Promoting a sense of belonging within a hybrid culture

Over 75% of hybrid team managers say their main challenge is making strong connections with team members, so how should we encourage relationships beyond 'surface level' to create a sense of belonging?

As revealed in the latest global research from Insights Learning and Development, managers are feeling a lack of support in practical training and emotional intelligence within this new world of work, with one in five managers confirming that they struggle with feelings of loneliness.

How to bring the ‘watercooler moment’ back into the hybrid office

Fostering a culture of belonging and engagement in a hybrid environment

Keeping connected in a hybrid workforce

Other red flag areas include difficulty understanding team dynamics at ground level, lack of social connection and feeling disconnected.

On a positive note, 50% of managers say that hybrid has had a positive impact on team performance and agility, as well as delivering objectives and sharing ideas and suggestions.

So how can we ensure managers of hybrid teams aren’t forgotten about, deepen authentic relationships behind the screen and create a sense of belonging?

Find the right communication style

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, especially with hybrid teams working in multiple time zones. Our post-pandemic way of working is more dynamic than ever before therefore an emphasis on human skills, especially communication, is needed to be successful.

These skills will enable managers to respond positively to most situations, build positive productive relationships and co-operate effectively.

As our research says, managers would like to focus on effective communication (62%), ability to adapt to change (58%) and emotional intelligence (41%), all underlying characteristics of human skills.

For managers who like to make in-the-moment decisions, drive quickly to the result, and get things done, brief catch-ups to talk about progress really work.

For those managers who like to involve, inspire, talk things through and glean ideas, informal buzz sessions, in which team members are encouraged to talk through their work together to resolve tough issues, help managers to feel productive with a sense of fulfilment. This is to ensure each manager can get the most out of their communication style in a hybrid environment.

Encourage cross-team collaboration  

Our research says that 42% of managers believe it is harder to build relationships, and 29% even feel disconnected from remote colleagues.

Because of this, intentionally encourage cross-collaboration and interaction among managers from different teams and locations. Facilitate cross-functional projects, virtual team-building days and knowledge-sharing communications to foster a sense of connection.

It’s not going to be easy – to achieve a culture of belonging requires a concerted effort. Remember to be agile and assess your programme's effectiveness, seek team-member feedback and adapt your approach as needed to establish an inclusive hybrid environment.

At Insights, we have been encouraging our leaders to use the time they have at the home office to reach out to team members from other departments, share their topics and projects, and glean ideas from people who work in different disciplines.

Not only does this expand the horizon of the view of the leader, but it also increases the chance of a more sustainable outcome. The answers to our biggest challenges can be found in the teams that work around us!

Don’t overlook recognition

Almost one third (30%) of managers feel they have to prove their worth more when working from home, which is far more than employees in a non-management position (19%). Managers are not immune from insecurity which could easily lead to overworking and burnout.

Out of sight doesn’t mean managers should feel out of mind.

A good place to start is to build trust and encourage more openness and candour. Encourage a test, fail and learn methodology and positively acknowledge authenticity and vulnerability from your managers. Perfect is the enemy of progress; it’s better to aim to nurture a climate of mutual respect and positive regard within your managers and let the outcomes and results flow from there.

Ensure leaders set some dedicated time with their managers to discuss their workload and support required and thank them for their contribution face-to-face over Teams or Zoom.

A lead question could be: 'What is it you are learning about your team?' or 'What do you think I would do in this situation?'

Don’t forget other multiple channels that you can use to acknowledge positive behaviour and achievements, such as Teams, monthly internal newsletters or the intranet for example. At Insights we have colleague spotlight stories and legend awards celebrating those that go above and beyond, nominated by employees.

It’s the little things that count and all add up, cultivating a positive culture and a place where managers and their hybrid team members feel valued and appreciated.

Marcus Wylie is head of culture at Insights