Hybrid work styles: the new common sense

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
September 27, 2023
A graphic with a pink background and text saying '(Un)common sense'
Hybrid work styles: the new common sense
Written by 
Jim Kalbach
September 27, 2023

Do you ever think about why raising your hand in a meeting means you have a question?

“It’s just common sense,” you might answer. But… is it? 

The fact is, there’s nothing inherently natural or instinctive about a hand raise. It’s a nonverbal gesture we learn as far back as kindergarten.

And it’s pretty universal, too. Kids in classrooms from Europe, Africa, Asia, and all over North and South America raise their hands if they have a question. “Don’t speak out of turn,” they’ll be told otherwise. “If you have something to say, raise your hand and wait your turn.” 

We’ve been conditioned to it.

All good, right? Well, now think about turn-taking on your average conference call at work. Imagine there are 15 people on a call and some have their webcams on, some don’t, and others are dialed in via a normal phone — maybe they’re on the go. How do you take turns now?

You’ve probably experienced the pain of people talking over others or the awkward silence of no one talking.

Now imagine a hybrid meeting, with half of the people in a room together and the other half dialing in remotely. Now how do you take turns? And what does raising your hand look like in this context? The group of in-person participants staring at a Polycom star phone might not even be able to see you.

We’ve grown so accustomed to a certain set of norms and etiquette, primarily derived from our prior in-office (or classroom) experiences, that we don’t even notice them until they don’t work. It’s a lot like breathing: You do it all day, every day, and only notice when there’s a problem. 

Likewise, many of the cues for interacting with others are implicit. They can also be rather small gestures, also called micro-structures (such as raising your hand to ask a question). 

Tools alone aren’t going to solve the problem

Here’s the wake-up call for companies looking to return to the office (RTO): Going back to the office can't mean going back to your old ways of working. It’s on you to also level up your collaboration skills across the company. The right tools help, for sure, but the future of work will be more about how we work. 

We can think of how we work on several levels. 

Level 1: Micro-structures 

Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, the authors of Liberating Structures, use the term “microstructures” to describe the rituals and habits that shape the way we work with others: “Consciously or not, microstructures are the way you organize all your routine interactions. They guide and control how groups work together. They shape your conversations and meetings.”

An example of a micro-structure is raising your hand. But also things like turn-taking, breakout groups, Q&A sessions, playbacks, etc.  

Level 2: Activities and rituals

One of the best is the collection of activities gathered by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo in their book, Gamestorming. Kürșac Ӧzenç and Margaret Hagan also provide a range of techniques to improve collaboration in Rituals For Work. And one of our favorites is Hyperisland’s Toolbox, available for free online

Level 3: Collaboration methods

The LUMA System™ is a collection of 36 techniques that can be combined and recombined into what they call recipes. These suggested sequences of individual exercises get the whole team on a path to a solution.

For instance, if a team has challenges aligning on near-term priorities, there’s a recipe that'll get them on the same page. It consists of four steps that include input from the whole team:

The new common sense

Autodesk is a leading provider of software solutions for architects and engineers around the world. Over a decade ago, the company began the transformation to become a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) model. This massive shift impacted every part of the organization. Critically, it required teams to work together in new ways.

The user research team at Autodesk has a deep understanding of customer needs. They synthesized their findings and then presented them to the rest of the product organization. But it wasn't connecting with their software architects, and the work was falling short. 

In 2013, one of the researchers attended a ‘Fundamentals of Innovation through Human-centered Design’ workshop from LUMA, the leading provider of design thinking training and certifications. Determined to change their ways of working, she brought LUMA to Autodesk. First, they targeted just a few teams. Once they proved their success, they began to expand organically. 

After gaining a groundswell, a turning point came when software architects started using methods provided by LUMA to tackle their own tough challenges. Leaders at Autodesk then launched a top-down change program with LUMA as the centerpiece. Amy Bunszel, VP of Digital Engineering Products at Autodesk, told us: "We very intentionally decided to start a movement. We knew we had to focus on the bright spots, highlight some of our early successes and build this coalition of the willing. It has turned into a self-sustaining program now – it’s pretty incredible."

The transformation at Autodesk eventually involved collaboration in every part of the company, and it was driven in part by leadership. Rob Dickins, chief of staff at Autodesk, strove to change how executive teams interact with one another. At that level, it’s not just about speed and efficiency, but finding ways “to help leadership teams make the highest quality decisions possible,” as Dickins put it. 

To date, over 3,000 people are now formally trained in collaboration design, using the LUMA methodology. That's over a quarter of Autodesk’s workforce of 12,000. 

They don’t leave collaboration to chance. They’re designing it. 

They know which methods to use to tackle any problem, and they use that knowledge to craft collaborative experiences that predictably and repeatedly lead to impressive results. 

Change is both a top-down and bottom-up motion 

Company-wide change is hard. While movements often start from the bottom-up, habits, behavior, and culture change stick only when there's top-down commitment as well. It turns out demonstrating the desired collaboration behaviors at the top is a powerful way to accelerate adoption of new ways of working throughout the organization.

It’s not just up to leaders or meeting facilitators. We also have to discover and learn new standards, practices, and norms. 

We need to develop a new common sense.  

But it doesn’t have to be organic or left to chance. You can and should consciously make explicit patterns of work and team interactions. Everyone needs to be a good hybrid “citizen.” You’re not just along for the ride; you're a participant and part of the solution to making hybrid teamwork work. 

How to get started being a good hybrid citizen

Practically speaking, here are things you can do to be a better hybrid session participant:

  • Show up prepared: Do your homework and come prepared as much as possible, knowing not only where the materials are but what’s in them. 
  • Empathize: Have empathy for people in different situations and support them as needed. For instance, if one person is dialing in on a phone from a remote location, consider their ability to participate and how you could help. 
  • Form a buddy system: Pair up with someone in another mode from you, i.e., if you’re in person, pair up with someone remote. You can then text them and share materials directly with them that might enhance their experience. 
  • Stand and declare: Announce your name before speaking and where you are. 
  • Be sound aware: Know where your mic and speakers are regardless of location and how to operate and change them, if needed. 
  • Take turns: Let others speak and call on others to speak after you do.
  • Volunteer to do things during the session: Take notes, find links, repeat instructions, hold up your phone as a mobile cam in the room, and more. 

Just showing up is no longer enough for teamwork to work. Everyone needs to have a more intentional awareness of how the team interacts and what they can do individually to lower friction. 

This doesn’t mean everyone should try to lead a session — too many facilitators (much like too many chefs) can lead to confusion. It’s more about being aware of how you participate and how you might take deliberate actions that quietly make the collaboration go smoother. 

Sometimes one small thing can make a big difference. 

About the authors

About the authors

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach

Chief Evangelist
Jim is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in innovation, design, and the future of work. He is currently Chief Evangelist at Mural, the leading visual work platform.