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Corporate Talent & Inclusion

7 ways for managers to use brain science to enhance trust in hybrid work

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Employers and managers who are committed to increasing engagement during virtual group meetings can take several steps to make sure that is happening

During prehistoric times, the human brain had one main job—to keep humans safe. Thousands and thousands of years later, one of the brain’s main purposes now is to constantly analyze our surroundings to determine what is happening and whether or not a threat or reward is lingering.

This constant assessment, which occurs as much as five times per second, can impede creativity. So, how can employers and office leaders use brain science to transform team collaboration in the hybrid work model? There are several ways.

Employing brain science to maximize trust

As social beings, humans have a strong need to connect with others. Building strong interpersonal relationships discharges the hormone oxycotin, which is essential for generating trust and collaboration. The hormone dopamine is released in the brain when we are having fun, and it plays a major role in human’s ability to focus, think, and plan. Finally, endorphins hormones help to relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure.

The most effective human relationships are those where we can fully be ourselves. Since oxytocin is spurred with talking and laughing, it builds trust. Therefore, it makes sense for managers to find ways to inject these moments into team interactions. Managers who infuse fun and moments of laughter into team collaborations and individual relationships can enable trust and establish psychological safety, allowing each person involved to fully be themselves.

The brain connects these ideas by sending messages along neural pathways and through repetition. These pathways become stronger and more efficient, and perceptions of our daily work interactions are influenced by them.

Because collaboration requires small groups of people, it involves multiple perceptions and assumptions across multiple individuals. It also demands energy and concentration, active listening, and openness to create connections between new ideas and connections of neural pathways. For effective team collaboration, managers must develop environments in which diverse perspectives and skills come together in the moment to stimulate new ideas and breakthroughs. This approach is opposite of the command-and-control managerial style that has been modelled for decades in the business world.

7 actions to maximize trust in the hybrid workplace

Managers who are committed to increasing engagement during virtual group meetings have several steps they can take, including:

    1. Creating moments of laughter and fun in team meetings — Taking a joint break during a virtual meeting where everyone is asked to turn on their cameras and share a funny story they experienced or heard recently is an excellent way of achieving this goal. Another way is to pause and have each team member answers a fun, get-to-know-you-better question, such as “If you could have one superpower, which one would you pick?”
    2. Encouraging ‘movement’ meetings to increase endorphins — These virtual meetings are conducted where each person is moving, such as going for a walk, while it is happening.
    3. Continuing to use videos for meetings — Yes, people are “zoomed out,” but managers should encourage maintaining the use of video for regular team meetings. Self-proclaimed “work futurist” Dominick Price points out that using video encourages individuals in the meeting to interrupt each other less and increases the opportunity for less-senior people, underrepresented individuals, and quieter people on the team to chime in, thereby getting more perspectives and ideas into the mix.
    4. Normalizing check-ins — Our Pandemic Nation research indicated that employers did a good job during the pandemic of demonstrating an interest in their employees’ well-being, especially those employees from underrepresented backgrounds. Indeed, using regular one-on-one, check-in meetings to ask and understand what employees need on a regular basis should continue as employees return to the office or work from home.
    5. Leading by example on well-being — The best way for managers to consistently maintain trust among their employees is to act with consistency and “walk your talk.” This is especially true for well-being. If the organization says that employee well-being matters, then managers need to make sure they are modelling that behavior by avoiding sending email after hours and on paid-time off.
    6. Establishing core work schedules — Flexibility is important, but for managers to maintain trust, creating regular “work hours” is a good idea for most teams. This is especially true for those teams in which daily and multiple instances of collaboration are critical to getting work done. Recent research found that team creativity and productivity benefit from “burstiness” in interaction, a pattern that occurs when team members synchronize their schedules so that they concentrate their interactions in shorter time periods.
    7. Avoiding a hyper-focus on productivity — The need for collaboration and creativity will increase in importance in next decade. Indeed, productivity gains will increasingly come from AI and automation of repetitive and administrative tasks and less from individual workers over the next decade. This phenomenon will free up more time for knowledge workers to then focus on creative work.

Managers need to tap into their own creativity to best spark trust, establish psychological safety, and solicit perspectives from all team members. To boost this creativity, time away from work and email is a must followed by properly applied well-being tactics — such as meditation, fun, and exercise. Managers must also be careful to avoid the outdated managerial approaches of command-and-control and micromanagement, which can destroy their own creativity and that of their teams.

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