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Seven communication challenges for hybrid working

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

While we’re facing continued uncertainty, business leaders are preparing themselves for an even more complex working environment. Many people are heading back to the office for at least part of the week, while others are sticking firmly to working from home for the foreseeable future. Some people have found that they love everything about working remotely (like one project leader who told me that she’s never been happier), others are starved of human contact and itching to get back into the office.

This hybrid of ‘some in, some out’, is likely to stay post-pandemic, with most commentators pointing to 2-3 office days per week being optimal. And hybrid working is perhaps an even bigger communications conundrum than the sudden onset of virtual working at the start of the pandemic. 

Hybrid working adds another layer to the challenges of virtual communication – muted body language, loss of attention, multi-tasking, isolation, energy-sapping meetings etc. Keeping people informed, involved and connected through this next phase and beyond, will need careful handling to avoid chaos, uncertainty or an ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ scenario.

Our clients are grappling with some tough questions…

  • How can you improve communications to thrive in a hybrid world?
  • How can you build team, client and stakeholder relationships when you’re not in the same room?
  • How can you be sure that your communication is clear and compelling?
  • How can you make sure that all team members are included, even when technology is a barrier?

There are many considerations but some key communication themes for hybrid working are starting to emerge.  

1.    Inclusivity

Perhaps the biggest challenge is making sure all voices are heard. It’s less about access to buildings than about access to airtime. It’s easier to chat to the person sitting next to you than bring in the views of a dispersed team, or of an introvert with their camera off, for example. Our role as leader is to facilitate this balance and equip people with the skills to be listened to, no matter where they are. 

2.    Connection

Most of us have the tech to muddle along with virtual meetings and have experimented (with mixed success!) with virtual happy hours and the like. But how can technology and workplace design foster better connection between those of us in the office and those connecting virtually? Some companies are thinking creatively about how they use their office space to involve home workers alongside those in the office, and how to create more intentional opportunities for collaboration, rather than endless video meetings. 

3.    Access

How do you replace the spontaneous opportunities we took for granted… the sales rep who’d meet up with potential clients at a conference, catching your boss on the way to the café, or a quick chat with a colleague at the end of a meeting? When access to your key contacts is more tricky, you need to think differently to attract interactions, e.g. by running a value-adding webinar for your network. And then when you do get access, it’s all the more important to make the most of it by being clear and offering value. 

4.    Impact

Even if many circumstances are beyond our control at the moment, one thing we can take ownership of is our personal impact. Whether we’re communicating virtually or leading hybrid conversations, it’s more important than ever to be aware of how we’re being perceived. Virtual set-ups offer reduced non-verbal feedback, and misunderstandings are more difficult to iron out when you’re communicating virtually. Ask for feedback and offer feedback more regularly than you might normally.

5.    Clarity

With people all over the place, it’s hard to keep team members informed, in-touch and on-message. It takes more effort to maintain clarity of message when we don’t all see each other regularly, particularly in a fast-moving business environment. That’s when team cohesion and a joint sense of purpose matters most, with crystal clarity around corporate and personal vision as the guiding ‘north star’. Check: do your team members know what they’re doing and why? Are they as clear as you think on your strategy and messaging?

6.    Wellbeing

Not many people are missing a nose-to-armpit commute each day but working from home places different demands on our time and attention, which can lead to exhaustion. Those moments of downtime you might have had making a coffee with a colleague, taking a proper lunch break or leaving the office at a certain time, have been replaced by blurred boundaries and a sense of being ‘always on’. Moreover, the pandemic has left many of us (or our family members) with heightened anxiety and mental health challenges that simply didn’t exist before. It’s imperative we build in space to stop, to connect with ourselves and others, and to listen and talk , human-to-human, rather than rushing through an agenda. Workplace responsibilities no longer stop at reception.

7.    Uncertainty

Planning in this environment can feel like nailing jelly to a wall. At any moment the latest guidance could change, whole teams could need to isolate, and events can end up getting cancelled. There’s a need to equip people with the resilience to withstand change, to step up into leadership when needed and to swiftly adapt the message.

Mastering communications in a hybrid world is going to take a new kind of focus and leadership, where clarity, inclusivity and human connection need to take centre stage. If you want to explore how to equip your teams with the leadership communication skills to thrive in this environment, please get in touch

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

The UK’s leading inspiring speaking expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).

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