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Promoting Hybrid Collaboration in North Carolina

Collaboration doesn’t look the same in North Carolina anymore.

Whereas employees were almost 100% in person until March 2020, as of April 2022, 64% of the state’s Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) was fully remote, while 26% switched between remote and in-person work. This blended environment means leaders and employees have to change some expectations to foster a dynamic, engaged workspace.

Here’s what North Carolina CIO Jim Weaver learned about collaboration in this changed and changing environment.

Ensure Connectivity

Whether you’re in person or remote, you need the ability to see and hear your coworkers clearly. Unfortunately, virtual collaboration includes a tricky middleman: the web. It’s technically impossible to collaborate without connectivity. And the federal minimum standards for broadband don’t measure up.

Teams must be connected to high-speed internet in order to use videoconferencing and other digital tools so they can engage as actively online as they can in person.

The digital divide doesn’t make connectivity easy. One in 10 North Carolinians do not have access to high-speed, affordable internet. And Native American, African American and Latino communities are even less connected. The divide contributes to people being left out of the future government workforce, and so to close the gap, NCDIT’s new Office of Digital Equity and Literacy is working to ensure that all residents can access the connectivity they need.

Focus on “Soft” Skills

The office environment had decades to build expectations around collaboration. But new norms are still being established.

During this time, individuals should lean on their “soft” skills — or in other words, success skills.

The good thing is they’re not too different from when you were fully in person. Public speaking, conflict resolution and problem-solving are a few examples. It’s important to continue building these talents and, if you’re a supervisor, providing opportunities for employees to do

so. Even if you don’t like putting yourself out there, you can practice ways to be visible and collaborative with others, Weaver said.

Other success skills to consider fostering are:

  • ›  Giving and receiving feedback
  • ›  Knowing when to listen and when to problem-solve
  • ›  Playing to people’s strengths
  • ›  Embracing humility

Be Aware of Your Body Language

Communication isn’t just about words. Think about the message you convey with your body language. Are you slouching? Are your brows furrowed? Is your gaze elsewhere? All these cues matter, because they affect how others perceive you and how they think you’re perceiving them.

You may be fully engaged and paying attention as colleagues speak, but your posture might suggest otherwise. Sometimes the people you work with regularly know you and how to interpret your body language. But for folks you work with less frequently or those you meet for the first time, be mindful of how you exhibit yourself through your posture.

Know Your People

Hybrid collaboration is tricky because ultimately you deal with people, not machines. You
can have connectivity and even build up interpersonal skills, but they mean nothing if you don’t get to know the people with whom you’re collaborating.

To illustrate, NCDIT’s HR team was able to account for different personalities while having workplace flexibility through its hybrid model. Some conversations are just more effective face- to-face. The beauty of the hybrid workplace is that you can account for these varying scenarios, diverse work styles and distinct preferences. You just have to know them first.

Be Purpose-Driven

Leaders should be purposeful about the decisions they make around hybrid teamwork.

“Don’t bring them in to sit there in a cubicle and pound on the keyboard all day,” Weaver said
of employees. “They can do that from home.” In other words, be judicious about why you call teams into the office. You want people to collaborate in ways they can’t at home.

At the same time, be strategic about the value of in-person work, particularly around employee recognition. Holding a certificate in front of a camera to celebrate an employee for decades of their service just isn’t the same. Coworkers want to feel connected and appreciated, and sometimes, you can get that only in person.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide Solving Your Hybrid Workforce Problems.”

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