A Consultant's Guide to Collaborating with Hybrid Teams + Template
October 13, 2022
The state of client-consultant collaboration in 2022
Nearly three years after the COVID-19 pandemic made remote work “the new normal,” most organizations have returned to the office at least part-time. However, the WFH vs. hybrid vs. in-person debate is far from over. It seems as if every day, there’s a new headline declaring that the office is obsolete and another claiming that remote work is killing productivity.
So … which is it?
The truth is both less sensational and more complex. As much as we’d all love to have a straightforward answer, reality is messy and the solution isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Take the United States, for example. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 30% of private-sector employers (which account for about half of the workforce) have adopted a hybrid work model. That is, they allow employees to work outside of the office part-time. Another 10% of U.S. employers are fully remote.
In total, the number of hybrid and remote companies in the U.S. has almost doubled since the pre-pandemic era. These trends vary from country to country, but one thing is clear: hybrid work is here to stay.
This is especially true for consultancies and agencies. Even if your clients are back in the office full-time, chances are you can’t be there in person every time you need to meet or collaborate. That can make it difficult to build trust, keep everyone engaged during meetings, and drive alignment among stakeholders and teams. In 2022, hybrid work is more necessity than luxury.
While hybrid work does help teams solve common collaboration challenges, it also introduces some new ones. In this post, we’ll delve into the rose, the bud, and the thorn of hybrid work. What makes it so powerful? Where does it fall short? And how can consultants make the most of hybrid collaboration as they work with clients?
Hybrid collaboration is a gold rush of sorts. Everyone is trying to embrace it, but not everyone has the right strategy and solutions in place yet to reap the rewards. If you want to help your clients do extraordinary work that drives real impact, you can’t leave collaboration to chance. You need to design it with purpose and intention.
Sometimes, consultants are the only ones not in the room with client stakeholders. Other times, you need to engage stakeholders both in and outside of the office. This can make it difficult to get everyone engaged and aligned, establish trust and psychological safety, and get a holistic view of what's going on in your clients’ organizations.
You’ve probably noticed that your clients’ teams are feeling more disconnected than ever before in this evolving era of hybrid work. As more people return to the office, there's an increase in work happening in silos across an abundance of tools and time zones — putting team productivity at risk, and making your job more complex.
This blog post and template outline practical, proven steps to implement a successful hybrid strategy so you and your clients can foster impactful innovation and achieve business-driving outcomes.
Four ways to build a culture of effective hybrid collaboration
The Hybrid Collaboration Checklist in the “before you collaborate” section of the template outlines strategies and tactics for building an effective culture of collaboration. Here, we’ll look at four key takeaways for consultancies and agencies that work with hybrid teams.
1. Own your role as a collaboration designer
Impactful collaboration requires being deliberate about both where and how people work together. Whether a client’s team is mostly remote, primarily in one location, or somewhere in between, designing effective collaboration is crucial.
Collaboration design is an emerging discipline that equips everyone to be more connected, engaged, and productive through applying intentional collaboration practices. It encourages facilitating intentional teamwork through playful and provocative methods of visual thinking to take ideas from imagination to activation. This new discipline inspires teams to connect and innovate together. If your clients have ever been on a stalled project with unclear goals or next steps, lost promising ideas in a sea of DMs, or left a meeting where the conversation spun in circles for an hour … they need collaboration design. And that’s where you come in.
As a consultant, you are inherently a collaboration designer. Every meeting, touchpoint, and project is a chance to design a thoughtful, collaborative experience for your clients.
Two of your most powerful tools for collaboration design are MURAL and the LUMA System™️. MURAL is the only solution that brings together a digital whiteboard collaboration space with the training and resources teams need to tackle complex challenges and imagine new possibilities.
The LUMA System is a practical and easy-to-learn approach to design confident, more effective collaboration. It consists of 36 separate activities that can be applied individually or as a sequence to achieve remarkable outcomes together — helping you build shared trust, alignment, and understanding with your clients.
You can connect and innovate with your team in MURAL's flexible, fun, and inclusive collaboration space with powerful collaboration and facilitation features.
2. Create an inclusive meeting space
In the past, hybrid work was about majority rule. People in the office had an advantage, while those in satellite or home offices were almost an afterthought. But effective hybrid collaboration requires us to think digital-first and create an inclusive environment for everyone to collaborate and contribute equally, no matter where they are in the world. Without intentional inclusivity, valuable contributions can be lost and teamwork is sacrificed.
Make sure that all of your software and hardware is optimized for in-person and remote participants. That includes video conferencing platforms, shared documents, interactive displays in shared spaces, and collaborative workspaces like MURAL. For example, if even one person is remote, everyone should join the meeting from their own computers in order to level the playing field. Everyone should bring their laptops to the meeting room, and everyone should be working in MURAL so no ideas are lost. Similarly, microphones and cameras should be properly set up beforehand so virtual attendees can see the room and hear everyone.
As a consultant, you also need to accommodate different working styles. That means supporting both introverts to extroverts, as well as folks who prefer solo work time and those who thrive when collaborating live and bouncing ideas off each other. Effective collaboration design is key here. By sending out an agenda ahead of every meeting, assigning pre-work when necessary, and collaborating asynchronously (more on that later!) you give everyone the time and space they need to do their best work.
3. Maximize participation and client engagement
When you’re working with hybrid teams — or when you’re dialing in remotely yourself — it can be tough to get everyone to contribute and stay engaged. You’ve likely experienced a situation where remote meeting attendees stay silent, while folks in the office have no problem speaking up. Even worse, everyone is on their umpteenth virtual meeting of the day and feel unmotivated to participate. You have the opportunity to improve connections among people both in and out of the office, and MURAL can help.
Getting clients to adopt new platforms and ways of working can be a challenge, but MURAL makes it easy to get everyone collaborating in a shared workspace without a learning curve. MURAL offers a variety of Facilitation Superpowers™ features that make meetings and workshops more interactive and engaging, while allowing you and your co-facilitators to create a seamless experience for clients, both in person and remote.
Here are a few of our favorite ways to keep participants engaged and empower everyone to contribute authentically.
Enlist a co-facilitator to keep the session on track. For example, one facilitator can be responsible for moderating questions and comments from remote attendees while the other facilitates conversations and activities. Alternatively, one person might lead the session while another makes sure the technology is running smoothly.
Establish team norms before you dive into the work. When you collaborate with your clients to set expectations for collaboration, meetings will run more smoothly and everyone will feel confident in their ability to contribute.
Assign virtual attendees an in-office buddy to answer any questions and make sure the remote experience is going smoothly.
Incorporate at least one interactive element, such as an icebreaker or warmup, to energize your collaborators and get them in the habit of contributing right off the bat.
Avoid groupthink with MURAL private mode. It gives everyone the chance to speak their mind without the fear of looking silly or being singled out. (Keep in mind that, even on teams where trust has been established, it’s human nature to feel anxious when sharing challenging, new, or potentially controversial thoughts.)
Use anonymous voting in MURAL to prioritize, make decisions, and reach a consensus among the group.
Keep everyone focused using MURAL’s custom toolbar, which allows you to focus your team's attention on the visual thinking tools they need — and hide the rest.
4. Take advantage of asynchronous collaboration
We already touched on asynchronous collaboration as a way to do more with fewer meetings. Async collaboration keeps work moving forward between meetings, even when teams are working across different time zones. Give your clients and stakeholders space to contribute ideas, gather feedback, accelerate decision-making, and prepare for your next live meeting in order to maximize your time together.
It can be difficult to keep momentum going, especially when clients have packed calendars and competing priorities. Make it as easy as possible for them to collaborate asynchronously by setting clear guidelines — such as when you need feedback, where to leave comments, and how to ask questions.
You can also take advantage of MURAL for async work. For example, you can provide pre-work or explain a complex activity by embedding a video in MURAL's outline feature. You can also share status updates, delegate tasks, and provide feedback by adding tags to sticky notes (see the image below for an example) and tagging collaborators in comments to receive a notification with the updates.
You can even integrate MURAL with the other tools your clients are already using every day, like Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, Confluence, Slack, Jira, and much more. Instead of adding new processes and complexities to the mix, MURAL allows you to streamline collaboration without disrupting existing workflows.
Put these tips into action with our hybrid meetings template
Now that we’ve walked through four ways consultants can support hybrid teams, it’s time to put what we’ve learned into action with this handy checklist and template for hybrid collaboration. Our Lead Better Hybrid Meetings template is an easy (yet powerful!) resource for getting the most out of your client meetings. The template includes sections for:
Team norms: How will you work? Establish a framework of ideals that teams can expect each other to abide by.
Meeting goals: Identify what you would like to achieve as a team to set meeting expectations.
Meeting tech: Outline the tech that will be used to support collaboration.
Participants: Create a view of all collaborators' communication preferences to support strong connection both in and out of the meeting.
Meeting notes: Assign pre-work, design your agenda, and collaborate live during the meeting.
Next steps: Keep the momentum going and continue collaborating after the meeting.
Shauna Ward is a senior content marketing manager at MURAL. As a former remote work skeptic, she enjoys creating resources that help hybrid and distributed teams make collaboration fun, easy, and effective.