How social media can build trust and productivity in hybrid teams

Social media, far from being a time-sink, could be the way your hybrid-working team builds strong relationships for better collaboration and productivity.

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Offices may be re-opening, but professionals aren’t racing back to their desks. A recent survey by professional services firm PwC survey found more than half of employees want to keep working remotely for at least three days a week. 37 percent of workers surveyed for Kaspersky’s Securing the Future of Work report said they wanted to work mostly from home with regular office time.

This part in-office, part at-home workstyle is known as hybrid working. To get all the benefits, employees need ways to stay connected with colleagues while working remotely. Colleague connection is important for job satisfaction, company culture and effective collaboration. I believe social media has a lot to offer in building colleague connections and unlocking greater productivity.

Social media can add the crucial ‘trust factor’

When we trust colleagues, it’s easier to ask for help or share early-stage work that would benefit from feedback. When teams lack trust, they withhold information, avoid collaborating or second-guess each other’s advice.

When a research team looked at 52 studies of trust and teamwork, they found trust is even more important for remote-working teams to function well. If organizations work harder to build trust among employees spending most of their time apart, the potential gains are large.

Collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom and project tools to manage tech projects are a valuable part of keeping team members connected. But because they’re also where much of your work gets done, employees need other ways to connect too.

That’s where social media comes in. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and others can be great ways to improve trust and camaraderie in your team, but they can also undermine the relationships you hope to foster. With the right strategy and guidelines for using social media, you can help employees benefit from interactions while reducing risk.

Here are some of the keys to social media success I’ve seen successful workplaces use to good effect.

1.     Reframe leadership views of social media use

Many leaders have developed the view that using social media during work hours is time wasted. I’ve already mentioned how social media can help build the trust that’s important to productivity. Research also suggests workplace behavior seen as ‘slacking off’ could, in fact, boost productivity and creativity.

A recent review of studies found both positive and negative impacts from ‘cyberloafing,’ with researchers concluding “a little cyberloafing is important for healthy communication, innovation and productivity.” Trusting employees to manage their focus helps them function at their best.

2.     Openly endorse connecting on social media

The best way to get employees connecting on social media is easy: Explicitly encourage them to do just that.

There’s much to recommend it. When I ran my own social media agency, all our employees (voluntarily) connected on Facebook and Twitter. While it’s been ten years since we last worked together, we’re in regular social media contact, exchanging recipes, parenting stories and work opportunities.

3.     Have written social media guidelines

Ideally, your organization’s HR team should develop social media guidelines with advice from your legal and social media teams. If you don’t have organization-wide policies, you can still send a thoughtful email to direct reports outlining your perspective.

Start by looking at other organizations’ smart, effective social media policies. Your policy should make clear that invitations to connect with colleagues are optional and colleagues may have different preferences about connecting online. Take the opportunity to remind people to follow security best practices on networks like Twitter and LinkedIn.

4.     Model friendly connection

Your social media habits will cue the rest of your team. Think about how you’d like team members to connect, then model that behavior. If you want them to follow one another on Twitter and amplify or engage with each other’s posts, follow your direct reports and put them on a Twitter list you review regularly, so you see all their updates. Once employees see you responding to their and their colleagues’ tweets, they’ll see this as an extension of workplace relationships and another way to bring interesting ideas or information to your attention.

Don’t intrude on employees’ privacy by commenting on their high school reunion photos or latest parenting rant. If you’re hoping they’ll start to connect with you more personally, share posts that represent the kind of thing you hope they’ll share: Photos from your latest hike, novel recommendations or recipes. If team members comment, reply – it establishes a connection without intruding.

5.     Recognize different boundaries

In the same way some people are up for after-work drinks and others like to (or have to) go straight home, some employees like to keep their online interactions strictly professional while others don’t mind mixing business and personal. Employees who prefer to keep relationships professional may wish to confine colleague connections to business-first platforms like LinkedIn.

Advise employees of features that make it easier to draw a line between work and personal lives. For example, Twitter profiles can be made private so only people you explicitly allow can see posts. On Facebook, they could put colleagues on their ‘restricted’ list so they only see posts you make public. Kaspersky’s privacy checker gives platform-specific tips for protecting your privacy on apps like TikTok and WhatsApp too.

6.     What happens on Facebook stays on Facebook

I once shocked a client by asking her about her creative writing in front of her boss. While she shared her writing projects online, her boss had no idea of this outside interest until I outed her, to my regret.

That lesson has stayed with me: Not everyone wants their online life to follow them to the office. While it’s appropriate to pick up the thread of a LinkedIn conversation where you and a colleague discussed industry news, it’s best to avoid asking your coworker about her new kitchen in the boardroom.

7.     Designate one work-free zone

Even if you’re encouraging employees to connect on social media, make clear and model that it’s ok to keep at least one social media presence work-free. It’s healthy to have parts of life private from colleagues, even though employees must understand anything they post online could become public or known to coworkers and clients. Preserving one colleague-free zone means social media enthusiasts have a place to share kid photos or other personal interests without feeling like everything is on the record at the office.

8.     Talk openly about risk

Online relationships are fraught with risk. If your coworker posts a picture of their new boat, you may wonder if they got a big raise or feel envious in a way that undermines the work relationship. Colleagues friendly in the office may find themselves suspicious if online interactions reveal political differences. If one employee spots a coworker posting misleading, offensive or ill-judged content, she may find herself caught between respecting her colleague’s privacy and compromising her employer’s reputation.

Avert these risks by encouraging team members to think about the face they show to colleagues – and the world. Posts that would undermine coworker connection are posts that can pose reputation risks for your firm. You’re not just helping your team build stronger relationships, you’re helping them become more thoughtful, effective social media users.

The other kind of risk is online security. Ensure your team knows and practices basic cyber hygiene, including using secure passwords and being aware of the many ways secret information may become exposed at work.

A new frontier for colleague connection

By avoiding the pitfalls of social media and harnessing its potential for conversation and connection, you can establish a new frontier for building relationships among your workforce. Many have already turned to social media to replace the sociability they’ve missed from the office: A third of us miss face-to-face interaction more than anything else we miss about our workplace. Including our colleagues in that circle of sociability is a great way to reinforce connections frayed during time apart.

Social media can be a valuable part of company culture if used well. The sense of connection it fosters lets colleagues trust each other and work effectively as a team, making them happier in their hybrid working lives.

Kaspersky Privacy Checker

Take control of your personal data with our free advice on privacy settings for various online services.

About authors

Alexandra Samuel is a speaker and data journalist whose writing on technology and the workplace appears regularly in The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. She is the co-author of Remote, Inc.:How to Thrive at Work...Wherever You Are (Harper Business, 2021).