What happens to work culture when we can’t pop by to ask a quick question?

There’s been a lot of talk lately (and rightly so) about virtual and hybrid teams. What do you think? Are they just a temporary workaround? Or are they here for the long haul? I think they’re probably here to stay for a while.

But the real question is…what happens to the way we work, AKA team culture, when we…

…can’t drop by Claire’s office to have a chat about how a meeting went

…don’t run into Tom in the kitchen to iron out a communication glitch

…can’t tap Priya on the shoulder to quickly reality check a decision?

It’s much more difficult to communicate when we’re all gathering virtually. Interactions tend to be more formal, and perceptions harder to manage when we’re not in the same room. 

We don’t get the chance to unpack: how did you go? What did you think? 

In other words, it’s hard. 

So how do we embed the benefits of that office interaction, of the informal encounters, into the way we work in hybrid teams?

Let me tell you what a leader I worked with recently did.

First of all, he acknowledged that this way of working was new to him (and to everyone else for that matter). But he still wanted to know how things were going and made himself available to his team —  pick up the phone and let’s chat, he told them, not just once, but he kept reiterating it. 

More importantly, he also acknowledged how it might not be so easy to transition from putting your head around the door to ask a question, to actively picking up the phone and doing the same thing. So he modeled this new way of checking in by picking up the phone himself to chat to everyone in his team frequently. 

This worked because a leader needs to set the direction of the work culture. Needs to lead it. He showed his team — and invited them to participate in — a new way of working together.

Positive reinforcement is also key — giving people feedback and recognising their contribution in supporting the culture sends strong signals about what you value. 

We talked about how we wanted to be more collaborative. You’ve all just put that into practice in the way you set up working on this project together. That’s fantastic!

And I want to add another thing that I’ve seen work well in the teams I work with: surveying. Wait, don’t go yet. I know surveying doesn’t always bring up the best reactions. But it doesn’t have to be too formal. Just a monthly two-three questions:

  • How are you going?
  • What’s currently working well for you?
  • What’s not and how do you think we could do better?

For some staff it can be an anonymous way to reflect and openly share their work experience. And for leaders, it’s a bit like a barometer of where team culture is at, especially when you don’t see your team at the weekly or monthly meeting in the office. Give it a go.

So, I urge you to keep communicating. But not just talking. Keep listening to what’s really going on in the team.

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