Now that we are emerging from the pandemic, and hybrid working becomes the norm, the challenge of integrating into an in-office and virtual working environment continues for those new to a workplace.

With this in mind, Suki Reilly, Regional Director, provides her thoughts on how best to make yourself visible in a hybrid workplace and how teams can provide the right environment for successful integration.

There are a number of conditions required to support career development in a hybrid environment. It is not the sole responsibility of the new joiner, nor is it of the business. It is a joint effort whereby both parties can provide the right support offering and demonstrate the right attitudes that will enable the new joiner to integrate successfully, foster growth opportunities, and support progression within the business.

Making new connections

One of the key things to consider is how to build and make new connections. During the pandemic when we were all working from home, professional relationships became more human. We saw into our colleagues’ living rooms. We met their children and their pets, and we got to know people outside of a formal office environment. This helped discover common ground, or at least helped to lower the professional veneer many of us have during our working days. Equally, just by virtue of having to conduct all meetings through video conferencing, we had to become more deliberate and intentional in the touchpoints we instigated to keep in contact. This took a lot of effort by everyone over the last two years, and going forward, it’s about maintaining and continuing these touchpoints – and the relationships they are helping to build.

That is why the onboarding process has never been more critical. Team leaders must take into account how the new joiner learns and develops, how the existing touchpoints can work for them and their new team, or if new ones need to be introduced. A dynamic onboarding approach will ensure that everyone feels supported and heard, the new joiner feels settled quickly and understands the new culture and ways of working, and existing team members remain confident that their growing team will continue to work well and deliver together.

Intentional touchpoints

Touchpoints are critical in maintaining information flow, demonstrate support and help keep a semblance of togetherness even when some may be in the office, and some may be working elsewhere. The key thing is not having too many touch points where you reach a critical level. Every touchpoint should be intentional; everyone is different so consider how your team members take in information and personalise the approach.

New joiners must be observational and try to understand what these touchpoints are, and how they are used by various members of their new team. This will help to understand how members of their team take on information, learn and then deliver, so that they can integrate more easily.

Understanding a new culture requires making connections

Many business leaders are grappling with the question around culture. In a recent roundtable hosted by some colleagues [read the article here], the general consensus was that leaders can no longer state that everyone “works better together”. As one attendee said: “The last two years have shown that the majority of businesses performed as productively as before the pandemic when everyone was in the office.” By viewing the modern workplace as an intentional space to do intentional work, and allowing people the choice of how and when they use it, businesses will reap the most value from their employees. “Purposeful interactions” will grow and prosper regardless of where employees are situated at any given moment.

From the new joiner’s perspective, the question in their minds is how to connect to a new culture when many of their new colleagues split their time between home and the office. Again, it’s about intentionality. Keep the goal (of integrating and connecting to a new culture) front of mind. Realistically, with disparate teams, there may be limited opportunities to meet people “in real life” even if offices are open – so think about your network mapping. Consider who you will be working with, and start to think about how to build your network so you meet more people.

In fact, networking has never been more important – and working through video conferencing can actually make it slightly easier. Many companies are increasingly holding more frequent online “get to know you sessions”, online water cooler moments, or even sessions around hobbies and shared interests. My advice? Join these! You can make meaningful relationships online but of course, meeting in person makes it easier to continue, so where possible, and if you feel comfortable doing so, follow up with a meeting next time you‘re in the office.

There’s also a responsibility on existing team leaders: get to know each team member personally and how they work. Everyone works differently and people have different personal commitments. Also, encourage (and allow) everyone to have a choice about where and how they work. Furthermore, team leaders must support newcomers in making connections. It is commonly understood that one connection can lead to five more. Finally, consider all the ways interactions can take place. Pre-pandemic, what I termed “The Hallway Walk”, was one of the most beneficial moments of the day to get to know a colleague. Now it’s the “Before or After Meeting Meeting”. Join a video call a few minutes early, or encourage some to stay online for a few extra minutes to build personal rapport.

And primarily, as a team leader, or as a new joiner, be open and be personable. Ultimately, it is everybody’s responsibility to make sure connections are made and everyone understands and knows what the company’s language and culture is.

Be open

My other advice for new joiners is: be vulnerable. You are in a unique position, entering a new company or a new team with fresh eyes. It is so easy for misinterpretation to occur, so ask the “silly” questions. And team leaders; demonstrate that it is safe to have these questions posed. Make sure feedback is positive; that it is developmental led. Invest in each other through two-way conversation and, as mentioned before, try to understand someone’s preferred method of communication. For those in the organisation for a long time don’t take things for granted and endeavour to understand that everyone comes from a different place, with different ways of learning and developing.

Five points for successful integration

In summary, here are my key pointers to integrating successfully into a team or a business, whether you are the new joiner, the team leader or the incumbent team member.

  1. Make personal connections, and take advantage to be together when you can so virtual interactions are more valuable
  2. Ensure everyone is communicating. At the same time, be cognisant around the touchpoints – allow people their space. We don’t know what’s going on with individual people’s lives, so provide space to talk through their commitments and work schedule
  3. Be deliberate and intentional, be open, and make sure members of the team think about others. The pandemic has humanised us all in a professional setting. We need to build on this so connections get stronger
  4. Maintain what you have learnt and take it forward. Take lessons you learnt from your time within the business working during the pandemic and try to maintain this when you are meeting in person in the office
  5. Finally, if I had to use three words to sum up how to work in a post pandemic world, it would be about showing intention, patience and openness.