The Other Hybrid Work Collaboration Patterns

Getting the help you need in a hybrid work world can be overwhelming if you don’t have the right collaboration patterns
(Photo by Tara Winstead on

Adoption of collaboration patterns is easier and more. Most organisations have settled on one or two patterns alone. To realise the full value of hybrid work and to mitigate its challenges we need to find and share more patterns that work.

In my recent post on Microsoft Loop, I noted that collaboration technology adoption is often easier when people can match the pattern of work to an existing experience in their working lives. We see that people can make this jumps relatively easily because it offers a simple what to do when:

  • For phone calls, use audio in Microsoft Teams or Zoom or similar
  • For meetings, use a videoconference solution like Microsoft Teams or Zoom or similar
  • For chat, use a chat platform like Microsoft Teams or Slack or similar
  • For document storage, use SharePoint or OneDrive or similar

Adoption in these situations is easier because the pattern of work is understood and the change is just how it is delivered. We still need to demonstrate value to the user and the organisation but we have a foundation on which to build.

Underappreciated Collaboration

Adoption is more complicated when we are considering forms of collaboration that are less well understood. We need to understand the differences between chat, conversations and collaboration. The latter two also take place in many varied forms but are where the more valuable outcomes appear.

Much of the everyday collaboration in organisations is informal, unstructured and flowing. We tend not to appreciate or perceive this activity. It is the work we most miss when we are working in a distributed way because we may not appreciate it when it happens around us in the office. I remember a senior manager on a collaboration adoption engagement telling me that “we don’t collaborate” while over his shoulder I could see a small group of employees standing around a table commenting on a piece of work. We need to understand all the rich patterns of collaboration to support the productivity of all work.

Let’s examine are some underappreciated everyday patterns of collaborative work that we can add to the mix for our employees:

Working on a Joint Draft: Document Collaboration

Now that working from home is commonplace, it should be the case that document collaboration is equally commonplace. We can control access, manage comments in chat in the sidebar, track and reverse changes, sort out issues in the document and develop a piece collaboratively. Instead emails still carry document drafts around, tracking and version control issues abound. The power of document collaboration is that it spans so many of the modes and interactions. It can be synchronous and asynchronous. It can involve many people or a few. For reasons of access though it is usually only with known partners. Almost every organisation can benefit from helping its employees better manage the tools and features of document collaboration. Creating documents together is everyday work and the challenges of the process take up valuable time.

Whiteboarding Together: Creation

In an office it is commonplace to answer a question, solve a problem or work something out in a group with a drawing or diagram on a whiteboard. Whiteboarding tools exist, even embedded in other collaboration applications, and are becoming richer in features. White boarding is a great way to engage many or a few known people. Mostly this work is synchronous because it is both the diagram and the conversation, but some modern tools allow for the shaping of a structured interaction in the whiteboard which enables asynchronous contributions too.

Workshopping: Group Conversation

A workshop is a structured and facilitations conversation or collaboration to a particular end. It usually involves many people contributing at the same time. We have learned during that pandemic that throwing everyone together on a video conference call does not replicate the workshop opportunity despite the improvement in breakout room features and the better controls for hosts. They key to filling this gap in our digital collaboration practice is training the leaders of these discussions in digital facilitation skills and considering how you support the social connection that otherwise comes from workshops.

Getting Help from Someone who knows: Queries

If you know who knows the answer, you can ask them. The challenge in the context of hybrid work is not knowing who knows the answer. You might have to search many teams and channels to find someone who knows and it assumes that you are able to access and navigate this yourself. The openness of enterprise social networks and open collaboration platforms like Yammer provides opportunities for people to post questions to a wider community and connect to experts or answers. Therese also the benefit of finding answers that others have already provided through search on these platforms.

Learning what you don’t know: Mentoring and Coaching

Much of the anxiety in digital working over the last two years has been from employees who felt that they were missing the informal opportunities for mentoring and coaching in the physical workplace. Not every organisation is structured to support employees with proactive coaching and mentoring opportunities are usually left to employees to manage. Filling these gaps in the hybrid work is again not about the tool, but building the awareness, leadership practices and the skills to foster this collaboration across the organisation informally and formally.

Learning by Observation: Working Out Loud

We learn a lot by the work of others around us. Without working out loud, we miss this opportunity in our digital work. Organisations will need to overindex on working out loud in hybrid work situations. Employees working in the office often find they need to narrate more just so that those at home can follow a meeting for example. The openness of working out loud is an antidote to the home-shaped cubicles employees now inhabit more often.

Bumping into the Answer: Weak tie connections

Research consistently tells us that weak-tie connections in organisational and social networks are the source of insights, unusual connections and innovation. Weak ties can be suppressed significantly in organisations that rely to heavily on email and digital groups with limited access. Opening up the opportunities for weak tie connections should be part of the design of the organisation, work interactions and social interactions. A culture of clear accountabilities, open doors and open information makes this process easier for employees to make connections and to found those connections in useful and creative conversations.

Serendipitous Discovery: Search, Browsing and Discovery

If we want people to be able to search, browse and discover people and information we need to make it open and findable. Indexing, knowledge management practices and openness to support search is important. You also need to move beyond a knowledge is power culture because threatening the power of another makes searching unsafe. This process is all about making the unknown known to as many as possible. Having consistent practices on the use of document storage, documentation and procedures is more important than ever in this world of hybrid work.

We can’t assume every employee understands all the ways that they might chat, converse and collaborate with their colleagues in the process of doing their work in a digital and hybrid environment. The power of investment in adoption is spreading the commonplace metaphors and increasing the number of champions who are able to facilitate and help others to learn how better to work with the tools. Supporting the right tools is only part of the challenge in creating a rich collaboration culture. Many of the workplace collaboration tools support more than one of these patterns which has always been the limitation of ‘which tools when’ models. Collaboration is fluid and complex help your teams to leverage the diversity of these opportunities.

So what collaborations patterns would you add to this list?

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