Cultivating Connection and Communication for Remote and Hybrid Teams

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It feels like just yesterday we were getting used to online team meetings, and now hybrid has become the norm! 

Hybrid ways of working offer employees greater flexibility and enhanced engagement and retention. However, it can also create a number of communication challenges, namely:

  • Trust and engagement: teams may experience lower levels of trust and engagement as the physical distance between the groups can erode a sense of belonging.
  • Disconnection: Without regular interactions all together, employees may feel disconnected and lonely, leading to decreased job satisfaction and well-being.
  • Misalignment: Without clear structures in place to foster hybrid collaboration, cliques and silos may form, resulting in communication breakdowns. 

(More on the subject at our Virtual Connection Lab on Communication this month, here’s the link to register.)

It’s one thing to work in a remote or hybrid environment, and another thing to host hybrid meetings! When some people are meeting together in the same room and others are joining the meeting online, that’s when experience design and facilitation can help you to take the meeting from 😬 stressful and scattered to 🏄‍♂️ smooth and seamless.

Here are a four tips to keep in mind to cultivate strategic connection and communication on remote and hybrid teams: 

1. Connect Early 🙌

Especially in a hybrid setting, where you risk people feeling disconnected. Begin each meeting  with a connection activity, for example a check-in ritual. Starting with connection helps bring everyone into the room (physically or virtually) and builds a bridge across virtual/in-person participants. You might:

✅ Pose a different connecting check-in question and ask each person to share out loud. This works well for smaller groups. 

✅ Use a poll, mentimeter.com, or other tech tool to hear from everyone at once. At Scaling Intimacy we like to use a weather metaphor poll to have people share their feelings entering into the meeting. For example, are they feeling sunny and bright, cloudy with a chance of rain, or like a thunderstorm? This works well for larger groups.

2. Have a strong support system 🤝

We highly recommend having a minimum of one facilitator leading each of the in-person and virtual spaces so that no group feels left out or at a disadvantage. This further ensures the facilitators can really connect with both groups, making the meeting an inclusive and unifying experience. 

Pro-tip: We like to create a communication back-channel for facilitators (for example, a Whatsapp group) to foster collaboration behind the scenes and support facilitators in the different spaces to be on the same page.

3. Implement a talking system 🗣️

We know that things get messy when we ask questions to the entire group at once. No one wants those cringe-worthy moments when people keep talking over one another. That’s why, especially in the hybrid space, we like to live by our design principle, “Structure is your co-facilitator”.  When establishing guidelines, make it explicit how the hybrid group can communicate best:

  • Try out a dynamic ‘ping pong’ style reflection 🏓 where you alternate between online and offline participants, allowing different perspectives to be heard and fostering engagement across all team members. We suggest starting with hearing voices from the online participants first, as hybrid tends to be biased towards the in-person group. 
  • Create a code word 🔑 From our experience, the online group is most often at risk of feeling excluded, because they can’t often hear the side-chatter, laughs, or inside jokes that happen more naturally in-person. At a recent hybrid event I facilitated, we co-created the code word “curios!”. Whenever an online participant couldn’t hear what was happening offline, they would say the word and as a group, we’d stop and fill them in on what they might have missed. This also became a temperature check for the in-person group to see how inclusive they were being just based on how often people said the code word or not. 

4. Diversify your mode of delivery 🤩

In order to maximize the effectiveness of hybrid environments, change things up! You might want to: 

  • Plan parallel brainstorm moments where online and in-person team members discuss together in their separate spaces, before coming together to reflect on different ideas. 
  • Organize mixed hybrid breakout rooms that create small pair share or trio discussions bridging online and offline together. Uniting both groups enables collaboration and relationship-building beyond geographical boundaries. For this one, we encourage you to ask offline participants to bring their computers to the space and set up their laptops during a break to save time.

There are lots of hybrid communication tools, hacks and techniques to use, depending on your most pressing challenges. Start off by embracing just one or two of these tips above and watch your team’s connection and communication flourish in the hybrid space. 🗝 When in doubt, remember connection is the key to building a strong and communicative hybrid team!

🏊‍♀️ DIVE INTO COMMUNICATION WITH US!

Communication takes on many forms, and looks different for every team or group. It’s important to understand the specific needs of the group and create intentional strategies to streamline communication.

Now is the time to up-level your practice!

If you find yourself designing or facilitating in virtual and hybrid environments, join us at an upcoming training! Advance your skills for a hybrid world through Facilitation Finesse or reimagine what a true dynamic learning experience can be in Designing Dynamic Experiences.

 

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Romy Alexandra is a learning experience designer and experiential learning trainer on a mission to humanize learning spaces.