In many ways, remote work has been a godsend: Reduced or eliminated commute times (with environmentally beneficial consequences), flexible work schedules, the ability to juggle at-home responsibilities with work.
And so, businesses are looking at a compromise that gives them more oversight and control while providing the social engagement and flexibility that employees wants: hybrid work.
But as is slowly coming to light, that’s a terrifying prospect for some CEOs.
In a recent interview with TIME, GoFundMe CEO Tim Cadogan laid out the big question that’s plaguing C-suites: “What are the sort of clear three or four rules that you’ll have to adopt to make sure that everyone is an equal participant in the conversation?”
Equality. That’s the sticky part of hybrid work. Not equality of personhood — but parity of opportunity and voice. And that’s dependent on the communication mediums employees can use.
So let’s talk about it. Here are some follow-up questions that Cadogan didn’t ask but are worth spotlighting to help leaders navigate the hybrid environment:
Q: How do people engage differently in person vs. via digital media?
A: In short, non-verbal cues are often lost or confused in video conversations. As linguistics expert Jennifer Dormannotes advises, “Gestures have to be performed in a more exaggerated and obvious way [in digital media], since we cannot often rely on eye contact with delays in video calls.”
Q: What does it mean to be an equal participant in a mixed digital/in-person conversation?
A: There’s no easy answer here, but think about the dynamics of a meeting. In-person, side conversations are relatively easy. On video calls, they’re not. To avoid this, rules should be considered that push side conversations into widely visible chatrooms during video meetings.
Q: Many work-related conversations that advance projects and assignments happen ad hoc in hallways or breakrooms. How can these be open to both remote and in-office employees?
A: Use a ubiquitous (but secure) and easy chat tool like Slack with dedicated “hallway chat” channels to collect ad hoc thoughts and feedback. If you’re comfortable doing so, suggest that employees add this to their smartphones so they can add ideas on the fly. Also, encourage use of this channel as an engagement portal for the entire team, regardless of their location.
This is just a start, of course. There are no easy solutions, but Cadogan’s point is one many aren’t thinking about actively — and should be. Yes, hybrid work can offer a desirable balance of social engagement and flexibility, but how do you do so with balanced, equal communication across teams?