You are currently viewing Hybrid Collaborative Working

Hybrid Collaborative Working

  • Post author:admin
  • Post category:Articles

Hybrid Collaborative Working

How Can We Optimise Hybrid Collaboration for Everyone?
Since the global COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have changed where we work and how we work. There are some important questions to answer as we consider hybrid working and reimagine what the future of collaboration might look like. Why do some people remain composed in the face of adversity, while others fall apart? People that can effectively navigate the highs and lows of life demonstrate the important trait of resilience; an ability to bounce back from challenges that life can throw at us.
The challenge of a hybrid approach is avoiding the very real danger of it becoming the worst of both worlds; a disruptive switching between routines that proves exhausting rather than engaging.
Remote work has enabled us to embrace flexibility, improving our productivity and wellbeing. Yet we know that collaboration, networking, learning, and team communication are improved by being face-to-face.
How do we combine the benefits of both domains for a successful hybrid model, balancing social connection and collaborative work with flexibility?
The secret is intent.
Leaders must not sleepwalk into hybrid work without a plan. It is critical to address some big questions and explore how the post-pandemic dynamics have changed our teams and organisations.

Approaching Hybrid Work with Intent

According to Thomas Heatherwick, who has worked with Google to redesign its post-pandemic workspaces, meaning should be the central focus of a return to the workplace.
After the ease of working at home, those returning to an office are asking “why should I be here?” It is easy to see how people could quickly become disillusioned if leaders have not thought through the answer to that question. Without a purposeful plan, people will return to the office only to do many of the tasks they could be doing remotely, e.g., attending video meetings, or working through emails.
We need to safeguard time together with our colleagues for the activities that really count. For example, the Microsoft 2022 Work Trend Index found that few organisations created the new cultural norms that will ensure a team’s time together is intentional. Only 28% of companies have created team agreements on hybrid work, and only 27% have addressed meeting etiquette to encourage inclusion and counteract disengagement.
Seeking the buy-in of colleagues in establishing these new norms of teamwork is critical. It is important not to make assumptions. After such a long period of remote work, returning to the office has brought its challenges. Not everyone is on the same page about the shift, and it is important we honour people’s feelings.
Many organisations have decreed a full-scale return to the office or announced hybrid arrangements with little input from workers. Indeed, the Microsoft study also found that 54% of managers feel that leadership at their organisation is out of touch with employee expectations. These expectations are far from clear cut however, with the research identifying a ‘hybrid paradox’, and people enjoying the flexibility of remote work whilst also wishing to return to more in-person work and collaboration.
Online Hybrid Collaboration

The Impact on Collaborative Relationships

The more we collaborate, the better we perform. Collaboration improves innovation and creativity, ensures shared purpose and values, promotes team stability and support, and is fundamental to learning. Ultimately, it builds stronger teams.
The jury is still out on the long-term impact that the increase in remote working has had on collaborative relationships. As social creatures, we humans know that face-to-face connections are powerful.
The more we collaborate, the better we perform.
Sandy Pentland’s work on ‘social physics’ shows that communication is the stand-out predictor of team success. There are some very specific communication patterns that result in successful teamwork. The research identifies face-to-face communication as being the most valuable in achieving this, due to the superior ‘energy’ of the connections.
Pentland points out that before we had language, we had signalling – signs of agreement or discord, tone, and body language. An email cannot convey ancient signalling, and, he says, whilst one-to-one video conferencing can contain a fair amount, “when you cut out the human context with signalling, you get a really impoverished communication.”

Rediscovering Serendipity

Whilst we are focusing on the intent behind hybrid arrangements, it is useful also to consider the unintentional consequences that happen when people are co-located in a work environment. The chance interactions of our pre-Covid office life were a victim of the shift to fully remote work. Spontaneous and serendipitous conversations, that took place in the queue for coffee, around the water cooler, or in a random corridor, simply don’t happen in the same way online.
Researchers at MIT have discovered that when people work remotely, relationships that encourage innovation and creativity are hindered. They found that ‘weak ties’ between colleagues declined abruptly when they were not together in-person. In a network, distant social connections who interact infrequently are a powerful source of ideas and information. Where strong network ties tend to share ideas where and when they ‘fit’, weak ties allow our less well-defined and ‘fuzzy’ ideas to travel further. This means they are more likely to connect with novel opportunities.
Without consciously planning for the way people work together in the age of hybrid, the small things that make teamwork successful risk being eroded – our hard-wired need for communication cues and signals; the connection that is vital for our team health; the serendipitous interactions that, whilst seemingly insignificant, are hugely important.

Planning for New Dynamics of Collaboration

Consider new norms that will enable your team to work together with intent:

  • Deeply reflect on the ways of working your team has adopted since remote work began. Are there any practices here that won’t serve you as you move forward to a hybrid model? How can hybrid working enable the team to reach its goals?

  • What are the compelling reasons to return to more in-person work? What work can be done most successfully face to face?

  • Consider how workplaces need to adapt to allow for collaborative work, networking, and learning experiences. Now is the time to reimagine physical office spaces and the role they play in fostering collaboration and connection.

  • In-person doesn’t have to mean in-office. Bear in mind places and events where people can come together to think, share ideas, debate, and collaborate.

  • Ensure that everyone, regardless of their location or working pattern, can contribute meaningfully to the team’s work. Consider the use of technology in allowing everyone to be seen and heard and be conscious of the way in which conversations and interactions are facilitated.

  • Keep an eye on wellbeing. The impact of remote working and the balance of work and home life has been different for everyone. A shift to hybrid can bring about further challenges.

  • Be conscious of the ‘hybrid paradox’ – appreciate people’s desire to retain flexibility in their roles, whilst also returning to collaborative in-person experiences. You’ll retain your best people whilst also attracting new talent if you can strike this balance.


The good news is that the perfect hybrid model doesn’t exist. There is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
In the spirit of being adaptable, embrace experimentation. Make it clear to people that this is a period of learning, in which – together –you’ll discover what works and, crucially, what doesn’t. The aim is to keep learning, gathering feedback, and adapting – and doing it together. With intent.
We all have a great opportunity to really dig beneath the surface level challenges and make some bold and purposeful plans for the future of how we work together.


Designing the Office of the Future: Building Serendipity, Wall Street Journal’s The Future of Everything podcast, May 2022:
The surprising secret of workplace creativity, Sandy Pentland’s interview on Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast, May 2017: