A Hybrid Office Can Cause A Communication Gap For CIOs

Remote and in-office workers may not be speaking the same language
Remote and in-office workers may not be speaking the same language
Image Credit: Ajuntament Barcelona

As though CIOs didn’t have enough to worry about, now all of sudden they are going to be in charge of what is being called a “hybrid office”. What does this mean? A hybrid office occurs when some of your workers return to work in the office after the pandemic and some of them do not. You now have effectively two different classes of workers. How are you going go about handling this situation?

It’s All About Communication

More and more workers are quitting their IT jobs. What’s going on? One case in point had to do with a woman who quit her job after 11 years working for the same organization. Why did she leave? She said that it was the hybrid meetings that did her in. During the pandemic everyone was in the same boat – trying to work with kids screaming in the background or partners fighting with us over the one ‘good’ corner of the house to work. However, several months ago, most of each team has started coming back to the office.

A handful of workers have stayed remote. Since deciding to stay at home, this worker has noticed a growing communication divide between the in-office and remote people. What she saw was that during meetings, office people would direct their comments to each other instead of to their video screens. They would also tell inside jokes and forget to call on the remote people. Sometimes they would stand around at the end of the meeting laughing with each other; the remote people, of course, were stuck watching. Eventually this got so bad that this worker ended up quitting.

CIOs need to understand that the modern workforce is now standing at a crossroads, as some workers return to the office and others choose to stay home. This new hybrid workplace creates a host of challenges for CIOs, but one of the biggest is this: by virtue of being in person, the office people will have a much richer exposure to other worker’s behaviors at work than the remote people. They will have created a shared reality along with a shared language that simply isn’t available to people outside the office.

Solving The Remote Problem

What CIOs need to realize is that organizations that have kept employees connected during the pandemic have also tended to see their productivity increase. To understand why this has worked, it’s important to first know what face-to-face communication affords us that remote communication doesn’t. Consider that most communication that we exchange with other people is nonverbal, and it involves more than just our faces. Yes, our facial expressions and tone of voice drive the impressions we make of people at work, but so too do our body postures.

The big question for CIOs is whether hybrid workplaces have to be this way. Are there any strategies that can bridge the communications gap so that workers at home and in the office are speaking the same language, and have the same knowledge? It turns out that the answer is yes, but it will take a determined, concerted effort on the part of a CIO. It turns out that one solution is to use fewer screens. During remote meetings it is very difficult to gauge one-to-one communication between people. One of the easiest solutions to this problem is to make sure that workers share a frame when they are both in person. When holding hybrid meetings try to set up one camera that captures everyone in the room both their faces and bodies. By doing this everyone gets access to the same nonverbal exchanges between the people in the room.

CIOs need to create turn-taking rules. Formal rules during a meeting about turn-taking and calling on people aren’t usually needed for in-person communication. With hybrid meetings, these rules are often needed. CIOs need to have a designated person call on people, going around the real and virtual room, until everyone has had a chance to share. Additionally, CIOs need to kill the video meeting’s chat box. The reason for doing this is because the chat box has the potential to create more than one shared reality, as in-person and remote workers start to have separate sidebar conversations during group meetings.

You will need to give priority to in-person time for newcomers and independent workers. These are the two groups who may see the least value in coming to the office. These groups are the newcomers without friends at work and people who work independently. They are ironically the most at risk for losing out by staying home. Not only are these employees not as naturally integrated into social networks, but they also have fewer opportunities to showcase all of their “unseen” work to their bosses. The CIO needs to encourage newcomers and independent workers to spend time at the office. When they get there, don’t have them sit alone in a cubicle working; instead have them spend time networking.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs need to acknowledge that hybrid work is here to stay. Taking small steps like the ones that we have discussed, when done early and often, go a long way toward bridging the communications and knowledge gap between remote and at-home workers. A year from now, the thing that we don’t want to discover is that that we have two different languages being spoken at work. If we get to that point which would be where how well we work depends on where we work then we will know the hybrid experiment has failed. If this happens, then CIOs will have only ourselves to blame.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What do you think the best way to monitor how in-office and at home workers are communicating?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

A revolution is going on in the world of mobile communications. This revolution has a name: 5G. Every CIO has to be aware of this new technology because over time it’s going to work its way into just about everything that we do. However, we are still in the early days of 5G adoption. CIOs need to take the time to take a look at how early adopters are using this new technology so that we can start to get ideas about how we can use it.