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The Hybrid Workforce Playbook | Part 4: Communications in a Hybrid Model

April 23, 2021 ──── Joe Mullings
Digital Transition, Leadership

The Hybrid Workforce Playbook | Part 4: Communications in a Hybrid Model

The Hybrid Workforce Playbook | Part 4: Communications in a Hybrid Model
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed workplace communication forever.

In most workplaces, virtual collaboration was a last resort, used only when in-person work was impossible. But during lockdowns, digital communication took over — and now, with the worst of the pandemic receding, it’s clear these technologies are here to stay. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new kind of workforce: one that combines the convenience of digital connection with the power of on-premise teams. But more than any other aspect of work, it’s communication that will change under this new hybrid model — and without careful planning, we’ll lose the warmth and connection that makes our workplaces so rewarding. 

That’s why we created the Hybrid Workforce Playbook: a bold, action-oriented guide to reimagining the future of work and building it into reality. 

In this final chapter, we’ll discuss how to bring your business communications into the new World of Work. 

Communication in a Time of Change

Throughout the early stages of the pandemic, overcommunication was standard. In an atmosphere of instability, employers scrambled to support their teams and keep them informed. Plenty of communication helped teams maintain culture, connection, and trust, even when physically apart. 

As pandemic-related confusion slowly relaxed, this high level of communication often waned, too. However, as your company settles into a new normal, it will be critical to maintain the communication and care that allowed your team to make it through these difficult times. 

The workplace is changing, but our need for connection, camaraderie, and support is not going anywhere. In this new landscape, digital communications are crucial to ensuring employees feel included, looped-in, and secure.  

New Modes of Connection

Organizations were forced to modernize their communications because of the COVID-19 pandemic — many for the first time. If your business was one of these, now is not the time to pull back on your new digital infrastructure. Your transition may have prioritized speed over perfection, but a digital foundation — even an imperfect one — will still help your firm navigate this next transition, into the new, hybrid workplace. 

If you adopted any new communications processes during the pandemic, they are the ideal place to build from as you craft a new, more intentional strategy. COVID-19 has been a stressful time, and appetites for change are lower than ever. Your team has already become familiar with these systems, which will lessen the learning curve and burden on them as you work to implement a new plan. Below, we’ll discuss how to use your employee’s existing preferences and pain points as a guide when creating your new hybrid communications strategy. 

If your company hasn’t already invested in digital communications infrastructure, time is of the essence. Just because some workers are returning to the office doesn’t make these systems any less useful; on the contrary, their value and convenience is well-proven and here to stay. 

Hybrid workplaces, and the digital communication tools that make them possible, offer serious benefits both for employees, in terms of job satisfaction, and for companies, as they boost productivity and employee retention. A report by Deloitte found that organizations with strong online social networks were 7% more productive than those without, and that those who adopted company social media tools saw a 20% increase in employee satisfaction. 

In the new World of Work, high-performing employees expect flexible, hybrid workplaces that integrate digital communications into their operations seamlessly. The same Deloitte report on digital workplaces found that workers strongly prefer more modern digital communications tools, such as Slack, over email. 

The days when a company laptop was an exciting perk are over. Instead, it’s now expected that your company will provide digital tools that improve the employee experience. Wherever you are in your digital transition, it’s time to bring your communications into the present.  In fact, you are in competition with other employers to provide the best tools for your team. If you stop leveraging new communications techniques and strategies now, you’ll find that the market moves on without you, and you’ll struggle to attract the talent you need. 

How Is Your Team Communicating?

To give your employees need clear expectations around when, where, and how they’ll communicate in their new distributed workplace, you need a formalized and specific hybrid communications plan. Rather than feeling strict or prescriptive, this plan should feel empathetic and personalized to employee needs.

Given the urgency of the pandemic, your current communications may have evolved without much foresight or planning. Your new plan should absolutely be formalized, but you can, and should, take cues from how you’re doing things already. 

What type of conversations do employees tend to hold over different platforms? For example, has your team been using Zoom for group meetings, email for efficient communication, and Slack for casual chatting throughout the day? 

On the flip side, are there any clear issues with communication that your plan should solve? Has work ever gone unfinished because of missed connections? If you have staff in different timezones, how are they connecting with each other? 

Creating a Hybrid Communications Strategy

As you’re drafting your plan, be guided by these preferences and tendencies. Solidify them into a clear strategy that establishes parameters around how your team communicates. 

If you established a COVID-19 task force to help your firm adapt to the pandemic, they are the perfect candidates to lead your transition into a hybrid workplace. Challenge this team to develop new ways to foster connection, even among team members who aren’t physically present, and create processes that accommodate different working hours while respecting everyone’s work-life balance

Clearly define the boundaries around video meetings, email, text, and phone calls. How quickly are employees expected to respond to these digital communications? Will they be given notice for virtual meetings? Are they expected to respond to any form of messaging outside of work hours? 

A great communications plan helps everyone on your team understand what’s expected of them, and what they can expect from others. That means you avoid miscommunications and conflict later down the line. 

Implementing Your Strategy

Next, it’s time to put your plan into action. Will you need to create any new roles, or adopt new software and train your team on how to use it? Does your plan account for how your team likes to communicate, and offer solutions to their common frustrations? 

To fully realize your strategy, it needs to be integrated into your HR documentation. It’s not just a matter of creating a PDF and emailing it to staff — this blueprint will affect job descriptions, performance reviews, client interaction policies, and more. 

Overcommunicate

Overcommunication is the best way to smooth this transitional period, just as it served your needs during the rapid change of the early pandemic. Invest time now to make sure every single employee understands your new rules of communication. Make sure the reasons for all the new changes are abundantly clear. It’s much easier for employees to adjust their behavior if they understand how it benefits them and the company, rather than feeling like they’re just reacting to arbitrary orders. 

Work from the Top Down

If executives, team leads, and managers have a thorough knowledge of your new strategy, they’ll be able to support those they supervise as they adopt it. Provide everyone with the complete communications strategy, and then make sure individual employees have updated copies of documents affected by it that are relevant to their role. These could include job descriptions, or performance evaluation criteria. 

Be Patient

Give employees time to adapt to and become comfortable with these new ways to communicate. Be prepared that employees will likely struggle with implementing some areas of your plan. Treat this as valuable feedback— it could indicate areas in need of iteration. 

Assess and Optimize

Be prepared to adjust your plan on an ongoing basis, not just in response to employee needs, but also to the ongoing evolution of the new, hybrid workplace. The new World of Work is fluid and evolving. To serve your firm well into the future, your communications strategy should be, too. 

Moving Forward

Communication is central to how we work. That’s why adapting it for a radically different future is no easy task, but we can bring the connection and collaboration we love into the new World of Work.

With the Hybrid Workforce Playbook, we want businesses to embrace a future that combines the best of the old and the new. We can bring the mentorship, connection, and personal growth of in-person workplaces into this new model. It will take leadership, flexibility, and a willingness to embrace change, but the new hybrid workforce can be better than we ever imagined.