Flexible work arrangements made necessary by Covid-19 have now become common place and will keep on characterizing the world of work in the foreseeable future. According to Google, 75% of survey respondents expect hybrid work to become a standard practice within their organization within the next three years.
But despite their preferences, many workers aren’t fully prepared for the challenges that working in a hybrid mode can bring. Along with the skills required by their specific jobs, to succeed in a hybrid workplace employees must learn to bridge the gap between home and the office, and to handle two work environments--virtual and in-person. Remaining equally engaged and efficient in both environments seems to be the hardest challenge to overcome. Effective and active communication is the single most important skill to acquire to tackle this challenge and thrive in a hybrid work environment.
Clarity in communication is paramount. Confusing communication channels is a recurrent issue in hybrid work environments. Employees must require and, in turn, ensure clarity on what the official communication modes are so that information is adequately circulated. In addition, learning how to speak and write efficiently is essential for sharing instructions, objectives, and progress, which is key to building and maintaining rapport with co-workers and managers. Lack of clarity often generates miscommunication, likely resulting in wasted time, frustration, and even deterioration of relationships. And while working hybrid usually involves a good deal of “alone work”, it doesn’t mean that an employee is no longer part of a team. This connects to another common challenge of hybrid work: staying engaged with the team. Maintaining open and flowing communication channels is the answer. The ability to effectively communicate thoughts, goals, and requests, along with being responsive, available, and accountable to colleagues, naturally fosters productive collaboration and team spirit, thus reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Effective communication feeds into yet another key skill: emotional intelligence. Communication doesn’t just involve speaking, but also—and most importantly—listening. By being attentive and sensitive listeners, we can refine our emotional intelligence, which is even more crucial when we interact virtually—as frequently happens in hybrid work. In these circumstances, we need to pay extra attention to our words, our tone, and how we’re coming across to others as non-verbal cues are not always available. Emotional intelligence increases our ability to understand colleagues’ strengths, weaknesses, feelings, difficulties, etc. This enhances mutual respect hence teamwork, making the workplace a more inclusive and enjoyable environment, whether we happen to work from home or in the office.
There are many other skills the successful hybrid worker may want to hone, but it’s interesting to observe that those most often cited, e.g., supportiveness, trust, leadership, could not be mastered without having first refined our ability to communicate efficiently.