Intentional Collaboration: 5 tips for improving collaboration in the hybrid workplace
Hybrid collaboration is something that just ‘happened’.
We log onto Microsoft Teams to share another file, dial in to discuss the next project we’ve plotted on the shared Excel sheet, and plan our next face-to-face meeting because some of us feel it’s easier to ideate in person.
But the specifics of collaborating in a hybrid workplace where some members of a team are fully remote, some are working in the office and some are choosing between the two, isn’t something we actively thought about; it’s something we just picked up and rolled with as we emerged from the pandemic and moved into a new routine of hybrid working.
‘Where exactly is that shared file saved again?’
We tend to muddle through and continue doing what has worked so far, that is, until it stops working.
A Gensler report showed that the shift to remote work affected collaboration, with time spent collaborating dropping from 43% to 27%. And now with hybrid working looking like it’s here to stay, teams are trying to get to grips with the different collaboration practices that each person has adopted.
While researching the topic for our latest report: ‘Collaboration in a Hybrid Workplace’, we identified just how important this area is for both organisations and their teams to get right. Collaboration shouldn’t be left to chance anymore.
To fully support your teams and help them to excel in a hybrid workplace, intentional collaboration needs to be the centre of your strategy.
What is intentional collaboration?
Intentional collaboration is proactively supporting your teams by giving them the right skills, tools and guidance to consciously improve how they work together as a team, share resources, communicate and achieve their shared goals.
If we take that a step further and consider it in a hybrid workplace, intentional collaboration can help your teams navigate the specifics of collaborating irrespective of location, time-zones, and working preferences.
It’s the difference between leaving collaboration up to chance, wondering why it’s getting messy and confusing, or actively choosing to be clear and focused on improving collaboration for your team.
Collaboration is something every organisation, leader and individual should take time to consider, plan and prioritise to see their teams flourish in this evolving work landscape.
“Hybrid work environments provide new ways for employees to collaborate productively, but leaders must intentionally create those opportunities.” - Gartner
5 tips for improving collaboration in the hybrid workplace
To be more intentional about collaboration in your organisation, consider these five areas:
1. Understand what ‘collaboration’ really is
What we found when researching collaboration, was that the most common interpretation of ‘working together’ is a simplified and diluted meaning that misses the key elements that make up true collaboration. Assuming all types of ‘working together’ are the same, overlooks important qualities such as mutual respect, or knowledge, risk and responsibility sharing, which are all essential for teams to collaborate.
We explore these further in the report, but we believe improving collaboration in a hybrid workplace starts with understanding all the factors that influence how people collaborate.
*Hint – this has less to do with the tools and technology than you might think*
2. Assess your team's hybrid collaboration
Once you understand the different elements that go into effective collaboration, it’s important to gauge where your team is with them. What’s working well? What’s missing? How do they feel about it?
Hybrid collaboration can be particularly tricky for dispersed teams that are working from different locations, time-zones or with different working patterns, so it’s important to see how it’s functioning for each person. Run a survey, start a conversation, and come together as a team to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of hybrid team collaboration. You need to see where you are before you can be intentional about improving team collaboration.
3. Focus on team relationships
Another thing we discovered is that the real essence of team collaboration and what makes it work are not actually the tools or technology you have in place. It’s the people!
While it may be easier to fixate on the processes or the tools that the team need, effective collaboration is dependent on human relationships and the skills that are required to build connections between team members. Focus on building trust, empathy, self and other-awareness and give plenty of opportunity for interactions. A team is usually a wonderful concoction of different personalities and preferences, so helping individuals to understand and value these differences is a vital step in improving collaboration.
4. Use a holistic model to improve team effectiveness
If you’re unsure where to even start with team relationships, it’s a good idea to use a team model that incorporates factors that are vital to team performance and creating a good team dynamic.
Our Team Effectiveness model is one that explores team success factors in a holistic way by incorporating a range of characteristics that make an effective and collaborative team. You can use a model like this with your team to help them reflect on where they might be thriving or having some challenges. Once you know which areas might be causing difficulties, you can plan as a team to address and improve them.
5. Define your hybrid collaboration practices
Being intentional means not leaving hybrid collaboration up to chance anymore. Instead of waiting for teams to figure out what this looks like in practice, bring them together and agree on a set of guidelines that will make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the how, what, and where of hybrid collaboration.
You can use something like a team charter or draw up your own team agreement for how you will communicate, join calls, share files, record tasks etc. The key here is to also consider asynchronous collaboration which will allow the whole team to work together effectively regardless of their location, working arrangements or time-zones.
“People are messy, complicated, and unpredictable. It might seem easier to focus on creating tidy new processes and or purchasing shiny new tools as a way to improve collaborations. But if you really want to make your collaborations sparkle, you must improve the relationships among the people.” – Psychology Today