How to improve collaboration in hybrid workforce

12 October 2021

Collaboration in the workplace at its most basic is where two or more people work together to create or produce something. All industries are reliant on successful collaboration to tackle everything from developing a new product or service to major initiatives like an acquisition or overhaul of software systems. Building teams to work together is the only way businesses can access the breadth of knowledge and abilities required to execute complex tasks critical to success.   


Research by Harvard Business Review in 2007 showed that as the size of teams increased, so did the challenges associated with getting work done. Pre-pandemic larger teams, particularly in multi-national businesses, often worked remotely and had to overcome the kind of challenges more businesses will face as a large proportion of the working world transitions into hybrid working. 

Considering many businesses reported greater productivity during the pandemic as office distractions were removed and employees could work more flexibly, it is easy to wonder what is the point of the traditional office? And how does an office setting influence collaboration and teamwork?

Being in a traditional office setting doesn’t necessarily impact the actual deliverables in many instances. It does help with the critical path to getting there. Working collectively from the same space allows for:

This takes place in several ways in a traditional office setting. Informal discussions between colleagues about the projects they are working for can be as beneficial as more formal brainstorming sessions or mentorship. The spontaneous interactions can allow people who may not be working on the same team to offer outside perspectives or suggestions that those close to a project may not have considered. 
Depending on an employee's living situation, they may face additional distraction while at home from children, pets or housemates. Not all employees will have a dedicated work space and may not be able to accommodate the specialised equipment they have access to in the office. From this perspective, having a focused workspace is often beneficial. 
Working together in the same space creates a purpose driven atmosphere and a sense of community. If extra effort is required to meet a deadline the collaborative nature of the office environment is often helpful.

In many instances the characters that determine a large team’s success no matter where they are located, are also the characters that can undermine it.   Research by Harvard Business Review on larger teams working on complex projects showed the bigger the team, the less likely they were to:

  • Share knowledge: 
  • Learn from one another
  • Shift workloads
  • Share resource


This is further complicated when teams are not in the same physical location. Studies of hybrid employees have shown it can lead to:

Although communication between individual team members can improve when working in a hybrid environment, a study by Microsoft showed inter-team communication can reduce. Resulting in the risk of siloing or the isolation of teams and the negative impact on innovation that can have.  


This applies to managers too, there must be a concerted effort to avoid ‘proximity bias’, favouring certain team members due to their location. Is there a preference for in-office work? Do remote workers feel their in-office counterparts are more appreciated? Are remote workers offered the same opportunity to contribute in meetings as their in-office counterparts?
Colleagues are less likely to see each other in a hybrid setting. This means almost all interactions are scheduled. Planned interactions rarely have the level of intimacy of those that happen naturally in an office setting. This makes it more difficult for friendships to develop. Although team members can work effectively without being friends, teams with stronger connections are likely to work better together and produce greater output.
Now we understand some of the collaboration challenges businesses may face in a hybrid workplace, how do businesses mitigate them? Fortunately, there are a number of ways knowledge based businesses can assist their workforce in working together successfully no matter where they are located:

1. Leadership training and support

Managing a hybrid workplace is likely to require a different set of skills to managing people working entirely remotely or from the office. Leadership needs to be flexible and implement processes and procedures that will support and strengthen employees no matter where they are located. Just some of the areas management training for the hybrid workplace should cover include:

• Avoiding proximity bias so no cohort feels they are being treated unfairly

• Active listening so managers can lead with empathy and understand each individual’s situation

• Flexible return to the office so that employees feel safe and comfortable after such a protracted time away


2. Ensure you have the right software and equipment

If employees don’t have access to the right software and equipment while working from home, it can very quickly leave them feeling left behind. Try to support your employee as much as possible in developing a workstation at home that is somewhat similar to an office setting. Particularly if hybrid working is not optional. 

3. Chart and invest in all forms of collaboration equally

Hybrid working offers employees a wealth of choices when it comes to how they work. A study by Garner showed there were four work modules that employers must invest equally in to see collaborative success in the hybrid workplace:

• Working together, together: teams are in the same place and contributing to meetings in the same space.

• Working alone, together: teams are in the same space but not working at the same time.

• Working together, apart: teams are working from different locations but are working together virtually.

• Working alone, apart: teams are working from different locations but are conducting deep focus work.

Depending on the task at hand an employee in a hybrid workplace is likely to have a preferred option. For example, they may wish to work from home for focus work and in the office for collaborative work. Or be able to access meetings remotely if they have a day that will be a hybrid of both. 


4. Incorporate social opportunities while working remotely

As mentioned earlier, social opportunities are important for the success of collaboration in the hybrid workplace. This becomes difficult when employees are hybrid working. They may work to different schedules or some may work from home more often than others. Like many elements of hybrid working, the HR departments will have to be intentional about helping their workforce to find social opportunities. Some popular methods of improving social interaction include:

  • Coffee roulette: employees volunteer to be paired up for a virtual coffee break. This mimics the sort of unplanned interaction that happens in an office setting, for example speaking to a colleague while getting a coffee or tea.
  • Friday afternoon social: create an opt-in meeting that people can choose to join whether they are in the office or at home, to chat to friends and colleagues informally. They can use virtual rooms to create smaller groups or update each other in a group setting.
  • Make time for fun: missing after work socials? Recreate the fun with a performance by a virtual entertainer.
  • Celebrate special events: encourage employees to celebrate holidays or events with enthusiasm, particularly if they offer an opportunity to dress up or try different food. Allowing our playful side show at work helps us to build better relationships no matter where we are located.


Hybrid working environments can provide new ways for employees to collaborate, but employers must intentionally create these opportunities initially. In time, we all hope they will become second nature. 

If you are managing a hybrid workforce working across the world, our international health insurance group plans may help you to provide the support they need while transitioning into the new world of work.