQ muscle
Emotional intelligence or EQ is the ability to understand, use and manage your emotions in positive ways in order to empathise with others, defuse conflict and communicate more effectively. While some people are naturally empathetic or have higher EQ than others, all of us can build our emotional intelligence.
Be environmentally conscious
Be aware of the environment each person is in and how that might be affecting them. For example, is Daniel home schooling his daughter? Is Raj walking his dog? Is Anita in her home office (which is also her kitchen)? Consider how those environments will affect their ability to focus on the task at hand and adapt your behaviour accordingly.
Be time conscious
Hybrid work means teams are often working across different time zones, either in the same country, or different countries. If you work for a global business, you’ll soon learn the time differences when setting up meetings (something that Outlook can do automatically) and it’s obviously important to consider whether colleagues will be awake when you plan to connect.
With your empathy hat on, if you are running a workshop online, it’s worth checking in at the start to make sure everyone is familiar with the technology and how to participate (e.g. take yourself off mute, reach out in the chat box, or raise your virtual hand).
Ahead of running an online workshop, check in with participants individually to understand whether they need any adjustments to fully participate (i.e. videos or conversations may need to be captioned, or extra information provided in advance for participants to use screen readers).
Also, be aware of ensuring everyone contributes. For example, you can hold some space for those who have not yet contributed, have a few different ways people can share their inputs, either verbally, in the chat or on a virtual whiteboard. The more information that can be provided in advance, the better.
Be a team player
As well as being clear about how you want to work in the hybrid environment, make sure you are clear how the project team you are working with wants to work – and offer help and assistance to those who may need it.
The clearer everyone on the team is about shared expectations, the better the team will work.