Let’s admit it: Many businesses are struggling with finding a “next normal” for work—squeezed by the desire to maintain a traditional, in-office workplace on one side with an increasingly empowered workforce that demands freedom and flexibility on the other.
The response to remote work from some has been the classic “ignoring,” “shaming” and “regulating,” which is typical when innovation challenges the norm. Yet, despite the resistance, remote work is here to stay.
Companies that are finally catching up with reality and adopting a hybrid approach to their workforce should rapidly innovate to improve their communications strategy; otherwise, they may be in danger of stifling innovation, deteriorating their culture and losing touch with their employees.
In the world of hybrid work, communication is so critical to employee engagement and innovation—a topic I discussed in a LinkedIn post—that if companies don’t address it, it can create a single point of failure for organizational transformation. To survive in the era of an increasingly hybrid workforce, you should learn to engage in new ways. The principles below encourage information sharing and strengthen the conversations that drive innovation and ideas.
Address The Failure To Collaborate
I am often startled by how drastic the differences are between the level of innovation, creativity and investment that go into internal communications compared to external ones. Organizations often invest millions in customer awareness, listening and promotional channels. There’s an increasing desire to meet customers where they are—increasing brand awareness and engagement opportunities across different marketplaces. There are lessons here for internal communications teams, too. After all, your internal employee audience is just as critical as your external consumers, suppliers or investors are. Yet employees often end up short-changed when it comes to learning about what’s going on or sharing their perspectives.
The result could be employees who are disengaged from each other and your company’s mission, which can result in a lack of workforce-driven innovation and affect the exchange of ideas.
I believe hybrid companies are even more vulnerable to disengagement, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Meeting employees where they are, creating virtual collaboration spaces and communicating in a transparent and engaging way supports an open environment and culture where innovation is supported and can take root.
Don’t Over-Rely On Digital Tools
Innovation is not only about technology; it’s also about people and processes. Organizations often rely on the “flavor of the month” digital tools without innovating on their actual communications strategy, which means they may end up compounding the issue further. Insisting that your new hybrid culture adapts to the never-ending stream of communication platforms just papers over the cracks in the underlying processes that are often outdated. If you don’t innovate around the actual strategy, you could end up with crumbling foundations and a confused, disengaged workforce.
Instead, organizations should be focusing more on the basics—understanding the behaviors that drive awareness, transparency, curiosity and cross-organizational connection and relationship-building for all employees, regardless of their rank, department or location. Then, organizations can use digital tools to understand and share employee perspectives, which allows for the easy communication of company strategy and market updates, as well as fostering the exchange of innovative ideas and social connections and developing a shared culture of collaboration.
Build Virtual Communities
If there’s one thing that’s lost in the hybrid work setting, it’s those informal hallway conversations and elevator-pitch moments. While many will insist that there is no true substitute for “being there,” even the nay-sayers can do much more to foster more informal collaboration for a hybrid workforce. Consider the following:
• Focus on creating strong virtual communities of people regardless of rank and location.
• Create non-mandatory hangout times and social video conferences with a loose agenda. Allow time for informal discussions to develop.
• Build and gamify cross-functional ideation challenges and stretch-assignment marketplaces.
• Incentivize cross-functional sharing and collaboration.
Learn From Consumer Marketing
Just like consumers, employees each have preferences for how they will engage with your messaging and comms channels, especially in a hybrid environment.
By definition, a hybrid workforce involves many different types of employees—that means multiple locations, contexts and communications channels. Internal comms teams should shift away from blanket, all-hands comms and segment their employee audience in clearly defined ways. This method allows them to tailor the message to each specific audience, making it easier to capture attention and drive engagement.
Some will prefer to have communications pushed to them through email, some will want interactive content, and some will want to pull information from the intranet or watch a video. The trick is to provide multiple options for employees so they can choose how they consume information. Don’t fall into the thinking that one or two internal channels, including email, are enough—ask employees what works for them and invest appropriately.
Boost The Signal And Reduce The Noise
The problems of a low signal-to-noise ratio mean you must boost the signal and reduce the noise. That means focusing on what’s truly important. Internal comms teams shouldn’t send out messages “just because.” Instead, they need to adopt a rigorous prioritization process, reserving their comms channels for truly essential messaging. Insist that communication initiators justify the need for every potential message and get used to saying “no” to anything that’s not essential.
Embrace The Next Normal
Innovation never happens without experimentation and open communications.
Transitioning to a hybrid workforce model gives us a perfect opportunity to revisit and re-imagine how you did things in a traditional office environment.
Challenge your previous assumptions, explore new opportunities, and stay innovative. Open avenues of listening, communication and transparency will help you build a community where innovation thrives.