We’re back in our offices and collaborating in person with colleagues, with that buzz in the air that you just can’t replicate on Teams or Zoom. The trouble is, though, that our new way of working isn’t the same as it used to be. While some colleagues are in the office, the mix of people changes from day to day as most of us work from home a few days a week.
Welcome to the joys of hybrid work!
How is it proving in practice? It is not always easy. There are some powerful forces that make this way of working particularly difficult for human beings. Yes, it’s even harder than when everyone was remote! The underlying problem is the lack of a level playing field between those who are in the office and those working remotely from home or from a coworking space. How does this play out in practice?
- With some in the office and some remote, there is an issue of remote participants being ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’. We as human beings are biased by proximity, giving preference to those who are close to us, who we can see around us in the office, and deprioritising those who we can’t see. This means that those in the office with a manager are more likely to be suggested for special projects, promotions or bonuses, even when someone else might be more suitable.
- Colleagues in the office together have ample opportunities to catch up with others over coffee or around the water cooler, building invaluable social bonds that strengthen relationships.
- In meetings, those in the room together can experience the full richness of in-person communication with each other. They can see each other clearly and hear every word, picking up the nuances of conversation in a way that just isn’t possible for those on the other end of a remote connection.
- When someone in the meeting room misses a point, or has a question, they can ask their neighbour and catch up easily. This option isn’t available for those attending remotely, who would need to bring their question to the whole group. Instead, they often choose to remain silent and miss out.
- Technology gets complicated for meetings when some are in the office and others join remotely. Now, as well as excellent broadband connections for all, there is a need for excellent microphones, headphones and other equipment as well as processes to ensure that those who are remote can hear really well, without echoes and pickup. Visuals are also challenging as remote participants need to be able to see all those in the room, who are likely to be spaced out around a table.
For some ideas on how best to level the playing field and make hybrid working work, please join us on Wednesday 27th July 12pm in a one hour webinar.
Dr Penny Pullan is a thought leader in the field of hybrid leadership, having worked in remote or hybrid teams since 2001. She’s the author of a number of books including: Virtual Leadership: Practical strategies for success with remote or hybrid work and teams 2nd edition (Kogan Page, 2022) and Making Workshops Work: Creative collaboration for our time (PIP, 2021). She is a director of www.makingprojectswork.co.uk.