Connecting in a Hybrid World

How to ensure clear communication and positive engagement when some staff are working in the office and the rest are WFH.

Connecting in a hybrid world - Douglas Oct/Nov 2022

What initially had employers shaking their heads at the beginning of COVID — wondering how on earth remote work was going to be possible — is now the norm. With today’s workforce distributed between home, the office and anywhere in between, employee needs have changed. The impacts on your business need to be identified and solved together in order to succeed in this new worker landscape. 

Successfully managing a hybrid team is about more than just getting everyone on a Zoom meeting once a month. It is about engaging everyone, no matter how or where they are working.

Engagement looks different for each person, in each situation, and your efforts to create a strong sense of team building with everyone will determine your success in the future. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so getting feedback from all members of your team about how they want to be engaged is imperative. 

Consider these three key elements to creating a successful hybrid team.


Different strokes for different folks
Reaching workers who come into the office every day looks different than reaching workers who come in a few days a week, once a month or never. The information that’s critical for employees on the sales team is different from the information needed by accounting, HR, front-line workers or any other role. Not everyone needs to know everything.

Avoid information overload by being strategic about who needs what and knowing how they like to receive information. Use collaboration tools like, Microsoft Teams or Slack to streamline and create efficient and effective communication.

“Who needs to know?”
It’s common for employees in the office to engage in impromptu connections and conversations that stimulate actions. Remote employees don’t get the benefit of these spontaneous conversations, and often, forget to includ WFH workers about action items that could affect them.

When these situations arise, especially if decisions are being made, get your team accustomed to asking: “Who else needs to know this?” If remote workers are continually considered and in-the-loop about things that affect them, they’ll feel more engaged.


Inclusive, facilitated meetings
It’s natural for in-person attendees to draw more focus than remote participants. Hybrid meetings can be challenging for remote workers. They don’t always hear everything that is said, can find it difficult to naturally jump in with comments and often end up becoming bystanders rather than participants.

One way to create more equitable meetings is to assign a virtual facilitator for online or blended format meetings. This can simply be handled by one of the team members on a permanent or rotating basis. Their role is to ensure that everyone is being considered and given opportunities to participate. Duties could include:

  •  Welcoming the meeting participants
  •  Handling any tech challenges such as video or audio issues
  •  Checking in with online attendees and giving them space to contribute
  •  Ensuring the meeting isn’t dominated by the people in the room
  •  Getting feedback from online participants after the meeting for suggestions on improvements

Rethinking collaboration
The office used to be a place where both collaborative work and solo work happened. With a hybrid workforce, the office may need to be more intentional about collaboration. For example, companies might ask employees to come into the office for monthly all-staff meetings, quarterly planning sessions or training.

Every opportunity remote workers have to join the team are valuable for connecting and building relationships they might miss when working on their own. 


Around the cooler
Relationships are built around the water cooler (lunch room, coffee station, staff lounge, etc.). Creating a virtual “water cooler” platform can make space for your team members to engage around things that have nothing to do with work, sharing life updates, talking politics, chatting about movies or TV shows, interesting news they have found and anything in between.

One way to do this is allow team members to have “non-meeting” meetings. Just as they might have an opportunity to chat for 10 or 15 minutes over lunch or coffee, giving space for them to do this virtually can create the same bonding that takes place in person. Similarly, scheduling 10 to 15 minutes prior to a regular meeting for informal talk time can accomplish this as well.

Chat me up
With over half of human communication being non-verbal, the strategy to keep remote employees engaged, especially when they aren’t seen day-to-day, becomes very important.

Video communication allows people to measure their reactions to conversations, see facial expressions and voice inflections, look someone in the eye in a way that just isn’t possible over text or email. Instead of a lengthy email or text message, encourage team members to initiate a quick video chat to humanize their working relationship with colleagues.

Slap on the back
Giving positive feedback, sharing glowing customer reviews, acknowledging when a project goes well, highlighting values-based behaviour, all go a long way toward showing your appreciation to your team.

In general, workers are less motivated by money than by a recognition-based culture. Being acknowledged for their ideas, appreciated for their hard work and recognized for their performance are things that make people want to stay, and that attracts others to your business.

Fun times
Team-building activities foster a healthy work culture, which leads to better retention, higher productivity and better employee satisfaction. It also makes ambassadors out of your employees, who speak positively about your workplace to others, creating a buzz about your brand that attracts more great team members.

A lack of visibility means remote workers tend to have weaker relationships with their colleagues than those employees who work in-office. Engage them by organizing activities that bring everyone together. Even better, create a social committee and get your team involved in planning fun events everyone will enjoy.

New work world

Remote employees and hybrid work environments are here to stay. To successfully adapt to the new world of work, employers must be able to create experiences that meet the needs of each employee. It doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money, but it does require some creativity and flexibility to think about how inclusive and unifying your workplace can be for all your team members.

How to Connect with your remote workers

Around the cooler – Consider creating a virtual “water cooler” platform for your team members to engage around  that has nothing to do with work.

Chat me up – Instead of a lengthy email or text message, encourage team members to initiate a quick video chat to humanize their working relationship with colleagues.

Slap on the back – Organize activities that bring everyone together. There are numerous apps that allow people to share screens and participate in games or small group activities.

Fun times – Highlighting values-based behaviour goes a long way toward showing your appreciation to your team. In general, workers are less motivated by money than by a recognition-based culture.

Ingrid Vaughan, principal of My Smart HR and founder of the Smart Leadership Academy, provides HR support and leadership coaching to small business owners and managers.