How you can get the best out of your hybrid workforce with the right business communication tools
By David Meintjies, CEO at Telviva
Two years after COVID upended business as usual, most businesses are returning to some semblance of normal operation levels; however, the blended working model is still being developed to find a balance of what’s sustainable in the long term.
The balance between a person-to-person interface and a virtual interface is informed by the nature of the engagement. For example, iterative thinking is best serviced in person, whereas transactional work could do well in a virtual context. While there is a perception that the younger generation is most receptive to virtual engagements, it is this very group that is best serviced to work in-person to gain experience and maximise the learning opportunities that person-to-person engagements afford.
If one considers that 80% or more of communication is non-verbal, in-depth communication is best face-to-face; unless businesses can find a way to mitigate what’s lost when communication is not in person, they won’t achieve the same level of success as before, with critical and creative team interactions suffering most.
During virtual engagements, there is a risk that some employees will feel anonymous or disconnected, and this is particularly concerning to those who are targeting promotions and career growth, while younger employees could lose out on critical on-the-job training if this is not prioritised in a remote environment. Lastly, some employees risk falling into the trap of not participating fully in meetings or being distracted or disengaged. There were painful lessons learnt in the rush to remote working during the lockdowns.
However, if leaders are creative and employ the right tools, hybrid and remote working can be very successful. Successful hybrid working has some compelling benefits: it removes geography – time zone permitting – as an obstacle to acquiring and keeping talent; it provides the flexibility – especially around family – that attracts many people; if approached correctly it can boost productivity; with discipline, it provides a healthy work-life balance because of time saved from things such as daily commutes and travelling, all of which is good for mental wellness.
Embracing hybrid working requires a fearless mindset, tolerance and flexibility.
How can leaders ensure that virtual collaboration is effective and that everyone is participating and contributing?
Harvard graduate and award-winning social psychologist at the NYU Stern School of Business, Dolly Chugh, shared great advice on how to host inclusive online meetings in a Ted talk that formed part of the “How to be a better human” series. She spoke about how virtual meetings tend to become sub-optimal, not inclusive and favour the most extroverted, or those with power, disproportionately. Her recommendations to turn this around go a long way towards regaining what’s lost in virtual set-ups.
She includes tactics such as ensuring there is a facilitator, bringing in more diverse voices such as customers, taking the time to put names to faces and using preferred nicknames and pronouns, reading the room by making use of both anonymous and open polls and experimenting with using text messages at the same time as verbal cues to get more input.
In terms of practicality, she suggests making transcripts of calls readily available, as well as using real-time captions for those that may have difficulty hearing. She says smaller breakout sessions are handy in getting more involvement.
On non-verbal communication, she says: “Stay in gallery view to watch the group or pin a particular video to be visible throughout the meeting – I call it ‘zoom-watching'. Send someone a private chat and watch them read it. Tell a joke and watch how people react. Listen to an argument and watch people cringe. Observe the impact that code-switching demands place on colleagues who hold marginalised identities. Then, use what you notice to step in as an ally. Important: be curious, not creepy, in your staring.”
These are all great pieces of advice, but to ensure this happens as expected, a business must use the right tools for the job. While people refer to the “Zoom generation”, more often than not, businesses would do well to invest in fit-for-purpose collaboration tools. This starts by embracing a cloud strategy.
In 2016, Gartner made the claim that a “no-cloud policy” would soon be as unusual as a “no-internet policy”. The pandemic certainly made this a reality. By implementing cloud solutions, businesses can create new opportunities for efficiency and collaboration.
Businesses need to invest in purpose-built collaboration tools and these need to have synchronicity built into their DNA. Before, secure access to corporate systems was mostly serviced from head office, yet today this is increasingly moving to hyperscale data centres in the cloud. Storing data securely in the cloud is cost-effective, with a plethora of services to choose from.
Each business is unique and so choosing the right partner is vital. It’s advisable for businesses to seek out a partner with local presence and support, underpinned by a strong service dimension.
A collaboration tool should be designed to make the various arms of a business, and the staff within these arms, work in unison, and so businesses should look for a partner with a proven ability to facilitate effective integrations. It is crucial that collaboration tools and integrations work within the existing business model, and not that the business model needs to be changed and adapted to work with a technology solution.
Most people enjoy being around other people. There are times this won’t be possible, but preparation, mindset, good processes and the right tools make virtual collaboration successful and enjoyable.
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About David Meintjes, Chief Executive Officer at Telviva:
David Meintjes is a qualified Chartered Accountant who holds a master's degree in Business Management from the University of Johannesburg. He has been a key internet business player from the start of the industry, serving as FD, Commercial Director and CEO of UUNET SA, the first commercial ISP in South Africa in 1996. After serving as COO of software development company Korbitec Holdings, Meintjes became chairman of Connectnet and Connection Telecom. From January 2010, he took up an operational role in the business to support its rapid growth phase and changed the name to Telviva to support the company's international expansion.