Post-pandemic, the shift towards remote and hybrid working has become a defining feature of the modern workplace, with trade associations leading the charge. The 2023 Trade Association Forum (TAF) benchmarking survey highlights diverse approaches:

  • 97% of responding trade associations permit some degree of home working.
  • 28% of respondents allow staff full choice over where they work, 37% mandate a certain number of office days, and 14% specify which days must be in the office.
  • Almost one in five trade associations who responded have no fixed office, up from 9% the previous year, with 83% of these being small associations with fewer than six employees.

Embracing a flexible workforce offers significant benefits, including improved recruitment, retention, accommodating a diverse workforce, and cost savings from cutting back on office expenses. But in a recent webinar I led with TAF members on building great trade association teams, there were more questions about how to build strong hybrid teams than on anything else.

Because there are clearly challenges to hybrid and remote working too. Do these questions sound familiar?

  • How do we support new joiners to embed into our team?
  • How can people learn if they are not together?
  • Do we trust that work is being done?
  • How do we know that the team is productive?
  • How do we foster collaboration?
  • Are team members lonely? Am I lonely?
  • Does our tech support our approach?
  • How will we know if our approach is working?

TAF members are not alone in grappling with this issue. We’re in a strange period of transition, where organisations often face competing expectations from leaders, managers, employees, members and customers.

We’ve all seen the high-profile big beasts of finance and banking (now increasingly followed by corporates and even tech companies) demanding their teams return to the office four or five days a week. The ‘right’ to flexibility at work is becoming increasingly political.

So how do trade associations navigate these challenging times? Here are five ideas to guide your thinking:

1. Take stock, be deliberate, then embrace flexibility

Many teams made radical changes to working practices during Covid. They jumped quickly, out of necessity – often without fully revisiting the decisions taken again. Now it is time to take stock and understand how and where teams are working together now. Taking time for a deeper review of where you have ended up could be the most important decision you make this year. Then set a timeframe to review again as the external landscape continues to evolve.

2. Prioritise principles over rules

While some organisations impose strict return-to-office mandates, trade associations have the agility to adopt more flexible approaches. Instead of rigid rules, develop agreed principles across the organisation, providing direction, consistency and inspiration. This can be a fulfilling exercise for the whole organisation, allowing everyone to explore and agree on ‘what matters here’. There is growing consensus that specific working arrangements are best decided at team level – so encourage individual teams to use the shared principles to form their own working arrangements.

3. Make in-person meetings matter

While remote work offers flexibility, in-person interactions are invaluable for building strong team relationships and enhancing collaboration. Organise regular, intentional in-person meetings focused on strategy, collaboration, and social interaction. Ensure that these gatherings are meaningful and productive, rather than just a series of video calls conducted in the same physical space. Be creative about how your physical workspace can enhance performance and joy. Whether it’s a regular office or a shared working space, ensure it supports your team’s needs and fosters a positive working environment.

4. Invest in managers

Managing in a hybrid world is increasingly challenging. Expectations are growing, but training isn’t keeping pace: recent research by the Chartered Management Institute found that 82% of new managers have no training. How well are your managers equipped to provide the level of support needed by team members who aren’t together in the same space?

5. Don’t stop talking

Communication is the cornerstone of effective hybrid teams. In a hybrid setup, regular and open communication helps ensure everyone feels connected and valued, regardless of their location. Encourage people not to become over-reliant on messaging tools; help them to have voice or video calls. Model behaviour that allows deeper communications rather than wholly functional or operational – if the classic ‘watercooler moment’ no longer exists, this is part of the way you will need to build connection.

Building great hybrid teams requires a combination of flexibility, open communication, and a positive mindset.

Every trade association will find its own path, but sharing experiences and ideas can help. Join our upcoming Leaders Lunch on July 18 in London to discuss how workplace trends are impacting trade associations.

Caroline Gordon


Mix Partners

*Want to know more about what makes a successful trade association team?

Join Caroline for a leaders lunch on Thursday 18th July, discussing ‘Building strong trade association teams in a changing world of work’

Final spaces remaining, RSVP here

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