For many organisations, hybrid working – a combination of time in the office and time at home – is here to stay. And considering the potential benefits around productivity and employee satisfaction it can seem like a win-win.
But (and there’s always a but) hybrid working can bring some negatives. Often these negatives are linked to effective communication. Understanding the behavioural science behind hybrid working, means you can communicate more effectively and keep your hybrid working, working.
So, let’s take a look at some behavioural-science-led insights to keep your team harmonious.
1. Actively build trust (because it won’t happen on its own)
Trust in a workplace is a powerful thing.
At the start of the pandemic, many people went from working in the office with people they knew and trusted, to working at home with those same people. But now, years later, people change jobs and join remote or hybrid teams without that initial in-office grounding.
Trust between remote-working colleagues is still possible, but research on trust, performance and the communication process in virtual teams found that one of the key components of that trust is ‘virtual copresence’.
Virtual copresence, in their words, is defined as the “subjective feeling of being together with others in a virtual environment”.
In the office, it’s easy to feel together – you look up and see your colleague at their desk. Simple.
In a working-from-home world, we lack those visual cues. And when you have an imminent deadline, but Gary still hasn’t responded to that message you sent nearly FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO – well, you start to doubt his commitment (even if, deep down, you know how unreasonable that is).
What you can do:
- Build regular communication into your routine – recency bias states that we give greater importance to more recent events. So, regularly make contact with your team to remind them that you are around and on hand to help.
- Have regular wider catch-ups – encourage everyone to share what they’re working on, if only to remind everyone else that they are indeed working on something.
- Recreate visual cues – we tend to notice prominent, striking things and ignore the humdrum: hence, salience bias. Bear this in mind when showing you’re at lunch or using your platform’s statuses to highlight when you’re doing deep, focussed work. Such things are easy to pick up on in an office. But when you’re working elsewhere? Not so much.
2. Managers need to avoid ‘proximity bias’
A pre-COVID study into home working found that home workers were 13% more productive, and 50% less likely to leave the company.
Increased loyalty and a big boost to productivity – surely a recipe for promotion?
In fact, home workers saw their promotion rate fall.
It might not be logical, but as humans, we tend to favour the familiar – and that includes with people.
After all, it’s easy to forget – and cast aspersions about – people you don’t see.
A 2022 Microsoft study reported that 49% of those managing hybrid teams found it hard to trust their teams “to do their best work” – and a striking 85% of leaders felt that hybrid working made it tough to be confident in employee’s productivity.
So, proximity bias can have serious negative consequences, such as overlooking the best employees in favour of those who live closest. And, coupled with other biases, it can lead to systemic issues around inclusion and diversity.
What you can do:
- Be aware of proximity bias – the first step is simply awareness. Once you know that proximity bias exists, you can start to watch out for signs of it in yourself and others.
- Focus on output and results – keep employee appraisals fair by focusing on objective measures that hold true regardless of where someone chooses to work.
- Get to know employees as people – take time to actively talk to each person you manage. Have a regular catch-up where you talk about everything, including (perhaps especially) non-work subjects so you relate to them as an individual.
3. Everyone needs to avoid confirmation bias
Another bias that can creep into hybrid working is confirmation bias: we seek out, prefer and remember information in a way that supports our beliefs.
It’s easy to forget that one of the benefits of the office is regular interaction with people who have different outlooks to you. You might chat with other people from across the company at the coffee machine, over lunch, as you’re both leaving for the night etc.
But, in a remote-working world, we tend to talk most (sometimes exclusively) to those whose work overlaps with our own.
Marketers talk to marketers. Salespeople talk to salespeople. Finance talk to finance.
This can lead to insular thinking and living in an ‘echo chamber’ – where, if not careful, you end up systematically distrusting all outside sources. Which, let’s face it, isn’t good.
What you can do:
- Encourage direct communication – often different teams collaborate through a middleperson – such as a project manager, or a line manager. Instead, encourage direct communication as much as possible, so chatting to other people feels natural.
- Facilitate cross-team chats – Set up time for employees from different teams to chat the way they would if they were in the office. Maybe set aside 30-minutes a week where everyone in the company gets randomly paired with someone else so they never know who they’ll be talking to next.
- Share your team’s work – work that might seem boring and everyday to you could be fascinating to someone who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of it, and helps them step outside their usual area, too.
4. Humanise your communication
We’re people, not robots. (For now, at least.)
We need positive interactions to guide us, keep us feeling happy, and keep us motivated to do great work. Indeed, a Deloitte study found that the top driver of workplace burnout was a lack of support or recognition from leadership. Counter this by communicating more – in a human way.
In the office, that happens organically. Most people would think nothing of chatting and joking with colleagues, asking what they got up to at the weekend and so on. But when working from home, it’s tempting to keep things work focused – especially when that to-do list isn’t getting any shorter.
Not only will these kinds of humanised interactions foster feelings of psychological connectedness – one of the key traits of more innovative and successful teams – they’ll also help you get a feel for how people are truly feeling, and areas they might need help in.
What you can do:
- Pick the most human method of communication – no one really wants to play the ‘two-hour meeting that could have been an email’ game, but try and use the most human method of communication as possible – a quick chat over video can cut so much back-and-forth compared with email.
- Use natural language with one another – we all have quirks when writing, but if you’re emailing a colleague and feel a ‘kind regards’ creeping in, maybe try something more conversational.
- Give some kind of context for meetings – As a manager you might think nothing of throwing an hour’s chat in someone’s diary at which you plan to share good news, but for some personality types the sudden appearance of an unexplained meeting can send their mind racing for what’s gone wrong.
5. Build a strong digital learning culture
These are some general tips for getting hybrid working to work for your organisation, but one specific area that we get asked about a lot is digital learning.
Learning online together can harmonise teams, boost confidence, have more engaged employees and generally be part of the scaffolding that supports a sturdy hybrid working environment.
If you want to find out more about this, and the part that behavioural science can play, take a look at our recent webinar on it.