Tactics to Build Community in a Hybrid World

Date: January 3, 2024

The WorkLife Office’s 2023 Conference “Adapting to the Evolving World of Work” featured a hot topic—“Building Community in a Hybrid World.” Angela T. Hall, JD, PhD, associate professor, School of Human Resources and Labor Relations and faculty excellence advocate, College of Social Science led off the discussion. She was followed by MSU Extension experts Kristi Evans, director of District 11 North and Anne Baker, learning and talent development specialist.  Hall, Evans and Baker shared tactics to build community in remote and hybrid workplaces. This article highlights some key points and tips shared during the conference. Look for a webinar March 7 to reprise the conference session. 

An opinion gap remains between employers and employees about remote and hybrid work, with employers preferring in person work and employees desiring remote and hybrid work. Fears about accountability is a primary reason for the difference of opinion.  Dr. Hall uses a lens of accountability to advocate for remote and hybrid working arrangements. Process accountability means being responsible for how things are done while outcome accountability means being answerable for the result. According to Dr. Hall, studies demonstrate that process accountability leads to higher ethical behavior and typically better outcomes when a good process is implemented and followed. Writing reports is a good example. Employees can follow an approved template (good process) to complete a report and make sure it is done on time. A supervisor doesn’t need to worry about any other details, like whether it was done during the workday or if it was completed at home or in the office. 

To encourage an accountable workplace, Dr. Hall recommends goal setting with colleagues at all levels, regular reviews of progress, and frequent feedback. Negotiating accountability is important to set boundaries and a realistic workload. Delegating and saying “no” are components of accountability that ensure high quality work and opportunities for stretch assignments for colleagues. Dr. Hall suggests that accountability can be used to create engagement by soliciting feedback, job crafting, co-working sessions (in-person or online), body-doubling, and budgeting time for social activities at work. 

While remote work became a reality for many people due to the pandemic, MSU Extension has operated its 82 local offices remotely for years. Local Extension offices now embrace hybrid work arrangements as well as traditional remote work. Kristi Evans and Anne Baker contend that leaders set the tone and are responsible for creating employee engagement. When teams are working remotely or hybrid, some best practices include keeping calendars updated, designating a drop-in hour (daily or weekly), and getting to know team members individually and as a group. Some tactics to get to know remote workers and to build trust include relying on past performance, trusting employees until they give you a reason not to, and allowing people to work as they like as long as deadlines and outcomes are met.  

To build confidence and understanding of teammates, Evans and Baker recommend checking in with employees twice a year on what motivates them to do their best work and having the whole team learn about individual members’ workstyles. Some tools for assessing work and communication styles are Real Colors, Sixteen Personalities, and the DISC assessment. Sharing individuals’ results with the team helps form relationships and positive work habits that allow everyone to succeed. 

Evans and Baker suggest having meetings virtually whenever possible and saving in person time for retreats, team building and small group work.  

They also warn against micromanaging which can reduce trust, encourage flexibility within guidelines, and being authentic. For them, authenticity includes accountability. Be yourself. If you mess up, admit it. Being authentic and accountable lays the foundation for strong remote and hybrid work relationships. Strong relationships are essential for building community in a hybrid world.