Training for a Hybrid Workplace?

Hybrid guru William Dodson offers guidance on today’s hybrid environments that encompass remote and in-person work and training.

How skilled and prepared are you and your co-workers for the “new normal” hybrid workplace? What are the challenges, and can we provide training programs to address them?

To obtain guidance, I interviewed William Dodson, GDI’s hybrid guru, whose book, “Virtually International,” was released in September (https://www.amazon.com/Virtually-International-Harness-Insights-Cultures/dp/1801171912/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1631031312&sr=8-1). Here are the highlights of the interview:

Q: Why is the hybrid workplace an important topic now?

A: Policies to address the pandemic have forced businesses and individuals to seek a new work/life balance. Hybrid business models are evolving to provide the greater flexibility workers are clamoring for in their quixotic personal lives and that business requires in meeting its objectives.

Q: How is a hybrid workplace different from an in-person or 100 percent virtual workplace?

A: A hybrid workplace seeks to find equilibrium between co-locating staff and providing the flexibility to discharge their work creatively and energetically.

Some hybrid models involve staff coming into a corporate office several times a week—typically, two to three days. Other companies are getting rid of their central office or scaling it down in favor of a distributed space model as Seattle-based sportswear maker REI did.

Hub-and-spoke models are also on the table. In such a model, operations people tend to work in the “hub” full time, while project-related staff meet when necessary at satellite offices spread around a city or seeded in other cities.

Q: What are some challenges, unseen danger zones, and risk factors of a hybrid workplace?

A: The greatest challenges in a hybrid business model involve syncing the expectations and activities of staff who work remotely with those who work shoulder-to-shoulder in a physical space.

On-site activities among remote team members can move out of sync with what “the office” is moving ahead on. The misalignment can cost teams time and money as they come back into alignment.

Alignment starts from the top: Management has to agree ahead of time on hybrid principles that guide the alignment between in-house and remote activities. For instance, one principle could be that snap meetings only occur under certain circumstances. Second, meetings have no more than a certain number of issues that will be discussed. Third, all meetings— especially videoconferences—are results oriented and set for durations of a certain number of minutes (usually less than one hour).

Q: What can a team leader do to improve meeting success when half the attendees are there in person and the others remote?

A: Optimally, the conference room should have a big screen—larger than a computer monitor—in order to see and engage with virtual participants.

In lieu of this kind of setup, every participant should have a laptop equipped with the software and hardware that will enable them to address virtual participants. A speaker device should be the sole source of audio from virtual users, to avoid the echo of several laptop speakers responding together. Test everything thoroughly before the meeting.

The agenda should be highly targeted with no more than a handful of issues that can reasonably be addressed in less than one hour. Rules should include:

  • One person speaks at a time.
  • People articulate clearly.
  • Ancillary topics not on the agenda should be addressed in a separate session.

Q: What recommendations do you have for those who have to deliver presentations and training to a hybrid audience?

A: Use a 60/40 rule of thumb in addressing your audience: 60 percent of your attention should go to the participants joining the session virtually, and 40 percent should go to those physically present. People rely heavily on facial expressions and body language in combination, both of which videoconferencing nearly eradicates for viewers.

Presentation slides and other collateral should be made available for remote attendees to view on their own screens. Make forms or exercises available in digital format so in-person and virtual participants can work together during breakout sessions.

Q: When you deliver training about working in a hybrid workplace, what topics do you cover?

A: Topics about hybrid and remote work include:

  • How to be a collaborator and not a boss
  • How to make differences in time zones be an ally for dispersed teams
  • How to synchronize asynchronous work efforts and results
  • Best practices for ongoing remote communications (including the roles of e-mail, collaboration tools, and social media applications)
  • Best practices for remote presentations
  • How to create a single team culture out of many national cultures
  • What standards work for hybrid organizations
  • Is a hybrid work model right for your organization and how to make the transition to best practices?
  • How to practice wellness in a remote setting and how managers can promote this
  • “How being your creative best” on hybrid teams can become a culture
  • How hybrid organizations can create innovation that best emulates co-located organizations
  • Business writing for hybrid and remote teams and organizations
  • Identifying inappropriate behavior in a remote-only and hybrid organizational context

If you have any questions for William Dodson or want to share any cases or best practices, e-mail me at: ngoodman@global-dynamics.com

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@global-dynamics.com. For more information, visit: http://www.global-dynamics.com.