Pug bending an ear to listen

Why Active Listening Is Key to Hybrid Work Success

July 28, 2022 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Building an open, accommodating and engaging workplace is no easy feat, and much less so in a remote or hybrid environment where there’s no or only limited face-to-face interaction. With video fatigue on the rise, there's a growing tendency for workers to lurk in chats and video calls without participation.

To avoid losing company culture, leaders need to find ways for remote employees to have a voice and actively contribute to communications and the daily operations of the organization. These can include setting up one-on-one chats, team reviews or quarterly check-ins, among other strategies. 

One way to ensure proper engagement is to employ active listening techniques. Active listening, in the form of short weekly surveys, one-on-one quarterly meetings and other forms of communications, is extremely important in today's remote or hybrid environment.

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening entails participating and engaging fully in a conversation. When mastered, it means leaders learn to listen beyond words and converse with others differently. In the workplace, actively listening prevents leaders from missing vital information that may not be spoken, therefore enabling them to build a stronger relationship with employees.

Active listening allows leaders and managers to more easily identify and anticipate issues. For instance, they may be better equipped to pick up on clues that employees are burned out, disconnected or concerned. It can also help to identify conflicts among team members and bring a prompt resolution as a result.

According to Heather Denniston, operations and strategy lead at Chicago-based LUDEX, active listening in the remote workplace bridges the gap between former ways of communicating that relied on face-to-face conditions with the more progressive hybrid dynamic we find ourselves in today.

Learning to apply this skill in the workplace reinforces the openness of the organization and helps minimize the risk of miscommunications, which tend to be heightened in remote and hybrid environments. There are many other benefits to active listening, among those:

Empathy and Attention

By not being physically present with the rest of the team, remote and hybrid employees can sometimes feel unheard in the company. Listening actively to these workers is a way to show attentiveness, care and empathy beyond the work.

“Employing active listening techniques is a way of physically demonstrating, even over long distances, that employees are still being listened to,” said Peter Strahan, founder and CEO at managed IT services company Lantech.

Deeper Relationships and Cohesion

An organization that teaches its employees how to apply active listening skills helps foster better relationships. Improving relationships in a hybrid setting has become a necessity for the success of this modern work model.

"We no longer have the cues that we pick up when in person and have to make an extraordinary effort to build and maintain connections with our employees,” said Denniston.

Honesty and Candor

Listening actively helps leaders understand their employees better by requiring them to engage on a deeper level and watch for non-verbal cues and body language that can reveal anything the speaker isn't saying out loud. For instance, leaders can pick up on cues that tell them someone is not happy with a situation, even if that person verbally says otherwise.

Related Article: Don't Deal With Employee Dissent This Way

4 Ways to Hone Active Listening Skills

While the concept of active listening is relatively easy to understand, it is not as easy to put into practice. And much less to master it. Here are some tips to improve active listening skills:

1. Pay Attention to Non-verbal Cues and Body Language

The most prominent way to actively listen is to observe. While our ears do most of the listening, our eyes should also be watchful since people tend to give away their thoughts via nonverbal cues. Denniston said in a remote setting, leaders can pay greater attention to how employees avoid direct to-camera views, shift in their seats, touch their faces or seem distracted. Those are important cues to pick up on.

2. Show the Speaker That You Are “There”

Being physically present is not enough to show that you're listening; you have to participate. Not engaging with the speaker is almost the same as not being there at all.

“Next time you're in a conversation, whether at business or in your personal life, keep in mind to be genuinely curious, ask lots of open-ended questions, refrain from interrupting and keep the other person in mind even as you're speaking,” said Max Hauer, the CEO of Jersey City, New Jersey-based Goflow.

Related Article: What It Means to Be a Human Leader, and Why It's Important Today

3. Avoid Distractions

Active listeners know to give the speaker their undivided attention and avoid distractions. Any sign that you are not listening may indicate boredom to the speaker. Leaders and managers who commit time to listen to someone must make sure they can truly stop what they're doing, remove all potential distractions and focus on them. Keeping eye contact during a virtual meeting is essential.

4. Don't Judge

A response goes a long way when practicing active listening. Leaders should respect the speaker’s opinion even when they disagree with it. Acknowledging a person's opinion is critical to giving them a platform to express themselves and uncover the truth. When employees provide feedback, especially if it's being asked of them, listen attentively and recognize it. 

Leaders and managers who seek feedback should also be ready and willing to act on it. Instead of judging or dismissing remote or hybrid employees when you disagree or don’t have answers, reassuring them about your commitment to discuss their feedback will encourage future, honest input.

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