Fostering engagement: simple steps to improve hybrid events

The Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2021: Report looked at the impact of COVID on workers and found that “leaders need to recognize the influence of employee well-being and employee engagement on workforce resilience.” As meeting the needs of our team members is more integral than ever before, here are some ways you can get them involved and engaged in your evolving hybrid workplace.

Connect as humans first

The vast majority of your employees are looking to connect with others, and you can provide them with a safe space to do that. Part of that is acknowledging that things are hard. It’s also important to ensure you respect the range of emotions others may be experiencing. It’s OK to admit you struggle sometimes, too. If you show your team that you understand they are complex people navigating an especially messy time, chances are they will feel they belong and realize you’re all working through it together.

Consider diverse perspectives

Cultivating team connections in a hybrid environment isn’t easy. Each team member has a unique set of life experiences and emotions they are dealing with. Some are living alone and feeling isolated while others are caring for children and parents and feeling overwhelmed. Career stages plays a role too, as the Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index found that Gen Z workers “reported difficulties feeling engaged or excited about work, getting a word in during meetings, and bringing new ideas to the table.”

What team members need to be engaged can be very different for each employee depending on their home life, their mental health and their pre-COVID work experiences. Identifying the spectrum of needs across your team can help you create a slate of solutions that provide more options that resonate with more employees.

Stick together, even when it’s inconvenient

Meetings or events with some team members online and some in-person are tricky. It rapidly becomes easier for the two parties to split up. Going out for post-session drinks IRL (in real life) or staying on Zoom for digital drinks after the IRL feed is gone may feel natural but neither is inclusive. This division creates the fear of missing out (FOMO) and can lead to insecurity, disconnection and distrust.

Cumbersome as it may be, everyone should be included for as much of each gathering as possible. Consider having in-person attendees also sign in digitally so that every face is represented equally on screen. Again, it can be clumsy and strange, but being intentional about inclusivity will help you stick together when it would be a lot easier to drift apart.

Listen, and wait and listen some more

It can be hard to tell when someone is done speaking in person — it’s even more difficult on digital platforms where we lose key cognitive cues. Whether your meeting is digital or a digital/in person hybrid, waiting a moment after someone speaks is good practice to ensure they’ve completed their thought. Jumping in and walking away with the focus of the conversation may cause team members to feel unheard and disengage from participating altogether.

Also, ensure that digital participants are given the same access to speak as those who are present — otherwise, it’s easy for everyone in-person to have an unfair communication advantage, especially over someone who’s been left on speakerphone and may be completely forgotten.

Ask for ideas and keep asking

We’re all figuring out this new way of working together, and no one person will have all of the right answers. The more we turn to our team to see what they think, what they want to try, what they’ve learned, etc., the better our chances of finding options that work. Our team members have a rich fabric of experience and knowledge that a sole leader can’t acquire on their own.

Getting input from everyone else in the trenches with you can be an effective way to figure out what’s working, what’s not and what’s worth a shot. Those ideas will evolve with time as we all learn new solutions, so keep on asking, experimenting and asking again.