How do we make hybrid-work, work?
Anele Ngcoya, Michelle Hinrichsen
March 31, 2023
At OCL we use a combination of daily standup messages from individuals, weekly team meetings online and one-on-one calls between accountability buddies every two weeks to ensure that there is consistent engagement between team members.

We, as a technology-forward organisation, have always been committed to building a team that is connected, productive and engaged, both with one another and with our stakeholders in the civic tech sector. The nature of our work allows us to work remotely, but it’s the culture of the team that enables us to do it successfully. 

While we recognise that being fully remote is possible - the multiple lockdowns of the pandemic taught us this. It is not an ideal that we aim for - nothing beats in-person meetings and working sessions. Hence our move in 2022 to a seamless and integrated hybrid working model that encourages and allows in-person working as well as successful remote work. 

We aim to build trust and camaraderie in person, around the “water cooler” so to speak, but endeavour to do it via screens as well. We certainly don’t have all the answers on marrying remote with in-person work environments but we’ve learned a thing or two - from the resources we’ve scoured, the wins we’ve celebrated and the bumps and scrapes of “learning on the go.” 

Here’s our take on how to make hybrid work models work for you: 

Communication is key! 

We all know communication is easier when you’re (literally) huddled in a boardroom rather than huddled on Slack. But, with hybrid working, there’s no avoiding the remote aspect - you have to integrate it as well as you do your in-person work moments. 

You have to force people to talk! Online, offline, real life, digital - wherever, however. Communication is how you will meet your deadlines while creating a healthy work environment. 

At OCL, the variation in project timelines and structures means that some OCL team members will not work together for extended periods of time. Without intervention, this would play a significant role in siloing domains, projects and eventually people. This means that we have to be intentional about creating time to talk and connect beyond our immediate project and domain teams and talk about the bigger picture that we are all working towards. 

There are three digital interactions between team members that we rely on to build and strengthen one-on-one relationships as well as connections among the team as a whole. Perhaps some, or all, of them will work for your team too.

Daily Standups

We think of Slack as our online office. Daily standup messages are somewhat of a morning staff meeting, or a dairies meeting. Standups are a (mandatory) opportunity for all OCL team members to share:

1. What they worked on the day before,

2. What they are working on today,

3. Mention anything they are struggling with or blocked by.

4. How they are feeling going into work day, and their state of mind.

5. Personal or professional milestones and activities that they have achieved or are going through.

This gives the entire team sight of which projects are in progress and who is involved in those projects without having to host overly extensive meetings that could have been sent as a message on Slack. Not to mention the ‘water cooler’ kind of info shared that builds trust and connection. 

Team Building/Learning Sessions

Most Fridays at OCL are for team building or learning. Every Friday we get together on Google Meet for no more than 90 minutes. A team member shares something about a project or process that the rest of the team could benefit from knowing about. It is an opportunity for an OCL team member to give more insight on some of the elements of their standup, or discuss projects with the broader team. This fosters engagement across the organisation, and builds confidence, trust and shared learning with all the team members. It’s in-depth communication that builds bridges not silos. 

Accountability buddies

Every quarter, each person is randomly paired with their very own Accountability Buddy. Each pair has to arrange one-on-one check in calls or in-person interactions every two weeks in that quarter. Armed with carefully structured ice breakers and guidelines, these conversations create a culture of open and regular communication, and dare we say it, friendship within the team - not dependent on projects or tasks or deadlines. We’ve really enjoyed that Accountability Buddies have resulted in organic connections that long outlive the ‘accountability period’ and we’ve even been able to track and measure the success through Toggle [link]. It’s been a game-change on the communication front! 

When it comes to the hybrid working model, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. We’ve learned that you have to build systems and infrastructure to hold up communication and connection as paramount. Taking everyone and their unique roles, preferences, location and parameters into account, hybrid working is not only plausible, it’s vital. 

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