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I want to collaborate more effectively with my hybrid team members

When a team works together in person, collaboration is natural. They’re in the same environment and passing each other in the hallways, so talking about work and personal issues is normal. They connect as “whole people”. 

When team members are remote, the connection is usually just about work since that’s what they have in common. They don’t have the “watercooler talks” and other in-person connections, so natural conversations are often missing. Put both groups in a meeting (some in-person, some online), and the online group often feels like spectators to the “real” event. It’s easy for them to feel disconnected and for the in-person group to overlook their virtual colleagues. 

Whether you’re a formal leader or an individual contributor, you can build collaboration between both groups by 1) recognising different dynamics and 2) being intentional about creating a structure to bridge the gap: 

  • Assign both remote and local team members to the same projects, so they have opportunities to collaborate during the process. 
  • In virtual meetings, use the breakout feature to let groups of 3-4 connect for ten minutes around a “personal” question to get to know each other outside of work issues. 
  • Begin every 1-to-1 with a focus on their personal life before exploring work issues. 
  • Ask different team members to lead a discussion around an area of their expertise.  
  • Be intentional about asking quieter members (especially remote) for their ideas and input on a topic so that they can add value to the discussion. 
  • Schedule virtual “watercooler talks” once a month for non-work conversations (attendance optional). 
  • As a leader, get to know each team member as a person. Learn the names and activities of their family and friends, and check in regularly on what’s happening. 
  • Learn to listen deeply to understand a person’s concerns without jumping to a solution or giving advice.  
  • When someone comes to you with an issue, occasionally redirect them to a teammate who has expertise in that area (instead of always solving their problems). 
  • Demonstrate trust with your co-workers, whether local or remote. When trust is high, everything is easier. When trust is low, everything is harder.

Collaboration with hybrid teams doesn’t happen automatically. But being aware and making intentional choices can make effective collaboration a reality.