The power of community in a hybrid world: five ways to create connections with value

Kate Wilson
Head of Propositions and Solutions and Senior Client Consultant

Hybrid working is the big debate. From Goldman Sachs to Elon Musk (and many places in between), business leaders line up to tell us that we’re better off in the office. Meanwhile, we sift through research which tells us that hybrid workers are more productive, or perhaps less productive. Fully remote workers are the least happy with their jobs, according to the Telegraph. Hybrid workers are consistently happier than those in the office full-time, according to Newsweek. We need to create a strong workplace culture, but how can we do that when most of our people are at home three days a week?

They’re all asking the wrong questions. 

For me, the real questions are: how do we connect and for what purpose? How can we make sure that when we come together – digitally, in person, whatever – we do so with intention and purpose? What’s important to us, as a business and as a group of people working to bring the best out of ourselves and each other? Once we know that, it’s up to us to create the rules and conditions which bring those to the fore, and help us to ensure that every connection has value.

That may feel daunting. It may even feel as though we’re straying perilously close to an assumption of social openness between people who may have relatively little in common outside of work. Don’t misunderstand me: this is not about everyone suddenly becoming best friends. It’s about making the most of the interactions we have with each other to the connection that we need to be and do our best.  As a leader – there are some relatively simple things you can do to make this happen.

1. Create moments of connection 

Take a little time at the start of a meeting to connect as people. No, this doesn’t mean one of those conversations where we spend 40 minutes talking about our new extension, the football, or our trip to Kerala last month. But do let people “land” in the room. For example ask people to name their emotional “weather” that day, or the thing they did last week that we’re proudest of. It’s a very human, very intentional moment which reminds us that there are more ways to connect than a look at last month’s sales figures. It also helps people land and be present.

2. Embrace “high support, high challenge” 

Openness and empathy are vital tools for negotiating the complexities of working together.  Even more so when you might have less face to face contact.  If you can honestly say that you’re able to challenge your boss when you don’t agree with their assessment of something, and at the same time be understanding when your direct report needs help and mentoring, you’re operating from a place of psychological safety. And this is, as we’ve known for years, possibly the single biggest predictor of high performance in teams. Don’t leave this one to chance or assumption: everyone needs to be on board, and it’s up to the leader to set the rules of engagement.  We’ve explored what high support and high challenge looks like together, and we check in on how we’re doing as a team and invite feedback.

3. Commit to being in a relationship with each other

Just as we would with life partners, try to recognise that relationships will involve disagreements and that we’ll see each other at both our best and our worst. At Wondrous we regularly review the rules of how we come together, and reinforce our commitment to understanding and supporting each other through the slings and arrows, through brilliant weeks and challenging days. We talk about “putting the smelly fish on the table”, because this stuff is going to come up sooner or later. Either you have the difficult conversations openly and work through them or you let things fester and pop their head up in all sorts of places. Committing to working things through helps you prepare for it, and develop the resilience you need to get through it.

4. Create space for team learning 

Create opportunities for your teams to broaden their knowledge and skills as a group. This doesn’t necessarily mean (although it could) bringing in experts from outside the business: one of the things we’ve found useful as a team is to experience our own programmes (for example, on race in the workplace) and see how we live up to our own ambitions. It could also mean looking at projects that have gone particularly well, and what the wider business could learn from that (with an excellent side order of celebrating team success).

5. Review and reiterate your company values

At every team meeting, we try to find space to appreciate the ways we’ve lived up to our values. As with the previous point, it’s about looking at specifics and connecting organisational strategy to everyday action. If you have aspirations for the organisation and the people you want to be, take a close look at how you’re living those aspirations day-to-day.

I see this sort of thinking as the difference between a leader who wants to oversee a team of employees and a leader who understands the realities of managing a group of humans. However you feel about that sentiment, the truth is that the human angle will encroach on your working life in many ways and on many occasions. If you expect your people to wear their work mask for eight hours a day, five days a week, you’re creating conditions that many will struggle with (not to mention setting yourself up for persistent disappointment).

But the key is to do these things with intention: not to assume it will all sort itself out; to leave it to chance; not to listen to the voice in your head which isn’t comfortable with taking the initiative in this space. You’re not taking control of people’s emotional welfare: you’re creating the conditions which allow people to connect meaningfully and in a psychologically safe space whether you’re in the office, hybrid or remote. And yes, talk to your team and tailor the rules together. Don’t be afraid to ask for input or context. But do talk, and create an environment which encourages those around you to do the same. Give connections value, and show that they matter, and help your people be the sorts who welcome the smelly fish, learn together and appreciate each other… and the successes they achieve together.

We’ve helped hundreds of organisations to create environments where people can thrive. To find out more, take a look at our client stories.

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