How to improve team participation in a hybrid workplace

BeRemote CEO shares five tips to boost employee engagement

How to improve team participation in a hybrid workplace

This article is provided by BeRemote.

Improving team participation is a constant challenge faced by professional teams – whether they are in person or remote. Teams can suffer from “domination by the few” where a few people control every meeting and effectively shape the team’s activity and direction. Getting quieter members to contribute and participate is a challenge when in person – and has additional barriers that need to be overcome when working in hybrid environments.

But why does this matter? Because simply put, when teams aren’t structured to ensure full participation, people don’t feel valued, they leave their positions prematurely, and company morale, as well as productivity, can take a big hit.

At BeRemote, we have been addressing the challenge of leveling the social playing field so that all members of a team feel inclined to participate. I’ve spent most of my career managing people through challenges in the workplace – which range from personality styles to culture to upbringing – and all have an impact on their participation.

Read more: How to design a hybrid workspace

Here are a few tactical ways companies can improve teamwork, participation, and trust so that they can ensure high performing teams.

  1. Equitable Voice

It is very common for teams to have “domination by a few” where a small number of people control the entire conversation. It’s common in these cases for managers to prefer engaging only with these more vocal members. Sometimes organizations will make assessments of value, commitment, and dedication based on these behaviors.

This is a problem that leads to some feeling even more of a reason to not engage – why bother if they are not on the manager’s star team anyway? The overlooked and underappreciated members of this team can become flight risks as they try to find a company, team and company culture that will be more conducive to being heard. The result is a social problem that directly correlates to lower productivity, quality, and customer focus, as well as a negative correlation to retention.

The team environment needs to be a safe zone where every member feels empowered to speak and contribute. Here are a few ways to improve participation:

  • Actively solicit questions
  • Provide multiple ways for employees to share their thoughts
  • Encourage dialog and discussion on comments
  • Learn about each other

Employees need to understand that information coming from the team is done in a very controlled fashion. On tradition in-person teams, folks rely on each other’s behaviors and trust to manage the flow of communication. In a hybrid world, the use of tools can make this information flow very freely and quickly. So, it is important to have mechanisms in place to ensure the team has some privacy for the conversations that take place. This helps promote a safe space to contribute.  

  1. Mix of Formal and Informal Engagement

In a normal office we see a mix of formal and informal conversations. In the remote world we see the informal conversations typically at the beginning of a live meeting as people are waiting for participants to join. There is a need in general for more interaction and more information flow. The formal communication usually happens through live meetings and followed up with formal (and often lengthy) emails to the team. The informal communication is restricted to the few unplanned moments between meetings and lunch, after work activities or carefully planned offsites.

Improving and increasing the informal communications and conversations is an important factor to improving trust and participation. These informal communications are the ways in which team members learn about each other. Once we learn about each other, we tend to gain empathy and appreciation – both are positive factors that lead to better trust and better team participation.

These conversations should happen throughout the day and not just during a planned offsite. The way to learn about teammates is through frequent and short story conversations. This is not about planning a lengthy and formal speech, but rather a short slideshow showing one piece of information about everyone on the team – but done frequently.

  1. Create Tasks That Require Participation

A commonly overlooked tactic for improving team participation is to create a task that requires the whole team to participate. Most managers are trained to host an event or offsite with planned activities. These certainly help but tend to be short lived in their effectiveness. Managers should find a way to do a “team” task every week. We want to make it a habit for the team members to help each other complete tasks.

Read more: How to prevent quiet quitting from infecting your company

Teams can have tasks that combine participation factors. For example, create a photo collection by requesting from each team member a picture of the last place they went on vacation or their favorite food or other “get to know you” topic. But don’t release the collection of photos until everyone has participated. The first try will take some reminders, but with repetition it will become easier. And the effect on each individual’s desire to participate is positive and powerful. These are tasks that should be done at least once per week.

Every manager needs to experiment with specific mechanisms to improve overall team participation.  There are many activities that will support the cause and desired outcomes. Remembering to keep the team information safe, finding methods to build trust and conduct activities that encourage contribution will build a solid foundation for improving team participation.

  1. Recognition

Recognizing an individual with a simple thank you has powerful impact on improving participation. At a human level, gaining appreciation is a form of validation in a social or professional setting. At the professional level a recognition culture produces an environment of positivity and collaboration by itself.  Teams who embrace saying “thank you” as part of their weekly routine will find that their conversation will change from punitive or disappointment statements to positive and productive statements.

One client told us that every team meeting now starts with people wanting to talk about recognitions first. Importantly, though, recognition needs to be authentic. Formal emails and presentations are great for big events. The smaller every day recognition should be done informally and in person if possible.  Employees will recognize the sincerity of these informal recognition.

  1. Frequent Check-ins

One-to-ones between a manager and employee are commonly used to evaluate how an employee is progressing. In positive environments, the manager will genuinely be focused on the employee as a person and not just as a worker while ensuring the work assigned is getting done. These meetings should happen bi-weekly or monthly. Finding a way to have a more frequent check in with an employee improves familiarity and connectedness and is an important aspect to improving participation.

Overall, every manager needs to experiment with specific mechanisms to improve team participation.  There are many activities that will support these desired outcomes. Remembering to keep the team information safe, finding methods to build trust and continue to conduct activities that encourage contribution will build a solid foundation to improving team participation.

Vivek Nigam is the founder and CEO of BeRemote, a Cheshire, CT-based tech firm.

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