Post pandemic, your workplace could look quite different. Your company may be among those adopting a hybrid model, with some employees working remotely full time, others completely in the office, and many doing a bit of both.
More flexibility, however, can come with some downsides. Without the entire team simultaneously in the office, how do you retain or build connections? How do you avoid miscommunication and misunderstandings?
Staying connected in the new workplace is absolutely possible, but it requires more thoughtful planning than in the past, says Rebecca Weintraub, director of the master of communication management program at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Regardless of where you and your coworkers are physically located, use these five strategies to plan ahead and communicate effectively.
1. Be intentional with your messages.
We are all receiving and processing a lot of information, so it’s critical to make your communication as clear and seamless as possible, says Lindsey Caplan, a communication strategist and author of the forthcoming book “The Gathering Effect.”
To prevent colleagues from spending extra time—and brain power—attempting to decode your confusing communication, carefully consider the intended purpose of the message. Then craft it accordingly, right down to the subject line.
Caplan suggests using specific subject lines that summarize the key content and actions of your email, such as:
- An informative email might have the subject line: “Benefit open enrollment begins”
- An email requiring action might spell out: “Sign up for benefits this week”
2. Make informal conversations part of virtual meetings.
To save time and reduce Zoom fatigue, people often try to get in and out of virtual meetings. But incorporating informal conversations isn’t a waste of time; it helps boost the bonds among team members.
It also doesn’t have to take much time. Spend five minutes at the beginning of a meeting on informal discussions. Weintraub, who is co-author of the forthcoming book “InCredible Communication,” even suggests randomly assigning people to different breakout rooms for the first 15 minutes of a meeting. This gives people time to chat about anything, from personal lives to advice they might need.
3. Set up personal one-on-one meetings.
Another way to strengthen connections is to schedule individual coffee meetings, either in-person or virtual, with team members. Make this a meeting where you can discuss whatever you’d like, says Weintraub.
Need a conversation starter? Weintraub’s favorite question is: “What’s the best thing that happened _________ (today, this week, on this project)?”
4. Revert to a traditional workplace—for a day or two.
A top challenge in hybrid workplaces is not seeing everyone in person at the same time, which can hamper collaboration and team bonding.
Weintraub offers a simple fix: Pick one day a week, one week a month, or even one day a month—whatever works best for your organization—for everyone to be in the office. This is a great time to plan projects, toss around new ideas, and reconnect.
5. Accept the importance of good communication.
One of the biggest communication traps? We tend to dismiss communication altogether. “It only becomes noticeable when it isn’t there or has gone bad,” says Weintraub. “But by then, it is hard to get back on the right track.”
Communication requires as much attention as a company’s sales, marketing, and operations, says Weintraub. So all team members must be proactive and sharpen their communication skills.
At the same time, communicating well means knowing when to stop. Various surveys have found that remote employees are overwhelmed by the seemingly bottomless pit of emails and notifications. According to one 2021 survey of 1,000 US-based remote workers, almost a third said they’d leave their jobs because of being overwhelmed by emails and video calls.
Career expert Jill Jacinto encourages workers and managers to set work hours. Also, block off when you’re available to communicate or will check your inbox if you have that kind of flexibility with your schedule. That way, you have uninterrupted time for high-priority projects and perhaps even a lunch break away from a screen.
Being a proficient communicator is important for everyone, especially in today’s new workplace. As Weintraub notes, “I would argue, [it’s] a critical success factor for any job, any career, any role.”