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Creating Community in a Hybrid World: A New Leader Imperative

Hybrid Workforce January 17, 2022

As organizations shift to a more permanent hybrid work model, they risk creating two cultures – one that exists in real life and another that exists virtually. The result? Employees who work remotely may eventually develop a sense of isolation and search for ways to strengthen their sense of workplace community.

At AVI, we believe a big imperative for leaders in 2022 is to create connections among those who work remotely, i.e., the distributed workforce. Assuming you have remote workplace technology in place, the next natural question is: do you know how to use that technology to achieve your culture-focused goals?

Here are four of the big ideas we’ve been thinking about to get you started.

Tip #1: Be Inclusive

In its simplest form, meeting equality means people have the tools to participate fully in meetings and conversations no matter where they happen to be. Under this definition, tools including the right hardware and peripherals, secure remote access, video conferencing capability, file sharing, and messaging software are now essential to our work-from-anywhere world.

But meeting equality doesn’t stop there. It also means looking at your overall meeting practices to ensure you encourage everyone to contribute and be successful. For example, do you:

  • Facilitate conversations actively and consistently to allow for a variety of perspectives?
  • Look for opportunities to draw in less experienced or traditionally marginalized members of your team?
  • Provide an agenda or critical questions ahead of time so people who prefer processing time can formulate their thoughts?
  • Pay close attention to time zones to ensure you’re not always scheduling early, late, or during-lunch-hour meetings for team members in certain areas?

To build community among a hybrid workforce, find opportunities to reduce the isolation your employees may feel. Want more ideas? Members of the Forbes Communications Council share a treasure trove right here.

Tip #2: Be Intentional

A lot of the community building in an office setting was serendipitous. While we may have lost some of these moments, we can create others through thoughtful planning. For example, do you:

  • Look at your week and identify opportunities to create community?
  • Build connection time into your team meeting agendas?
  • Take time in your one-on-one meetings to sincerely ask how people are doing?
  • Encourage your team to stay connected with each other?

Don't make it complicated! Ask people to share highlights from their weekend activities, home project updates, or a podcast they think others would enjoy. The goal is to make community-building part of every team interaction intentionally.

Tip #3: Be Fluid

Although many of us have worked remotely or in a hybrid environment for many months, there’s still a great deal of testing and learning that's evolving how we work. So, if you try a community-building tactic that doesn’t resonate with your team, don’t give up.

Check in with your team, share your commitment, and ask for their ideas. Then, be willing to give new suggestions a try – even if they push your comfort envelope. Your team will appreciate that you’re committed enough to keep experimenting until you find the right formula.

Tip #4: Be a Connector

Perhaps one of the most significant areas where hybrid work has changed the game is building community beyond the people you work with daily. With no cafeteria or hallway introductions, how will someone in the Legal department get to know someone in Product Development or Finance?

This matters because when employees are well networked, they have more opportunities to learn and grow, even casually. This post from the World Economic Forum helps explain the critical role of social capital and how leaders support it.

It's the perfect time for you to take an active role in creating, supporting, and maintaining opportunities for your team to meet and network with people across the company. This not only strengthens the feelings of a community but also supports broader organizational goals.

Leveraging technology to build community

In the early days of the pandemic, it became immediately apparent how vital technology is to remote work. It's the hardware and software that enables employees to collaborate and complete day-to-day tasks. But just getting the work done isn’t enough anymore.

The next hurdle is leveraging technology to strengthen culture and community across the organization.

This is a career-shaping moment for the leaders who seize this opportunity. As this McKinsey article puts it: “It’s rare in a leader’s lifetime to have such a clean drop for reshaping how you run the place.”

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