Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Hybrid working: skills for leadership
Hybrid working: skills for leadership

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

3.4 The need for new collaboration skills

Dhawan and Chamorro-Premuzic (2018) point out several challenges for online communication that can hamper collaboration, including the absence of visible body language leading to misinterpretations. They also point to the fact that many digital ‘discussions’ do not happen in real time, but can involve messages going back and forth over the course of the day (and sometimes the night).

They argue that the challenge of online communication involves three types of distance:

  • Physical distance: Individuals in distributed, dispersed or hybrid teams are in different places and may be working in different time zones.
  • Operational distance: There may be variation in team size, bandwidth and skill levels between those in different locations.
  • Affinity distance: There may be a distance between the values, trust and interdependence of those in different locations.
(Source: Dhawan and Chamorro-Premuzic, 2018)

For successful remote working, Dhawan and Chamorro-Premuzic recommend focusing on reducing affinity distance between team members. Some practical tips to do this include the following:

  • In remote communication, try to use video calls rather than emails or voice-only calls.
  • Don’t confuse brief communications and clear communications. Do what you can to communicate clearly and unambiguously, even if it takes more time.
  • Don’t overload your team with too many messages.
  • Establish norms in your team relating to online communication (what communication channels you will use, when you expect a reply to a message and how formal language should be).
  • Establish repositories of relevant information that everyone can access.
  • Identify opportunities – for instance, an online setting may encourage those more comfortable communicating in writing to express their views and share their ideas.
  • Hold virtual team-building activities that give the team opportunities to communicate with each other regularly and put their collaboration skills into practice.
  • Create space for celebration (birthdays, product launches, welcoming new joiners and so on). This can strengthen relationships in the team and lay the foundation for future collaboration.
(Source: Dhawan and Chamorro-Premuzic, 2018)

According to James Law, Human Resources Director at Envato: ‘There is always fear that collaboration is based on face-to-face contact but it turns out it is not! People can work on things together asynchronously and be just as effective!’ (, no date).

Online collaboration has challenges, but with effort from you as a hybrid leader, it can be made effective. You can ensure that your distributed, dispersed or hybrid team meets together online as often as they would if they were all in the same office (Sutherland and Janene-Nelson, 2020). Your job is to build a culture of trust and collaboration that works as well online as it would for a team working face to face.

Activity 24 Metaphorical sailboat

In this task you will try a reflective tool to think about how you collaborate with your hybrid teams.

  1. Make a drawing of a sailing boat on the sea using paper, a whiteboard or a relevant digital tool. The boat should be heading towards an island. There should be wind in the sails, an anchor, and rocks between the boat and the island. See the image below for an idea of the kind of drawing expected.
  2. Reflect on your experience of collaboration with a distributed, dispersed or hybrid team now or in the past. If you don’t have experience of working in this kind of team, imagine the sort of issues that might arise.
  3. Using sticky notes if you have drawn the boat on paper, or using text on a digital image, add labels to the diagram as follows:
    • Sailing boat: Here add labels to show who is ‘in your boat’ – that is, who is in your team.
    • Island: What is your team’s goal?
    • Wind: What factors are helping the sailing boat move towards the island (particularly in the area of online collaboration)?
    • Anchor: What is holding the sailing boat back?
    • Rocks: What future risks may prevent you from reaching the island?
A simple drawing of a sailing boat on the sea. The boat is on the left of the diagram, with lines indicating wind blowing into its sails. The boat is sitting on a line that represents waves, with an anchor visible below the waves. The boat is heading towards an island, on the right of the diagram, but blocking its way are rocks, partially visible above the waves and blocking the way below the waves.
Figure 9 Sailing boat diagram.