Office communication has always had its challenges, but the rising trend of working from home and hybrid work arrangements has made communicating even more complicated.
Communication is a significant challenge of remote work. In a typical office scenario, maybe you’ve got a question for one of your colleagues, so you pop over to their desk for a quick chat. They don’t have the answer but suggest you ask another colleague a few desks away. This person also isn’t sure, but someone sitting nearby hears the conversation and chimes in with the answer. You return to your desk and resume working. Face-to-face interactions have long been the backbone of office life.
When working remotely, getting the answer you need may take several rounds of emails or trying to schedule mutually agreeable times for virtual meetings. Communication can become challenging and sometimes frustrating or highly inefficient. This is magnified in a hybrid environment where some employees are physically in the office while others work from home.
In a hybrid meeting, people seated in a room may focus their attention on each other – immersed in discussion or social interaction – perhaps forgetting that others are connecting virtually. There also might be background noise to contend with, side conversations going on or even cross-talk as several people weigh in simultaneously, making it difficult for remote participants to determine who is speaking.
This can be distracting to those not physically present, causing them to miss what’s being discussed or preventing them from participating fully in the conversation. It’s also challenging when facial expressions or body language can’t be observed by those attending remotely, as non-verbal communication is a valuable part of the meeting dynamic. Also, who hasn’t encountered a frozen screen, volume issue or dropped connection when meeting remotely? This all leads to a sub-optimal employee experience that may impact overall productivity, satisfaction and engagement.
Tips for improving hybrid workplace communication
- Make good use of technology. Remote work has compelled companies to improve their technology. If you’re not in the office, your employer should provide the technological tools you need to succeed. Tools that help facilitate communication may include a recent-model laptop, reliable cellphone, strong internet connection with sufficient speed and data plan, good microphone and headphones, and decent lighting. If your company doesn’t cover all such expenses, consider investing in some of these tools to optimize your work experience and enhance productivity.
- Encourage full participation. It’s human nature for some people to dominate conversations. When you’re in the same room, if someone else wants to participate it’s easier to jump in – perhaps by sending the speaker a glance, doing a quick clearing of the throat or even holding up your hand – than it is for remote colleagues. When important or contentious points are being made, everyone should get a chance to weigh in, whether they’re in person or remote.
- Take meeting notes. Many people have noticed an increase in meetings when working remotely. They may have multiple meetings booked at the same time, so cannot attend them all. It helps if someone at each meeting is designated to take notes (note-taking duties can be rotated among colleagues), which will ensure an equitable sharing of information and knowledge. This practice is also useful for times when remote participants lose their connection or have trouble hearing people in the room.
- Have fewer screens running. In a hybrid meeting, people in the office often gather in a room. Then they’ll login individually on laptops, just like their remote colleagues. As mentioned, non-verbal communication is valuable and may be lost when interacting virtually. Consider setting up one camera in the room that captures everyone, allowing remote participants to observe non-verbal exchanges.
- Build camaraderie. Whether working in office or at home, everyone should have a voice and stay engaged. Some ways to encourage connection among employees is to limit large meetings and hold smaller ones, or promote collaboration and brainstorming sessions that not only elicit input from everyone, but also deepen bonds among colleagues. As well, it’s crucial that new employees are well integrated into a hybrid office so they become familiar with everyone and the “lay of the land,” especially if working remotely.