Changing your workplace model to a hybrid team will trigger changes in your communication practices.
All team members should be competent and confident when it comes to communicating in respectful, effective ways. Explicit team norms will be crucial here. For example, team members should agree on the best uses of text, IM, email, phone, or video meetings as a rule. Jumping back and forth between digital platforms, email, and texts can be inefficient and frustrating to all parties.

Here are some questions to begin your discussion about communication and establishing a team agreement:

  • What information do we need to share? Where is it stored?
  • What is working currently with the team around communication that we should continue?
  • What do team members identify as challenges with communication?
  • How will/does working in a hybrid environment impact communication?
  • What tools are we going to use to communicate? (see Tools for Team Communication and Recommendation for Choosing the Right Tool below for more information.)
  • What are the expected response times? (see Create Guidance for Response Expectations below for more information.)
  • How do we know what each other are doing?
  • Do we need core hours?
  • How are we going to give each other feedback?
  • How will we show appreciation?
  • How do we deal with conflict?
  • Who has the authority to make decisions?
  • Does everyone have the same understanding of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’?
  • How do we measure success? (See Seek Feedback on Your Communication Agreements below for more information.)

Capture the essential ideas/themes from your discussion and use these to help identify areas to address in your team norms or agreement. The most critical piece is talking through everyone’s assumptions and documenting what decisions the team agrees on. Below is an example of how you might capture these agreements:

MediumPreferred Work PurposesPreferred Response Time
Email
Group chat
IM
In-person
Phone
Text
Video conference

Tools for Remote Team Communication:

Various communication tools can assist in building strong communication norms for hybrid teams.

  • Calendar tools
  • Cloud collaboration software
  • Email and chat (or other messaging apps that drive communication – TEAMS)
  • Project management tools (apps to organize shared projects, assign tasks, set deadlines, etc.)
  • Videoconferencing
  • Virtual hub (for company announcements, feedback, and a virtual “water cooler”)
  • Phone
  • Text
  • Other?

With so many tools available, it can be challenging to identify the ones that best fit your team’s needs. However, taking the time to do so will help your team in the long run, even if it requires some trial and error.

Recommendations for choosing the right tool for different types of communication:

Choosing a suitable medium for the right message can assist a hybrid team in having more meaningful conversations. The suggestions below are a place to start; your team should identify what works for them.

  • Use text messages, instant messaging, or chat:
    • when communication is short,
    • in the moment,
    • when you want a quick and easy response
  • Use email:
    • for long-form messages, such as explaining how a process works or outlining a project
    • for shorter forms of communication that do not need an immediate response
  • Use phone or video conferencing:
    • when the message is complex
    • requires interaction or an immediate response
    • if there is potential for an emotional element
    • if there is potential for conflict
    • for extensive brainstorming or collaboration

Create Guidance for Response Expectations:

Does this communication require a reply or acknowledgment? What are reasonable expectations for a response? Are there different expectations regarding the different platforms or mediums – is chat the same as email? Consider some of these questions as you begin to identify what platforms or methods you want to define for team communications.

  • Is the information urgent or time-sensitive?
  • Is the topic complex or emotionally charged?
  • Is there an opportunity for a written word to be misconstrued?
  • Do I need feedback?
  • Is this just an information push?

Seek Feedback on Your communication Agreements:

As you establish a new rhythm with your team around communication, it is essential to know what is working and what is not. Team members can become frustrated if the format is not helpful for the intended outcome. No one wants to feel like they are not heard or their time is wasted. Review your agreement regularly. It is a living document and should be adapted as the team evolves.
Make it easy for team members to provide feedback. You can ask general questions (topic, length, etc.), but also be sure to focus on the remote aspects. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Was it easy to log on to the call? Did you run into any issues?
  • Did you like using the chat within the video conferencing app, or would you prefer to keep all conversations in the team chat app?
  • Are the muting rules we have set helpful, or do you feel there are more/fewer situations where we should mute our audio?
  • Did you have any trouble knowing when it was your turn to talk or when it was a good time to speak up?
  • Did we need a meeting for this discussion?

Other Communication Tips:

Create a virtual water cooler:

The image of coworkers gathering around a water cooler is a metaphor for informal interactions where information is shared and social bonds are reinforced. Virtual team meetings can be very task-focused and absent of a more casual conversation. As a result, the team may experience a weakened sense of cohesion. A straightforward way to avoid this: start each meeting with a check-in, having each member discuss what they are doing, what is going well, and what is challenging. Or set aside 15-30 minutes during the week for the team to come together virtually to share informal, non-work-related conversations.

Considerations for synchronous vs. asynchronous communication:

To have the most effective communication in a hybrid team environment may require a reinvention or at least a redefinition of how the team uses synchronous and asynchronous communication strategies. Failing to find the appropriate means to communicate with team members often results in confusion, misalignment, and underperformance.

Benefits of synchronous communication:

Synchronous communication is any communication that happens in real-time between two or more people, with the expectation of receiving an immediate response. For hybrid teams, synchronous communication helps to build trust and camaraderie.

Having the option to do work and casually catch up in real-time can go a long way towards helping hybrid team members feel a connection to the rest of their team and department. Therefore, synchronous communication should be reserved for situations that benefit from either a humanizing factor or necessitate immediate responses.

Use synchronous communication:

  • To foster strong relationships between coworkers through celebrations, water cooler conversations, etc.
  • In one-on-one meetings when critical feedback or sensitive issues may be discussed. This allows for immediate follow-up questions and takes away the possibility for ambiguity.
  • For Brainstorming sessions for new projects and creating space for coworkers to bounce ideas off of one another in real-time.
  • When working on complex project planning.
  • For urgent matters or emergencies.

Benefits of asynchronous communication:

Asynchronous communication is any communication where there is a time lag between when the message is delivered and when the other person(s) received the information. For most hybrid teams, asynchronous communication is the ideal mode of transferring information. It allows all parties to take the time they need to process and respond to the data.

Using asynchronous methods of communication relieves the pressure of an immediate response and can lead to a more thought-out response.

Use asynchronous communication:

  • To allow the opportunity for team members to have more control over their focus time and fewer interruptions in their schedule.
  • To provide a living document that can be referenced at any time.
  • For opportunities for members to get work done when they feel most productive.
  • Provides a record of conversations and a more collaborative environment for long-term projects

Resources:

Four Ways You Could Finally Crack Remote Communication, Jessica Thiefels, Silicon Republic, July 2020

Create a Team Agreement For Your Remote Team, Lisette Sutherland, Collaboration Superpowers https://www.collaborationsuperpowers.com/42-how-to-create-a-team-agreement-for-your-remote-team/

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication Strategies, Katherine Boyarsky, Oct. 12, 2020, Owl Labs.