It’s safe to say that for the majority, the parameters around where work gets done has changed forever. Today’s employees expect some form of flexibility within their role, whether that is 100% remote for some or 3 days on site for others, resulting in leaders having to let go of traditional leadership styles and learn how to effectively manage in a hybrid environment.
Managing a team with varying personalities and needs nearly always comes with challenges, therefore adding a hybrid work environment to the mix adds another level of complexity. Managers are now dealing with limited visibility into workloads and have fewer opportunities for impromptu face-to-face conversations with their team. They may feel as though they are losing control as they struggle to recreate the collaboration, cohesiveness and connection of an office based team.
Ultimately, the effective leadership of a hybrid team comes down to practicing fairness and inclusiveness with every member of the team, irrespective of where they are working. Here are four tips for managing a hybrid team and fostering a team-oriented culture.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Moving from an office based team to a hybrid team can sometimes result in the role and responsibilities of each team member getting lost in translation. Therefore, it is important at the start of this transition to make clear to the team what aspects of the organisation’s culture will be staying the same and what will need to be adapted. This is also a good time to set expectations and make accountability clear for both home and office-based team members, to ensure everyone is aware of who is responsible of what.
It is important to have a clear plan in place for when and how you plan to communicate updates, who has access to what information and who is needed in which meetings. Establishing clear expectations for communication methods, schedules and project deadlines ensures productivity stays on track. Remember, it is unlikely that a manager will get this perfectly on the first try so be sure to check in with the team on how they are finding the new schedule and if & where changes need to be made.
2. Emphasise Inclusion
Traditional managers may find it easier to connect with those team members that are office-based and proximity bias may occur which leads to the incorrect assumption that people in the office work harder than those who are not. Equally, it can be very easy for team members to develop negative attitudes about the “other” group or speak about work in a way that excludes those working remotely. Managers need to make a conscious effort to put in place practices to counteract this tendency, in order to avoid creating a ‘them and us’ work culture.
Managers must encourage both office-based and remote workers to proactively build their working relationships and can facilitate this by establishing a basic ground rule that all team meetings are to take place over a collaboration tool such as Teams or Slack. Organising occasions that physically bring the team together is another way to build team unity and morale, as it gives all team members the opportunity to come together and connect on a personal level face-to-face.
3. Adjust your Communication Skills
Managing a hybrid team requires an entirely new set of communication skills and involves rethinking how you choose to communicate to ensure everyone feels equally included. When communicating in a digital setting, it’s important to pay close attention to non-verbal signals and ensure everyone gets their say and not just those physically in the room or the loudest on the call. It’s also worth encouraging the team to turn on their camera, as eye contact and body language are important elements of communication and seeing each other regularly will help remote staff feel included and part of the team.
It goes without saying that managers should try their best to avoid impromptu meetings in the office, as they automatically exclude those not in the office. When decisions need to be made, schedule a virtual call with relevant stakeholders, to ensure that the right people are involved in the conversation and the best possible decision is made.
4. Rewards & Benefits
Offering rewards and benefits helps to boost employee motivation, morale and overall positivity amongst the team. However, it is easy for managers to fall into the habit of opting for office-based benefits, such as in-office celebratory lunches, which can be demotivating for remote employees who are unable to participate. In this case, it is crucial that managers provide remote workers with an alternative that is equivalent to what the office employees receive.
When it comes to rewards and benefits, managers can also leverage technology for employee feedback and ideas. Managers should use polls and surveys within the collaboration tools to find out their employees' pain points and benefits they’d like to see introduced. Moreover, events such as guest speakers and wellbeing classes that take place in the office should be livestreamed and recorded for those working remotely so that nobody is missing out.
Hybrid environments are a new way of working and an organisational setup that managers may feel unprepared for. Letting go of conventional ideas about leadership and productivity is the most important step and once taken, allows managers to foster a culture of collaboration, team engagement and problem solving, regardless of location.