Teamwork or Hard Work? Get 5 Steps Closer to a Collaborative Hybrid Office

May 23, 2023
Hybrid Work
Teamwork or Hard Work? Get 5 Steps Closer to a Collaborative Hybrid Office

TL;DR Article Summary

With increasing hybrid setups comes new challenges, and companies see that they need to rethink what a collaborative office space will look like for the future. Here’s a 5-step approach to fostering collaboration:

  • Define Collaboration Goals: Establish clear objectives and metrics for collaboration to guide team efforts effectively.
  • Prioritize Clear Communication: Leverage technology for seamless interaction, establish communication norms, and ensure equal participation for all employees.
  • Promote Inclusivity and Collaboration: Implement policies to ensure representation, participation, and information access across remote and in-office teams.
  • Balance Flexibility and Structure: Set clear work policies, design physical spaces to accommodate different work styles, and provide desk reservation systems for workspace flexibility.
  • Offer Training and Support: Provide training on hybrid workspace tools and remote work best practices to enhance team skills and productivity.

The call for increased collaboration and productivity is stoking the return-to-office movement. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy stated that “collaborating and inventing is easier and more effective when we’re in person” and “teams tend to be better connected to one another when they see each other in person more frequently.” 

And there is good evidence pointing to the need for face-to-face time. Virtual meetings seem to be less effective than in-person meetings, with 32% of hybrid employees indicating so in a Gallup meta-analysis, compared with 17% who say virtual meetings are more effective. And ‘Zoom fatigue’ continues to take its toll, affecting women and younger individuals more, according to a Stanford study.

“Collaborating and inventing is easier when we’re in person.” — Amazon CEO Andy Jassy

Employees are missing the camaraderie gained from working with colleagues in an office, and they’re looking to “connect in ways not possible remotely,” says Donna Venable, executive vice president of human resources for Ricoh North America.

Despite a desire for connection, employees would be hard-pressed to let go of their flexible work schedules. According to McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey, 87% of employees state they will choose flexible work when given the opportunity. A hybrid work model seems like the balance between what employers are calling for and what employees want, and high-growth companies seem to agree with that. Accenture’s Future of Work 2022 research found that 68% of high-growth companies have implemented hybrid work models.

With increasing hybrid setups comes new challenges, and companies see that they need to rethink what a collaborative office space will look like for the future.

What Is a Collaborative Workspace in a Hybrid Office?

A collaborative workspace is where employees can come together to collaborate on projects, exchange ideas, and work collectively towards a shared goal. The workspace in a hybrid office includes both the physical and virtual environments, as some employees work remotely and some in-office throughout the day. A successful hybrid work model aims to connect all employees—regardless of location—so there’s seamless collaboration and communication at all times during the workday.

What Does the Collaborative Workspace Look Like?

A collaborative workspace in a hybrid office will take into consideration the needs of both in-office and remote employees. Employees who are on-site can take advantage of being able to work together in a physical environment. They’ll need an office layout that’s conducive to effective collaboration, such as dedicated collaboration areas with comfortable seating and equipment like interactive displays to help teams better work together  in-person without distractions. Employers can look to implement hot desking in their office to optimize space usage and to ensure that employees have the workspace they need.

Remote employees do not have the advantage of working in-person, so it takes more planning and technological investments to include them in collaborative efforts. Collaboration in a hybrid office means both on-site and remote employees can connect and communicate with each other to work on projects that advance toward common goals. Organizations might leverage video conferencing platforms (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams) for employees to interact and talk with each other and digital workspaces (e.g., Miro) for both parties to edit the same project in real-time together. 

Challenges with Collaborative Workspace in a Hybrid Office

A hybrid work setup brings about its own set of unique challenges when it comes to creating a collaborative workspace. Since not all employees are in the office every day, finding ways for teams to collaborate effectively require more planning and forethought. Additionally, connecting in-office with remote employees requires additional equipment that organizations need in place for seamless collaboration. 

Here are 4 common challenges of creating a collaborative space:

1. Differences in work schedules.

The popularity of hybrid work for employees is the flexible work schedules, which the International Labor Organization (ILO) found can boost employee morale and have a positive effect on productivity. Flexibility, though, is also the challenge with a hybrid work model, as teams may not all be in the office together at the same time and can’t take advantage of in-person collaboration. The work schedule for those in the office may also differ from those working remotely, which poses a challenge when finding time to collaborate.

2. Unequal opportunities for collaboration.

Studies have shown that being face to face with another person leads to better fostering of relationships. Dr. Jeremy Bailenson, professor and founding director at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, explains that in-person interactions stimulate chemical reactions that speed up our ability to convey empathy, trust, and humor. Not only does face-to-face time lead to stronger relationships that improve collaboration, it’s also easier for employees in the office to collaborate more simply because of the nature of the situation. While a remote employee has to coordinate the logistics of meeting with colleagues through virtual means, in-office employees can simply pop in for a quick question or interact in more fluid means. 

“Hybrid models demand deeper thinking about social, organizational, and technological challenges. These ideas should be addressed at the C-Suite level with solutions that garner buy-in from every part of the organization.” — Prasad Setty, VP of Digital Work Experience with Google Workspace

3. Ineffective office layout for hybrid work.

Office layouts were designed for employees working in the office five days a week with their own assigned desks, so many of them are not conducive for collaboration in a hybrid work environment.

Many employees come into the office to work with colleagues instead of working independently, so office layouts must change to accommodate spaces where more people can collaborate in person. However, employees still need space to work with remote team members, so organizations must provide workspaces where employees can utilize video conferencing platforms while balancing the needs of their in-office teams. Implementing hot desking along with a space management software can be the solution to ensuring employees have access to the space that best fits their collaboration needs. 

Another common issue with office layouts today is noise levels. Employees find themselves having to talk over one another in an open office layout which causes frustration. And employees who need a quieter space to communicate with their remote coworkers may also run into trouble finding an area that works. Hybrid teams need the flexibility to move between different spaces based on their project and technological needs. Because people and equipment become more fluid in a hybrid workspace, organizations may run into issues like an inadequate number of desks, chairs, rooms, or equipment.

4. Inefficient use of time in the office.

Many employees prefer in-office days for collaboration and remote days for more focused work. When meeting schedules change, employees may find themselves in the office with no collaboration work to participate in, and instead may have to work on independent work in the office. An office workspace that isn’t set up for effective independent work (e.g., no quiet areas, lack of comfortable seating) can lead to a decrease in productivity. Employees may also find themselves going into the office just to sit in a string of virtual meetings, which takes away from the benefit of a physical location for in-person collaboration.

Effective collaboration in a hybrid work model is different from that in a traditional five-day in-office workweek. When employees are in the office only certain days of the week, collaborative time must be intentional and well coordinated for it to be effective. 

Here’s a 5 step approach to how organizations can foster hybrid office collaboration: 

Step 1: Define Collaboration Goals and Objectives

The key to productive collaboration is purpose. Organizations must set a clear purpose as to why employees are collaborating before implementing the how, when, and where. Determine what outcomes your organization wants to achieve, such as improved communication, increased productivity, or enhanced teamwork. What metrics will you use to measure success in these areas? Once you’ve determined your success metrics, ensure you communicate them effectively. Establishing clear expectations and guidelines will lay the foundation for the rest of your approach. 

When collaborating on a project, team leaders should define the project goals, deliverables, and expectations. This way, each team member understands what they’re working towards and what they need to accomplish. Leaders should also use these goals to guide meetings, which can lead to an overall increase in productivity, as inefficient meetings were reported to be the number one productivity disruptor, according to Microsoft’s 2023 Work Trend Index Annual Report. Provide your team with a roadmap and milestones to help guide their work and give them a clearer picture of their role in the team.

68% of high-growth companies have implemented hybrid work models, according to Accenture’s Future of Work 2022 research.

Step 2: Establish and Prioritize Clear Communication

Working in a remote environment has taught us that communicating clearly and often is essential, especially when we lose access to the spontaneous office drop-in or water cooler chat. In a hybrid work model, organizations should leverage technology for connection to identify and establish communication channels that allow seamless interaction between remote and in-office employees. Encourage employees to utilize tools like video conferencing platforms, instant messaging apps, project management software, and shared document repositories to accommodate diverse needs for communication. 

While a variety of communication channels is useful, organizations must also establish communication norms, including response times and preferred channels, to avoid confusion. Emphasize active listening and respectful communication no matter which channel employees use to collaborate. Acknowledge that remote employees will not have the same accessibility to collaboration as in-office employees. As such, organizations must ensure that remote and in-person workers have equal opportunities to contribute and be heard by establishing meeting norms and updating those as needed with employee feedback. 

"I operate most productively (and positively) when I'm able to ask for, and get, honest and quick feedback on projects I'm tackling. If I commit to asking my teammates for their insights on a task I'm working on, I know I can trust them to get back to me with feedback that produces better outcomes for all of us."
-Michael Howard, Skedda Product Owner (remote worker)

Step 3: Foster a Culture of Inclusivity and Collaboration

In a hybrid office, employees don’t always have equal access to collaboration opportunities due to work locations. Inequality can present themselves in the following three ways: 

  • Representation: In-office employees often have more face time and chances to interact and engage with colleagues and managers, leading to higher perceived engagement and strong relationship building. Organizations must implement policies and guidelines to ensure all employees can be seen, heard, and portrayed equally, whether off-site or on-site. 
  • Participation: Organizations must give all employees the ability to participate in collaborative efforts equally, regardless of location. To ensure that in-office employees do not take over conversations in meetings with remote employees, consider using meeting moderators who encourage the use of hand-raising features so no one dominates the conversation or interrupts. 
  • Information: Employees must have equal access to information regardless of where they work. That means new ideas that are generated must be made available to both in-office and remote employees on a timely basis to ensure collaboration. Leveraging shared document repositories like Google Drive and SharePoint will be helpful in ensuring a free flow of information that is key to better long-term thinking, creativity, and cooperation among teams.

Organizations must foster a culture of inclusivity by providing opportunities for employees to build relationships and bond with one another. When employees feel included and comfortable with their teams, they’re more likely to want to work together and produce better results. Consider implementing team-building activities like games, coffee breaks, or shared interest groups during your team’s in-office days to strengthen relationships and foster a sense of belonging.

According to McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey, 87% of employees state they will choose flexible work when given the opportunity.

Step 4: Find Balance Between Flexibility and Structure in a Hybrid Office Setup

The main selling point of a hybrid work model is the flexibility it provides for employees. However, flexibility can quickly become scheduling headaches if there is no agreed-upon structure or guidelines to follow. Organizations must implement work policies and guidelines that strike a balance between flexibility and in-office attendance. That might look like defining clear expectations (work hours, availability, and response times) for your hybrid team while taking into account the varying schedules and preferences of remote and in-office employees. Set clear communication guidelines so everyone stays informed and consider using on-site days for collaborative projects while reserving off-site days for deep focus work.

Additionally, the physical office must also accommodate the flexibility and structure inherent in hybrid work models. Organizations can maximize employee productivity and encourage collaboration by designing spaces that work for both. Provide a range of work settings, including open collaboration spaces, individual workstations, and quiet zones, for the range of work styles your employees have. If desks and spaces are limited, leverage a desk reservation system so employees know they will have a place to work that caters toward their specific needs at the moment. 

Step 5: Provide Training and Support

Collaborating in a hybrid office means implementing technology that your employees may need support navigating. Organizations can offer training sessions on using hybrid workspace tools effectively and provide ongoing technical support to address any issues employees may face with the technology or communication platforms used for collaboration.

Additionally, the facilitation of group work in a hybrid environment differs from working together fully in person. Offer training sessions on remote work best practices and strategies for managing virtual meetings and projects to ensure that time together is used for quality collaborative work. As technology evolves, companies must help team members enhance their skills and stay updated with emerging technologies and trends.

Collaborating in a Dynamic Workspace

A hybrid work model is the work dynamic of the future, with 74% of U.S. companies using or planning to implement a permanent hybrid work model, according to Zippia. Additionally, Accenture found that 74% of Gen Zers want more opportunities to collaborate with colleagues face to face. 

Source: Zippia

To keep up with changes in the workplace and ensure they attract the next generation of talent, organizations must seek to create an inclusive and productive environment that supports effective collaboration among team members, regardless of their physical location. As hybrid work becomes the future of work, organizations will have to leverage technology, physical spaces, and a supportive culture to foster teamwork, creativity, and shared success.

For tips on how to make your hybrid workplace more accessible, read How to Improve Your Hybrid Office in 2023. If you’re ready to start scheduling and booking desks and rooms, create your free Skedda account today.

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