I assume most of you have done laundry before and are aware of the lost sock phenomenon. A pair of socks goes in the washer and only one comes out of the dryer. How does this happen? Where do they go?!?! I even have a missing sock bin – where all the newly single socks go to wait for their long-lost pair to appear. While this practice might be a lost cause, missing pairs sometimes eventually find their way back together.
People who are part of a hybrid team have probably also experienced the same phenomenon. What was easy and natural in an office environment is missing and separate from the team.
While the remote environment isn’t new, the number of teams entering this work structure has seen a dramatic rise due to recent circumstances (such as Covid). Unfortunately, socks are quickly lost by people thinking that the only thing hybrid teams need in order to adapt is to replicate what worked well when they were 100% in person, and sprinkle in a new tool such as Teams or Zoom.
As more and more organizations adopt a hybrid approach, making this simplistic assumption will lead to failure. In reality, the many innate social and communicative benefits that we get from working in the office, and often take for granted, are obviously missing to those working from home.
The hybrid work environment is complex. It is likely going to take some experimenting with new practices to fulfill, complement, and enrich the ways of working, especially when it comes to social interaction, communication, and/or virtual collaboration.
Let’s take a look at these “missing socks” – where one sock is the behaviors and norms of the office environment and the other, the missing sock, is a hybrid team practice needed “match” and align the team!
When we all work together in an office, it is easy to observe what our colleagues are doing, we can empathize with the feelings that drive their actions, and we can even predict what behaviors might happen in certain situations. We implicitly know what normal behavior looks like.
However, when there are people on a team working from home, we need to make our behaviors more explicit. Taking this for granted can only lead to misunderstandings and mistrust. This is especially true for someone who has recently joined the team and doesn’t have any prior experience or knowledge of the team members to base their actions or relationships on.
Having to connect at the same time (synchronously) for everything is unproductive and exhausting. But there is another way… communicate on your own terms!
By communicating your needs, desires, status, etc. in a format that doesn’t require, or expect, an immediate response, teams can take control. Instead of waiting for or adjusting their work to a specific communication timeframe, people can increase their productivity by making information or their messages known and moving on to something else.
Also, asynchronous communication allows teams to enhance their concentration by avoiding constant interruptions, which in turn reduces errors and leads to better solutions. Allowing team members to decide when to review their messages and when to respond to them increases their ability to self-organize and manage their time. This is especially helpful to improve communication among colleagues in different time zones.
To use your time together intelligently, it is important to define and be clear on which situations will follow synchronous communication (rapid decision-making, conflict resolution) and when to rely on asynchronous communication (updates on our work, brainstorming, reading, reflections, comments, decisions, etc.).
By its very nature, hybrid teams don’t have the same opportunities for spontaneous conversation in the hallway or around the watercooler. While most of these conversations can be casual in nature, they can often reveal some important gaps and lead to important decisions. Most likely, there will never be a time when the entire team finds themselves in a virtual meeting by accident.
This makes it critical to plan time together.
Being intentional in designing and facilitating virtual relationships, along with promoting visibility of obscure information, ensures that everyone participates in the discussions and has access to the information they need.
This is not difficult to do. The only thing it might require is a little extra time (but time spent that will undoubtedly pay off). I recommend incorporating a little creativity into our daily interactions and maybe a dedicated channel so that, with a coffee in hand and our cameras turned on, you can still visually connect with each other and have a good conversation.
To date, hybrid teams have worked to reach their capacity by actively working 100% of the workday, similar to what is expected of those working in an office. That is, their performance has a lot to do with the time spent working and little to do with the results they produce.
This performance indicator, known as resource efficiency, prevents virtual teams from understanding the quality and value of the tasks they are performing.
So, let’s look for the missing sock: flow efficiency! By achieving flow efficiency, or focusing on tasks that maximize workflow capacity, hybrid teams will start to collaborate and focus on the customer’s needs. By focusing on workflow instead of on time spent working, teams can better understand if they are improving, visualize how much time they waste waiting for something from another colleague, and find ways to become more efficient.
More Hybrid Team Missing Socks?
While I think that these are the most common “missing socks”, it is also important for virtual teams to have a change in mindset… and, if we want to stick with the analogy – consider this the laundry basket. Everyone on the team needs to adjust their actions to be remote-first. This is especially important to those who are in the office. The remote portion of the team always needs to be included. It is better to overcommunicate so that they feel included rather than to assume they captured everything you did in-person.
Now is time to act. Otherwise, it is likely more socks will disappear that your hybrid team won’t be able to find, or even worse, the team will find another sock that isn’t the right match.
Find out what you’re missing, what you have, and start defining the best hybrid configuration for your teams.