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The Myth of the Hybrid Office

January 04, 2022 Digital Workplace
tim kulp
By Tim Kulp

"There is no such thing as a hybrid office," an interior designer said to me. "Work is hybrid, the space is not." This interesting statement challenged my thinking on the hybrid office.

What is hybrid work? Hybrid work is not about embracing new technology and leaving the physical office behind. It's about how to use connected technology to build a connected and capable workforce in different spaces to achieve your goals. The hybrid workplace isn't just the future of offices — it's the future of collaboration itself.

Hybrid Workplace vs. the Mute Button

You've determined your policies around the in-office and remote workforce. You've built a good flow of people finding their rhythm, everyone has the tech they need, and they have good meetings when they aren't reconnecting to Zoom or on mute.

Yet the hybrid workplace raises the potential of isolation between those who are in person and those who are remote. Do meeting continue after you end the call with next actions being assigned without the rest of the team knowing? Are side conversations happening during meetings that exclude team members and their understanding of the work to be done? When meeting notes are sent out, do people read them? The "Mute Button" isn't just on Zoom. It is everywhere in a hybrid workplace. It appears when conversations exclude team members, when conversations continue off the call, when communications exclude those who should be in the know.

It's not that hybrid is inherently bad, but it can block the real purpose of working together in a space: to efficiently accomplish a goal.

Why is the hybrid workplace a half-measure?

If you've found an equilibrium of in-person and remote workers, if you've built presence equity in your teams, that's excellent. But that's only the first step. Remember the old: Form, Storm, Norm, Perform. Getting to Presence Equity is "Norm." Now, it's time to perform by focusing not just on the space but on how you work. Hybrid work is the key to Perform, the space, the behaviors of presence equity empower the work.

Related Article: Hybrid Office: Digital, Smart and Real

What Does Hybrid Work Look Like?

Now is the time to improve your team's collaboration across in-person and remote environments. I'm not talking about implementing the latest version of some software. I mean building behaviors to promote asynchronous collaboration and communication.

Asynchronous collaboration means that people may not be talking to each other or working together at the same time, but they are collaborating for a common goal.

Some examples of asynchronous collaboration are:

  • Sharing files through email attachments, IM apps, online file sharing services, etc.
  • Reviewing designs and projects on project management software like Basecamp or Trello.
  • Sending messages to team members through desktop messaging software like Teams or Slack to ask questions about their progress on specific tasks.

In all these communication channels, sprawling systems and devices and locations, how do we keep people informed? Do they know what conversations are happening when they aren't present to hear them?

Related Article: A Step-by-Step Guide to Asynchronous Collaboration

Check-In to Synchronize

The last thing many of us need is another meeting that could have been an email. With that said, build time into your calendar to make sure that you and the team are in sync with all the asynchronous communication flying around. This includes time to catch up on conversations that happen outside of the connected world whether that be phone calls or watercooler conversations.

Eliminating communication outside of meetings is unrealistic. Instead, build behaviors to intentionally synchronize the team on a regular basis. For me, this manifests as a couple of minute check in with my teams every other day. I use the time to connect personally with team members to ensure we're not only on  track with projects, but to check how they're doing from a mental health perspective. This helps us stay in sync beyond deadlines.

Convergence Before and After

Take a moment at the start of a hybrid meeting or discussions to make sure everyone is on the same page. What are we working on? What have we accomplished since the last meeting? Has anything happened that we all need to come up to speed on? This last question is important as it will surface watercooler conversations or private chats that are relevant to the whole group.

Similarly, end the meeting the same way you started it. What do we need to accomplish before the next meeting? Who is responsible for what by when? This leaves everyone with a specific task to complete and a timeline in which it should be completed. Use this time to summarize the meeting and ensure everyone is in agreement.

Structuring a meeting so everyone is on the same page at the start and is clear on next steps at the end goes a long way towards having productive meetings.

Don't Leave It to Technology

Don't look to your technology tools as the sole answer to your hybrid work problems. Consolidating all communication in Slack is not the same as telling someone the latest updates on a project. Saying "you can find that in SharePoint" is about as helpful as a bookstore clerk telling you "the new book you're looking for is in the store."

Yes, people can search SharePoint, Slack, Salesforce, etc., but remember to build the behaviors in your team that are more than just pointing someone to tech. Take the moment to engage your team and walk them through finding the asset. This conversation encourages collaboration and trust through communication. Trust is a key component to a successful hybrid workforce — or any workforce — and the opportunity to help each other find the resources needed to do our work is an opportunity to grow.

Demonstrate and encourage team members to connect through the technology but not to hide in it. Don't only use email for communication. Don't only chat in Slack. Take a moment to call someone or stop in to the office to chat. Don't always video call, sometimes just voice call. Switch up your communication modes to activate your brain and avoid Zoom fatigue.

Related Article: The 2 Critical Leadership Skills for the Digital Workplace

Hybrid Isn't a Place

In 2021, hybrid was all the buzz. In 2022, I believe people will start pushing productivity to new levels as they master the behaviors and tools of hybrid work. Leaving the mindset of hybrid offices, places cannot be hybrid but what you do can cross in-person and remote boundaries to create the new world of work.

About the Author

Tim Kulp is the Chief Innovation Officer at Mind Over Machines and a member of the Forbes Tech Council. He's trying to change the world.

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