Four strategic tips for hybrid teams to communicate more effectively. Shift to asynchronous communication. Make information accessible on demand. Encourage clear and specific writing. Involve everyone.
Hybrid working makes internal communications even more important
Effective communication is critical to any nonprofit’s success. People need access to the right information at the right time to do their jobs. But over the past 18 months, hybrid work changed the dynamics. When some folks are in the office and others are remote, we can’t rely on in-person meetings to keep everyone on the same page. So what needs to change?
The starting point is internal communications. That's the process of managing how information and knowledge flows within an organisation. Location aside, good internal communications should be simple, transparent, and accessible. Here’s how you can achieve that in a hybrid nonprofit.
Embrace asynchronous communication
Most knowledge-based nonprofits revolve around real-time meetings and discussions. When Covid hit, we suddenly realised how draining a day of back-to-back Zoom calls was. But why did we endure it? We know meetings waste time and money.
In a hybrid world, we can’t expect everyone to be available at the same place and time. So we have to create opportunities for people to respond when they can. This is the essence of asynchronous communication. Luckily, digital technology makes it a lot easier.
These two steps will get you started.
1. Write messages instead of holding meetings
Speaking in meetings only helps the people in the room. Writing helps everyone. It benefits those who couldn’t join as well as future employees who may need context on a past decision. Instead of calling for a meeting, can you write an email or a Slack message instead? Or type up the context in a Google Doc and invite everyone to comment? You can always specify a deadline to make sure folks respond in time.
If you find yourself hovering over the calendar invite button, remember: six people for an hour isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s a six hour meeting. Are you really sure it’s worth it?
2. Record your meetings
If you decide that you must hold a meeting, hit the record button. That way, colleagues who were unable to join can catch up in their own time. And be generous: you can record anything from a quick team chat to a company-wide All Hands.
There are lots of video recording tools out there. Some virtual conferencing tools like Google Meets and Zoom even have it built in. If yours doesn’t, the video messaging tool Loom offers a free plan.
Give your distributed team on-demand access to information and knowledge
Documents and videos are digital assets, and those assets need to be accessible. The more you record and write, the more important it is to consider where you store everything. This is where knowledge management software (KMS) comes in.
Use a digital knowledge management system
KMS tools enable organisations to create one central home for all their information and material. That information could range from team meeting notes and videos to company benefits and brand guidelines. The latest tools on the market are extremely flexible. Teams can spin up project management boards and content calendars - and can easily embed files from other software.
The main advantage to a KMS is that it gives employees access to information exactly when they need it. Instead of asking a colleague for the wifi password or what the expense policy is, they can just look it up. KMSs are efficient, too. Anyone with the permissions can update a document in real time and publish the changes. It’s a lot smoother than saving a new version of a PowerPoint or PDF every time you want to edit and share an update.
For hybrid nonprofits, knowledge management provides additional benefits. First, everyone can access the same information, no matter where they are. That speeds up decision making and onboarding remote employees. And let’s not forget collaboration. KMSs make it easy for teams to edit, comment, and create things together in real-time.
Keep your internal knowledge up to date
Whatever KMS you choose, don’t let it go stale. Appoint someone, or a group, to review all the content each month or quarter. The faster your nonprofit is moving and growing, the more often you should check it.
Empower everyone to become better communicators
Humans miscommunicate all the time without realising it. We overestimate our own communication abilities as well as our ability to interpret other people’s messages. According to communication expert Nick Morgan, we think others understand our messages around 90% of the time. But in reality, it’s only 50%. That’s a lot of misunderstanding. Especially if your hybrid team is relying more on written communication.
So what can nonprofits do about it? It starts by clarifying what, when, and how everyone communicates.
Choose your internal comms channels and stick to them
Hybrid teams work better together when they understand where to communicate. So be explicit about what tools you use for what purposes. For example:
- General chat and urgent communications - Internal messaging tool (e.g. Slack)
- All project-related conversations - Project management tool (e.g. Trello)
- External communications - Email (e.g. Outlook)
Whatever rules you create, remember to add them to your knowledge management system. That way, it's easy for everyone to reference.
Use top-down thinking to structure everyone’s communication
Humans often talk to each other as if telling a story. We start with a hook and build up towards a conclusion for dramatic effect. This is a bottom-up structure. It’s great for novels and movies but bad for work comms. Here’s a made-up example:
I’ve been feeling quite unwell for the past few days and am still not 100%. I’m also really busy with an upcoming grant deadline. So I’m behind on our monthly reporting.
Any chance we could delay our meeting by a few days? Thanks so much!”
It’s not until the last line that Kai understands why their colleague is communicating. And the question is ambiguous—who should take what action?
Work comms get much clearer with a specific message and top-down structure:
- Explain why you are communicating
- Give context to help your audience understand
- Provide the details they need to respond
- State the actions you want them to take
Here’s the Slack message again:
Why I’m afraid I need to move tomorrow’s meeting to Friday.
Context I need a bit more time to prepare the monthly report as I’ve been unwell and have a grant deadline for Thursday.
Details I’m free on Friday between 2 and 5pm.
Actions Since you own the invite, could you reschedule?
Thanks so much!”
In this top-down version, the message is easier to read and the task easier to understand. Encouraging your team to communicate in this way will save a lot of time and confusion.
Credit to Brad Schiller for the why, context, details, actions structure. Sign up to his free newsletter on writing here.
Share an internal style guide
It doesn’t have to be long or detailed. In fact, the shorter the guide, the more likely people are to use it. The most important thing is that it helps everyone write in an accessible and inclusive way.
Here’s an example:
- Write in short sentences
- Use simple words
- Stick to the active voice
- Use bullets and headers to increase readability
- Keep a positive, collaborative tone
Always consider your audience
A person's context and situation affects what information you share - and how you share it. This is a vital aspect to inclusive communication, and leaders should be at the forefront of it. For example, what if one of your colleagues had dyslexia? Long emails and Slack messages might be difficult for them to read. So you could give them a quick call instead. Perhaps you also work with some introverted people. They might find speaking aloud in meetings very stressful. Rather than call on them in the moment, you could ask them to share feedback in a document afterwards. Whatever the person's situation, be willing to adjust your guidelines. The more your team members can see this inclusive behaviour in action, the faster it will spread.
Get everyone involved
Internal communications isn’t only for leaders or HR. It should be everyone’s responsibility. Here are two key ways to bring people along.
Ask for feedback
What’s difficult about communicating internally today? If you could change something about how we share knowledge today, what would it be and why? Which other nonprofits could we learn from? Ask your team to fill in a 5-minute survey or invite them to a quick feedback call. Then look for recurring themes in your team’s answers and use them to steer your tactics.
Encourage informal knowledge sharing
Internal communications also includes knowledge sharing. The great thing about sharing knowledge is that it can happen informally. Here are a few casual formats that work well for hybrid teams:
Lunch and Learn - A team member hosts a one-hour session on a topic of their choice. If possible, allow everyone to expense lunch—even those dialling in. Always record the session so everyone can benefit. To make the videos easy to find, store them in your knowledge management system. And you can encourage folks to host a session by making it part of their personal development plan.
Last Week I Learned (LWIL) - A 10-min exercise where a team member summarises something interesting they learned the previous week. Again, this can be work or non-work related. LWILs work really well for all-company meetings. They add something fun and unexpected while diversifying the presenters. If you're worried about getting signups, try creating an opt-out rota.
Random 1:1s - i.e., a digital version of the spontaneous water cooler chat. You randomly match different team members and invite them to a 15-minute meeting. Except it’s not a meeting; it’s a chance to connect. You can match people manually, or explore tools like Donut that automate all the scheduling. To help spark conversation, why not provide a few prompt questions?
At the end of the day, internal communication is like external communication. Doing it well takes thought, care, and creativity. But it's worth it. You'll build happier, higher-performing teams. In an increasingly dispersed working world, why leave that up to chance?