How to collaborate effectively in hybrid teams, and avoid collaboration/meeting overload

Collaboration is nothing new, but the global pandemic has forced many of us to adopt a hybrid working model. Hybrid working means that some members of a workforce usually work in the office, while others work remotely. For such a model to be effective, communication is key, so online meetings, emails, and other digital communications tools are central.

It is possible, however, for these communications to become overwhelming which can be detrimental to the task at hand.

Managing hybrid teams

For many people, collaboration nowadays means a stream of short meetings and tasks that reduce a worker’s focus on the main job. A conversation that once could have been a quick chat across a desk has become a series of emails or online meetings. The casual briefing by the water cooler now must fit into a busy schedule.

This kind of collaboration increasingly eats into people’s time with more online meetings being scheduled early in the morning and late into the evening. These new and constantly changing demands can take their toll, causing exhaustion and ill health among workers.

Even when we come out of the current pandemic, hybrid working will become part of the new normal, so anyone leading a hybrid team should consider the challenges posed by the hybrid workplace. Effective collaboration is one area where workers are experiencing difficulties adjusting. Tried and tested collaboration methods which worked in the traditional working environment are not appropriate for the hybrid way of working.

For example, in a traditional workplace, people don’t usually restrict their communications to members of their own team. When people share the same space, communication happens naturally regardless of their respective teams. Hybrid working, however, often means that such communication between different teams can diminish.

Avoid the “us and them” model

This breakdown can even happen within a single hybrid team where a sense of “us and them” can exist between remote and office workers. For instance, remote workers may feel that their office-based colleagues are held in higher regard than themselves, while conversely, the people in the office envy the perceived comforts enjoyed by the people who are doing remote hybrid work.

Far from being comfortable however, remote workers can fear that bosses and colleagues might question just how hard they are working. To demonstrate that they are not slacking, they may make a point of being responsive to all communications. This is risky because by being “always on”, workers can let their core work slip, with production suffering and employees getting stressed.

Managers can exacerbate this problem since they too are adjusting to a hybrid way of working which takes them beyond their comfort zone. Managers might, for instance, make it apparent that they prefer staff to work in the office. In meetings, they may side-line remote participants in favour of the ones who are physically present. Such behaviour can result in remote workers feeling undervalued and, consequently, less productive. To maintain effective collaboration and output in hybrid teams, managers should recognise the issues that hybrid working can generate and tackle them with an effective hybrid working strategy.

How L&D teams can facilitate efficient collaboration in hybrid teams

L&D teams can help in the development of a hybrid working strategy. For one thing, they can offer staff tips for hybrid working such as encouraging the implementation of calendar sharing. This reduces wasted time when arranging meetings. Meeting organisers don’t need to interrupt busy people to find out when they are available. In addition, workers can block out time on their calendars to let them focus on deep work.

It can also be worthwhile for those managing hybrid teams to introduce rules about responding to email. For instance, rather than staff feeling that they should reply to an email quickly, they only do so from 9 until 10 in the morning, then 12 till 1, and one more check towards the end of the day. A company-wide system like this reduces interruptions and can boost productivity.

The digital HQ

Tech is all-important in the hybrid way of working, and L&D can help promote the idea that the digital platform is the HQ. This is effectively where everyone in a hybrid team is “based”. It is where everyone should be working from and it’s the place where everyone can feel connected. For this reason, all meetings should be taken online. To some, it might seem odd that the group of staff who work together at the office are expected to participate in meetings digitally but doing so is a good hybrid working strategy as it places all delegates on an equal footing. If this is hard to implement, at the very least, the person leading the meeting should attend remotely as a means of minimising perceived bias. Virtual whiteboards that can be accessed by all participants should also be favoured over physical whiteboards or flipcharts.

Managers can encourage use of the digital platform by making it available for all sorts of things unrelated to work. Examples are casual chat, quizzes, team games, funnies, surveys, and so on. Not only does this show staff the platform is not just about work, but it also becomes a place where friendships can blossom across the organisation.

Motivating factors

Another way L&D can help is by encouraging workers to look at the things that trigger them into collaboration. Do they have a natural urge to help? Are they seeking a sense of fulfilment? Do they crave recognition for their accomplishments? On the other hand, perhaps they need to feel in control or have a fear of missing out. Whatever a person’s reason for collaborating, it is important that they firstly recognise when the motivating factor comes from themselves. Staff members need to ask themselves whether their presence at a meeting adds value to them or anyone else.

Managers who are leading hybrid teams can play a key role in this area. Some managers reward presentism and visibility. They encourage staff to attend meetings that aren’t relevant to them. Remote workers in particular feel the need to accept such invitations to demonstrate involvement. However, the result is that these staff waste time on pointless meetings when they could be doing deep work.

Managers can also help staff by reminding them to look after their well-being. Staff should feel that they are more than mere producers. Moreover, bosses should demonstrate that they value employee health as much as output.


Hybrid working will become second nature as we gain familiarity with the model and its tools. The less complex it is in the early stages, the greater the uptake will be. Therefore, anyone leading a hybrid team should make it simple to begin with and add elements gradually.

Most of us are still just getting to grips with hybrid working. We are exploring the pros and cons and working out how to maximise its potential while benefiting everyone. Those responsible for managing hybrid teams can help their valuable staff collaborate more efficiently by showing commitment to hybrid working.

Article writing by Bruce Barbour

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