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Boost your collaboration to become a top remote and hybrid working team

Simple collaborative practices can ensure connectedness doesn't suffer under remote and hybrid working.

Simple collaborative practices can ensure connectedness doesn't suffer under remote and hybrid working. Image: Sigmund/Unsplash

Keith E. Ferrazzi
Founder and Chairman, Ferrazzi Greenlight
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Future of Work

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  • Most organizations are yet to fully exploit the possibilities of remote and hybrid working.
  • A survey of 2,000 executives and thought-leaders reveals the working practices that super-charge collaboration in remote and hybrid teams.
  • Remote and hybrid working teams do not necessarily suffer a loss of group connectedness.
  • Designing teams with asynchronous work in mind can maximize collaboration.

We've just gone through one of the most massive inflection points in how we work – but missed the opportunity to reinvent something that's broken. Incredible changes have developed in recent decades: increasing volatility in the marketplace, massive shifts in employee sentiment and their relationship with the office, and breakthrough technologies allowing us to fundamentally change how we work. And yet we have continued to work in basically the same fashion as we always have, applying solutions that no longer correlate with the problems we face.

In 2010, we published a series of articles in Harvard Business Review called “What are the new people rules in a virtual world”, inspired by coaching the executive team at one of the early movers in remote work technology. But nobody paid attention until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to evolve rapidly. We shifted where we worked, but not how. The result is massive, undiagnosed organizational angst and fatigue.

How world-class hybrid and remote teams work

At the onset of the pandemic, having studied hybrid work for over a decade, we committed to not allow companies to crawl out of the rubble and go back to old ways. We led a research project of 2,000 executives, thought-leaders and fast-growth start-ups. We analyzed the data to discern hybrid and remote companies’ practices on a five-point scale. At the bottom end, organizations:

  • Are limited by hierarchical structures, and C-suite leaders are too focused on protecting their turf: their own status and their own divisional teams
  • Only slowly adapt to change
  • Avoid conflict and are risk-averse
  • Primarily collaborate through meetings

At the top end of the five-point scale, truly world-class hybrid and remote organizations:

  • Are agile and adaptable: Teams with engineered foresight pivot and move forward in sprints
  • Collaborate fluidly among globally distributed peers
  • See resilience and well-being as team responsibilities
  • Only host meetings after exhausting asynchronous collaboration
  • Co-elevate: Teams are bound by a new social contract to cross the finish line and win together


One of the hybrid and remote work myths is that bonding and connectedness suffer. But the experience of most companies – 80% – struggling at levels one and two of our “World Class Hybrid” maturity model skews that data. You only lose connectedness if you don’t introduce new, purposeful hybrid and remote-focused team-bonding practices. The average team before the pandemic was a 2.8 on a five-point scale for its relational competency based on questions like:

  • Does our team have each others’ back?
  • Does our team care about each other?

Their performance dipped during the pandemic if they did not replace their old serendipitous bonding of a walk down the hallway after a meeting. However, companies that implemented digital and hybrid-native practices to build and sustain bonding – like Dropbox and Mindbloom (winners of the 2022 Tony Hsieh Award for radical innovation in human capital) – saw their figures go up into the range of 4.4 of strength of relationships on that five-point scale. They chose to reinvent remote work, leaning on new tools and practices.

High-return practices for hybrid work

The world’s best hybrid teams purposefully negotiated new social contract shifts among team members. Leaders recognized that they could not singularly take on the burden the responsibility of taking care of the emotional needs of their teams. What we call co-elevation, a commitment to going higher together, is a rare feature on any team. Before the pandemic, our data suggested only 14% of team members felt they had a collective responsibility to lift each other's energy and mental well-being. Today, most teams still treat resilience as an individual responsibility.

One high-return practice to increase both team bonding and energy shifting is as simple as a regular Energy Check-In, which gives day-to-day engaged team members the time and space to really reveal how they’re doing. At the beginning of a meeting, the team leader says to everybody: “Hey, we're just going to do an energy check. Where is your energy level these days and why?” Zero means “I'm in the dirt”, and a five means “I'm skipping on rainbows with unicorns.” It takes five to ten minutes for the teammates to authentically share.

The next high-return practice is called Sweet and Sour. It’s a simple monthly practice that sees each teammate asked at the beginning of the meeting to share something sweet and something sour that is happening in their lives. Some people think that trust, at the heart of high-impact teams, happens organically. No, it must be engineered purposefully, yet it must be authentic. And it can happen remotely, if purposeful and architected. Note also that these practices are all at team level, not enterprise-wide programmes hosted by HR.

Re-engineering collaboration

The idea that collaboration starts with a meeting is another myth we must shatter. World-class teams think of it as a collaborative stack, each level of which needs to be purposefully engineered for what that type of collaboration is best used for. At the top the stack is asynchronous. Asynchronous collaboration is working as a team on a project but not in real time. For example, you’re wrangling with the same problem as a peer in a different country who is going to pick up the issue in another time zone. It allows for bolder innovation and richer inclusion by permitting more people to engage on the topic, with a level of freedom and speed most feel in a meeting. Take the example of Gil West, formerly of Delta Air Lines, who moved to the autonomous vehicle unicorn, Cruise. He recalls saying: “Oh, I see a problem. We need to have a meeting.” But the digitally native employees replied: “How can we have a meeting on that? We haven't collaborated enough yet.”

Asynchronous work takes different forms, and our research has documented dozens of high return practices. Ideally, focus on “meeting shifting” where everything that is not active collaboration is shifted to before a meeting. “Passive collaboration” is the insight you can share within a network or as a team without needing to meet in person; for example, gathering data and initial feedback. Active collaboration is dynamic real-time engagement, debate and key decision-making. Typically without asynchronous collaboration, when an agenda item is discussed in a meeting, only four people from the 10 to 12 team members feel they are heard. But if the group watches a five-minute video of where the initiative stands, what has been achieved, where it is struggling, before the meeting and then offers advice to the challenges on a spreadsheet — everyone will feel they have been heard, including the introverts. The entire meeting can then focus on the key issues.

Next in the collaborative stack comes remote. Treating a remote meeting the same as a physical meeting is a mistake. When I talk to Gary Sorrentino, the Global CIO of Zoom, he tells me that, disappointingly, the most utilized functionality is turning meetings on and off. There’s a genuine superpower for higher psychological safety in the shape of break-out rooms. You can ask a bold question in a 12-strong group and get no reply. But if you send two or three people into a break-out room, open a Google Doc, now we find the courage to speak is 85% higher. Return to the main room and it's game-changing.

Next in the stack is mixed-mode or hybrid meetings, where some participants are in the same room. Unfortunately, we see the same problems where only having a single camera jeopardizes the remote experience. We are partnering in our research with companies like Logitech who are exploring new hardware solutions. But having everyone’s laptop cameras turned on with only a single audio source is a quick hack to have the best of both worlds.

The final layer of the stack is in-person or co-located working. When we're physical, we should be engineering toward the emotional side of work: tough collaborations, wrestling things to a conclusion, celebration, play, bonding, connectedness, gritty issues that are frustrating people and need to be tackled with empathy and compassion. Level five world-class hybrid and remote leaders and teams adopt the best practices of all parts of the collaborative stack.

The regular presence of these kinds of exercises coach a world-class culture through simple, repeated assignments that ultimately transform mindsets and outcomes. Teams and leaders need to awaken to the realization that they need to change the way they work. Any team can be the organization's future role model and best practice. The key is for all of us to acknowledge that transformation is at hand. Then we can go forward to work, not back.

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