The age of traditional offices as the sole work setting is long gone, and a new era of hybrid and remote work is here to stay. But here’s the stark reality: managers are faltering in this new landscape, primarily when it comes to communication. According to a recent report by FlexOS, employees gave their managers a mediocre 7 out of 10 – in other words, a C – on effectively managing hybrid and remote teams. Worse, 30% are frustrated by unclear communication from their bosses. Moreover, according to a survey by Fishbowl, just half of all professionals understand their company’s hybrid work plan, indicating very poor communication about this critical topic.
In turn, a peer-reviewed paper published in Nature Human Behavior found that remote work creates a more siloed communication environment. The researchers point out that this environment, if not addressed effectively through communication best practices, makes it harder for employees to get and share new information across the network. And another peer-reviewed research study, in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology, highlighted how hybrid work contributes to social isolation for recent hires, with effective management playing the key role of addressing such isolation and improving engagement.
These aren’t just data points; they’re a resounding call to action. So, how can managers be excellent communicators in this novel hybrid or remote work environment?
The Epidemic of Unclear Communication
When nearly one-third of employees claim that they’re struggling with vague instructions and elusive guidance, per the FlexOs report, we’re not just looking at a problem; we’re staring down an epidemic. The issue is even more acute for in-office employees who might be operating under the misconception that physical proximity equals clarity. Sadly, it doesn’t.
To illustrate the gravity of this issue, let’s walk through a commonplace scenario: it’s based on a typical story I hear from employees in running focus groups when consulting for client companies in helping them figure out their hybrid work models.
Picture this: you’re immersed in a project, and an email from your manager pops up stating, “Let’s focus on making it visually appealing.” Energized, you dive into graphic design, carefully selecting fonts, colors, and layouts to create an engaging experience for the end-user. Just as you’re putting the finishing touches on your visual masterpiece, a second email appears, bluntly stating, “The content needs to be our priority.” So what do you do now? The absence of clear managerial guidance leaves you wading through a quagmire of confusion, affecting not just your productivity but also your morale.
That’s a typical example of a larger epidemic, impacting workers in the office and working from home alike. The zigzag of managerial messaging robs teams of their focus, diluting the overall quality of the output. It’s high time managers realized that clear, consistent communication isn’t an option; it’s an imperative. It’s the antidote to this epidemic of confusion that impedes both individual and collective progress.
The “Availability Gap” for Remote Workers
According to FlexOS, remote workers are 36% less likely than their in-office counterparts to feel that their managers are accessible or effective in building connections. That’s not just a gap; it’s a chasm that erodes trust and undermines productivity.
Let’s put a face on this statistic. Meet Sarah, a diligent remote employee – not her real name, but someone who shared her story in one of my focus groups. She has been trying for weeks to secure some face-time—virtual or otherwise—with her manager. Her emails, laden with urgency, either vanish into the digital ether or elicit maddeningly vague responses like, “We’ll talk soon.” The implication is clear: the manager’s availability is a finite resource, and Sarah is not a priority.
The consequences of this managerial neglect are far-reaching. Sarah starts to feel more like a satellite orbiting the corporate world than a valuable part of it. Her engagement wanes; her enthusiasm for projects diminishes. Questions she had for her manager go unanswered, stalling her progress. Ideas she wanted to discuss are shelved, stifling her creativity and potentially depriving the team of valuable insights.
The absence of managerial accessibility trickles down, creating ripples of inefficiency and dissatisfaction across the team. Sarah’s teammates notice her reduced engagement. They begin to question their own standing within the team and the organization. If a manager can’t make time for a one-on-one meeting with a team member, what does that say about their commitment to the team’s overall well-being and success?
Moreover, the lack of availability isn’t just a personal issue for Sarah. It sets a precedent, inadvertently signaling to the entire remote workforce that they are second-class citizens in the organizational hierarchy. That kind of environment is not just toxic; it’s untenable for any enterprise striving to be successful in the modern, hybrid work landscape.
Managers, let this serve as a wake-up call. Bridging this availability gap isn’t an act of benevolence; it’s a strategic imperative. Whether your team members are down the hall or across the globe, they need your time, your attention, and your guidance. Fail to provide these basic elements, and you’re not just failing individual employees—you’re failing your entire team.
Strategic Solutions for Improved Communication
Enough about the problems—let’s talk about solutions. It’s time for managers to revamp their communication styles and adapt to the changing realities of hybrid and remote work.
Managers need to engage with their teams to discuss and align the optimal use of various communication platforms. While email may be suited for formal correspondence and long-term directives, instant messaging apps like MS Teams can handle immediate needs and quick clarifications. Knowing which tool to use when can significantly reduce communication friction.
Consider creating a “Clarity Canvas,” a document shared among team members that succinctly outlines project goals, individual responsibilities, and key deadlines. This will serve as a touchstone for everyone, averting confusion and minimizing back-and-forths.
On a related note, making sure every team member—remote or in-office—can easily access all communications is non-negotiable. Keep meticulous records of decisions made, meeting minutes, and project statuses in a centralized digital location accessible to all. This repository serves as a “single source of truth,” preempting misunderstandings, and aligns with the Clarity Canvas.
Managers should establish dedicated “office hours” for all employees—remote and in-office. During this time, managers should be readily accessible via chat, phone, or video call to discuss any concerns or questions, making it easier to foster connections.
Specifying certain days and hours for collaborative work can concentrate team effort and bolster productivity. For instance, consider making Tuesdays from 10 AM to 4 PM “Collaboration Time.” During these hours, team members should focus on brainstorming, discussions, and cooperative tasks, ideally in a physical office environment. The use of headphones and solitary activities should be minimal to foster open conversations and incidental creativity.
A team that plays together stays together. Organizing monthly team-building activities can forge stronger bonds and a more cohesive team culture. While in-person activities often yield higher emotional engagement, virtual events can also be effective, especially for entirely remote teams.
Initiate this process by conducting an anonymous survey to gauge what activities resonate with your team. Follow this up with a team discussion to interpret the survey results, aiming to balance varied preferences. Once the plan is in motion, don’t forget to measure its effectiveness and encourage feedback. Fine-tune the approach each quarter, keeping it ever-responsive to the team’s evolving needs.
These findings aren’t just a wake-up call; it’s an opportunity. Managers, you have the chance to redefine your role as a communicator in this hybrid and remote landscape. Don’t shy away from leveraging new technologies that can bridge the “availability gap” and bring your team closer, both emotionally and operationally. Communication is not just a soft skill; it’s the linchpin of effective management in the age of hybrid and remote work. So, seize the day, elevate your communication game, and watch your team’s productivity and satisfaction soar.
Key Take-AwayClear, consistent communication is imperative in the era of remote and hybrid work. The epidemic of unclear instructions and the "availability gap" for remote workers highlight the urgent need for managers to prioritize accessibility, fostering… Click To Tweet
Image credit: RDNE Stock project/pexels
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.