Many of us have been working in hybrid teams and I think they’re here to stay. A hybrid meeting is one where some of the team are physically together and some of are remote.
I think hybrid meetings are the worst of both worlds. You’ve got some people in little squares on Zoom calls and some together in a room. If you’re on the Zoom call, you’re listening to people in the room shuffling their papers, munching their lunch, or worse, hearing them whispering and laughing, leaving you to think, “are they talking about me?” I’ve also known people who are together in the room to wonder what other people on Zoom are putting in the chat and if they’re gossiping similarly about them!
I want to share a few new ways you can reset your communication and collaboration if you’re working in a hybrid team.
Get Everyone Using A Device
One of the things that can really help is if you’re in a hybrid situation and have access to the technology, is to try and get everyone in the room their own device with which they can join the meeting.
Whether that’s a tablet or their own laptop, just something that means everyone in the meeting gets their own online square. They can silence their individual audio and use one shared phone or laptop, because the feedback from multiple audios can be awful. If everyone shares one audio line but keeps their video, they can then also see the chat and it’s overall a much better dynamic.
Camera On or Off?
Another thing I have heard so many debates about is should we keep our cameras on or off? There are certainly people who hate having their camera on on video calls, whilst others, particularly bosses, almost insist on it.
Well, it turns out that the answer to the debate depends on the work you’re doing. When you’re working on collaborative (or co-creative) work, trying to innovate or build something new, or quality check something, the research suggests that it’s better to have your camera turned off. It seems that because we’re such social creatures, a lot of our brain power is being used to figure out if someone is happy or stressed or distracted. There’s so much energy going into trying to decode the facial expressions in these tiny low-fidelity boxes that less attention and energy is going on the actual work product.
If you’re in that situation, I really encourage you to turn off the cameras, have someone share their screen or use a tool like Lucid to have everybody collaborating together at the same time. Save having your camera on for times when you want to really connect or when you’re dealing with a professional relationship, which benefits more from seeing someones face.
We’re Better on the Phone
It turns out that when we want to create a really strong connection with somebody else, that we’re better without a Zoom call at all. We’re actually better just talking on the phone.
Research shows that our empathic accuracy and ability to understand someone else’s situation is better when we’re on the phone. I love this idea and am encouraging my clients to set up one-on-one conversations on the phone. Stick in your earbuds and go for a walk. I’ll be in my city, you’ll be in yours, but we can put our headphone in make a connection. I think it’s a slightly like a confessional, where we don’t have all the extraneous gestures, body language and intense eye contact, that really helps us to hear each other and connect on a deeper level.
Another thing that I’m super excited about is the idea of communication bursts, which are great for your virtual or hybrid teams. If your team spans different time zones and it’s hard to coordinate meetings, pick a time, a couple of times a week, and say something like, “For this two-hour period, everybody’s going to be heads down working. There’s no meetings, there’s no other expectations, all we’re doing is making progress on the particular piece of work that you’re doing.” This is a great opportunity for everybody to be responsive to one another. During this time, you know that if you need something from someone else, you can just message them and jump on a quick call for five minutes to get what you need.
Communication bursts allow us to not dwell on some of the downsides of asynchronous communication all the time. I’m currently working with a client in Australia, and when I send a message, I have to wait hours for them to respond. Often, I’m not working or I’m in bed by this time and it can take days to even get a response for setting up another meeting. In this case, we need to see when we can realistically work with each other. Say, 7:00 pm my time is 9:00 am for them and once a month, we have that slot from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm where we’re both available if needed.
Two Dimensions in Communication
There are so many different ways we need to think about our communication and collaboration when we’re in virtual and hybrid teams. If you think about it, there are two dimensions that are really salient in our communication for collaboration.
One is how rich the information needs to be. Richness, in communication, is about how much reading between the lines you can do based on the channel of communication you’re using.
For example, when we’re physically together, we are rich in communication. We have everything from actual words to pitch, tone, facial expressions, gestures and body language. But, if you go down to the other end of the spectrum, it’s very different. Think about texting with a teenager, where sometimes there aren’t vowels in the words and heavy use of emojis. This is a very lean form of communication with lots of room for misinterpretation.
The second dimension sits between being synchronous, where we’re communicating at the same time, and asynchronous, where we’re sending messages to be responded to at your own pace.
One of the cells in that two-by-two that gets missed is the rich asynchronous communication. Usually, when we’re communicating asynchronously, it’s through an email or a Slack message. This means it is written text, which is lean, with lots of room for misinterpretation and miscommunication. We want the benefits of rich communication, but we want it in an asynchronous mode. This is when I love to do something like screen capture recording.
For example, imagine you’re in charge of trading new recruits on your billing system and you lead a Teams call. You then walk everyone through how to operate the billing system, sharing your screen and talking to them. You probably sound exasperated about some things and excited about other. They get a lot of rich information from listening to your voice. But while you’re at it, you’re sharing your screen and they’re learning how to do it.
However, the problem comes up when you hang up and the new recruits go to operate the system the next day and have forgotten what you said. There’s so much social friction that makes it hard for that person to call you back and say, “could you go through that one more time?”
Recording your screen instead of having a meeting is a great opportunity for collaboration to be rich, and asynchronous. Spending time getting it right and then recording it. You can even have a little circle of your face in the bottom with most apps (not that you need it). In that communication, you’re going through, showing them how to do things, and then you can send it to them.
There are a few good things about this. One is that the next person who joins can watch you recording as well, without you having to repeat the same meeting over and over again. But even better, for a new person, if they don’t understand something, they can pause and rewind the video as many times as they need to and even come back to it months later if they need clarification. All of these things reduce social friction and make work life a lot easier.
Opportunities to Reset Our Communication
There are so many ways we can reset our communication and collaboration to suit this virtual and hybrid world. This comes from seeing opportunities to turn the cameras off, switch to the phone, use communication bursts, and of course, use rich, asynchronous communication.
We can make our communication more effective – we’ve spent too long defaulting to worrying whether something should be done via Zoom or an email when there are so many other alternatives that are better for specific purposes, and I’m going to really encourage you to try those.