Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the global work-from-home experience has forced organisations to rethink traditional work arrangements. Majority of organisations today are planning to introduce hybrid work models in the post-pandemic world. According to a Gartner survey of 127 company leaders across multiple corporate functions, close to half (43%) indicated that flex time will be the new norm and 47% intending to let employees work remotely full time moving forward.

With hybrid working becoming normalised, organisations and employees are also adapting quickly. Work collaboration and video conferencing tools such as MS Teams and Slack play a major role in supporting the hybrid work model. Research from Flex+Strategy Group revealed that 60% of surveyed employees who have flexible work options feel they are “more productive and engaged”. Yet, while hybrid working seems to have taken off in the post-pandemic era, how do face-to-face time work in a hybrid work setting? Most importantly, how do leaders create hybrid team building moments?

Importance of workplace relationships

There is no denying that a hybrid work arrangement makes it different to maintain meaningful relationships with colleagues, let alone form new working relationships. When team interactions are reduced to weekly video calls and team chats, work can feel very much transactional. In fact, remote working has led to a 23% reduction in team collaboration according to research from Lucidspark. Junior team members often bear the brunt of these repercussions as they are unable to work as closely with their other senior colleagues and learn the valuable skills required to grow and excel within the roles or industry.

In a physical workplace, professional relationships grow organically as colleagues interact, observe and get to know their colleagues. When surrounded by people all day, every day, there is a lot of inspiration and new ideas that come from that environment. This helps to build a sense of camaraderie within the team, that is critical to the employees’ engagement and motivational levels.

Fostering relationships in hybrid workplaces

The hybrid workplace is a flexible workplace arrangement that empowers employees to work where and when they want. This means giving them the freedom to balance their time between office work and remote work. In order to build relationships in a hybrid workplace, this means creating team-building moments that happen in the office, remotely, and a mix of both.

Organising team building in office

Schedule collaboration time in office

There is really no substitution for face-to-face time. Having a hybrid workplace that encourages both in-office and remote work is crucial in optimising productivity levels. In fact, companies that promote collaboration and communication at work have been linked to reducing employee turnover rates by 50%. Employees also reported being more satisfied with their job when they are engaged in collaborative work. Creating a space for employees and teams to come together and collaborate will benefit both employees and the organisation. This can be done by deciding on specific days and times in which team members should come to the office or leaving it to the department manager to arrange the team’s in-office versus remote time. Leveraging on workplace management software tools can help teams to better manage in-office collaboration time by allowing them to book meeting rooms or desk spaces in advance.

Host occasional team lunches

Office lunches and break times are a huge catalyst for building workplace relationships. It creates an open space where employees can share about things that are unrelated to work. Scheduling fortnightly or monthly or in-person team lunches can keep employees engaged.

Hybrid forms of team building

Engage in regular check-ins

Department managers or anyone leading a team should make it a habit to schedule one-on-one check ins with each team member. This can be done in-person or virtually. Essentially, these meetings allow leaders to understand what each member is working on, the struggles that they may be facing, the support that managers and the organisation can provide and how they want to grow. After all, these managers are in the best position to make each employee feel respected and cared for.

Check in with each team member on their preferred day and timing and make it a recurring calendar invite. To maximise the outcomes of these check-in meetings, managers should have a meeting template or high level agenda to guide conversations.

Share feedback periodically on past work

Team building can be related to work. While no one likes their work to be critiqued on publicly, it can be beneficial to everyone if there are opportunities to learn from past projects and discuss ways to improve going forward. One way is to create lunchtime talks or learning events where a project lead or team members share his or her learnings on a particular project. It may be useful and collaborative to invite other team members to ask questions and share how they may approach the project differently.

Building digital community remotely

For employees who work remotely on a permanent basis, there are ways to build a digital community and culture. In addition to in-person opportunities, harnessing digital tools can help to create virtual opportunities that make everyone feel a part of the team.

Establish channels for shared interests

Within the organisation, employees are likely to have shared interests or hobbies with co-workers – be it a sports activity, music genre, or cooking passion. Perhaps set up dedicated digital channels in Slack or Teams to enable employees to find common ground regardless of their geographical location. Movies, cooking, books, podcasts, TV series. Create a space for employees to share and connect with other co-workers on the things and activities that they enjoy outside of work.

Show frequent recognition through awards

With a hybrid work model, employees may never see what other co-workers are working on or know when someone is particularly proud of a piece of work they have accomplished. Team awards can help with this. Whether it is shared weekly or monthly, teams can give made-up awards to celebrate co-workers’ accomplishments. These rewards could be something tangible, like a gift voucher for a local coffee shop or intangible, like a special title or a customised Zoom background.

There are many ways to foster team bonds and build a culture that works for all employees. Regardless of the methods employed, think about whether it is something that works well for all employees.

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