You want to pull your team together for an impromptu brainstorming session. A few years ago, you might’ve popped your head out of the office and asked everybody to grab a snack and join you in the conference room.
Today? Things aren’t quite so quick and simple.
As you plan your return to the office, you realize that you might have a couple of employees who are working onsite, a few who have opted to work entirely from home, and several who do a little bit of both.
This raises a lot of questions for leaders. How are they going to keep everybody on the same page? How can they foster a positive team culture when people aren’t actually together? Are they going to end up bouncing back and forth between their in-office and remote teams like a rogue ping-pong ball?
Managing a hybrid team can feel daunting, but rest assured—it’s doable. Let’s dig into what you need to know to ensure your entire team is happy and productive—regardless of where they choose to work.
But First… What Is A Hybrid Team?
Traditionally, a hybrid team was composed of two distinct types of workers: Those who worked in the office and those who worked remotely.
However, now that the working world is more fluid than ever, this definition has expanded. A hybrid team is made up of employees who get to choose where they get their work done.
Some might work in the office full-time, some might work remotely full-time, and others might alternate their time spent working onsite or working from home, depending on what suits them best that day or week.
As a manager, this autonomous approach can seem a little foreign. Isn’t knowing where your employees are on any given day one of your most basic responsibilities?
But, this level of flexibility on work teams is quickly becoming the new normal. Microsoft research conducted specifically in the United Arab Emirates found that 97% of business leaders expect a more hybrid way of working in the longer-term.
The Pros And Cons Of Hybrid Teams
Will we ever get back to a reality where every single employee works side-by-side in an office Monday through Friday? It seems unlikely, especially when a Gallup poll found that 53% of respondents plan to work from home more often than they did prior to the pandemic.
Having a combination of in-office and remote team members offers plenty of advantages for leaders and teams, but like anything, it presents some challenges and drawbacks too.
The Pros Of A Hybrid Model
- Happier employees: Some of your employees might love remote work, while others love the water cooler chat in an office environment. The real magic happens when you give them the autonomy to choose their own environment. Research shows that higher levels of worker autonomy lead to greater job satisfaction and a better sense of wellbeing.
- Boosted employee retention: When employees are happier, they’re more likely to stick around. Offering this level of flexibility to your team members can keep them from seeking out greener pastures.
- Bigger talent pool:Don’t worry—there are advantages for you as the leader too. When you have an open role on your team, you can search for the best talent regardless of location. Considering that 71% of recruiters say they struggle to fill positions because of skill gaps, removing the geographic barrier opens you up to even more qualified candidates.
The Cons Of A Hybrid Model
- Strained social connections: Our relationships with our colleagues carry a lot of weight, and forging these bonds can feel complicated when everybody is spread out. Plus, as Harvard Business Review points out, having some employees in-office and others working from home can breed an “‘us versus them” mentality on your team.
- Lack of visibility: For managers, dispersed employees means it’s tougher to see the work everybody is doing. That’s a concern for employees too. In original research at Atlassian, employees shared concerns that being “out of sight and out of mind” could hurt their potential for career advancement.
- Communication breakdowns:It’s tougher to bring employees together on hybrid teams, which means silos can form and wires get crossed. It’s a plight that many remote teams are already familiar with, as communication and collaboration are cited as the top struggle of working remotely in Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report.
4 Tips To Manage A Positive And Productive Hybrid Team
Here’s the next question you likely have: How do you reap the benefits of leading a hybrid team, while navigating around all of the potential pitfalls?
Start by recognizing that this is a learning process. Hybrid teams are uncharted territory for a lot of managers, which means you might experience some hiccups. That’s okay—provided you’re committed to learning from them.
Now that you’re willing to show yourself some well-deserved grace and patience, here are a few other strategies to help you manage a hybrid team in this new world of work.
1. Foster A Remote-First Culture
It’s entirely possible that a good portion of your employees will decide to head back into the office while only a few opt to continue working from home. Regardless of what those numbers tell you, running a remote-first team will be your best bet to keep things running smoothly.
What does it mean to be remote-first? To put it simply, this approach makes remote work the default for your team. People are able to successfully do their jobs from anywhere.
Even if you have employees who are working on-site, focusing on remote work helps you get the right systems and processes in place to enable your entire team to do great work—whether they’re working at the desk next to you or across the world.
There are both big and small changes you can make to ensure you’re taking the emphasis off of location and more on collaboration, including:
- Utilizing tools that team members can access from anywhere (and ideally, from any device).
- Centralizing communication in a specific platform so that important messages aren’t siloed or missed.
- Always including a video link with meeting invites, so participants can still join if they decide to work from home that day.
- Asking everybody to join video calls from their own computers (even if they’re in-office), so it’s easier for team members to see facial expressions and interact with each other.
Here’s the simplest way to think about it: Your employees should have access to the same files, information, and resources regardless of where they’re working. They might not get the free break room coffee when they’re working from home, but everything else they need should be easily and readily available to them.
2. Trust Your Employees To Fulfill Expectations
When you have employees working here, there, and everywhere, it can be tempting to keep an eye on their every move.
That’s not sustainable (especially if your team is growing). Plus, there’s a crucial ingredient for true employee autonomy: trust. If you’re going to allow employees to choose where they get their best work done, then you also need to trust them to determine how and when they power through their to-do lists.
For that reason, a results-based culture is the best fit for a hybrid team. This requires you to place the emphasis on what your employees are producing, and less on the details of how they’re doing it.
How do you foster this sort of culture? Start by setting crystal clear expectations about what tasks employees have to complete and what responsibilities you need them to fulfill. Then, provide clarity about how you define success. Basically, what are they working toward?
Using SMART goals or measurement systems like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can give both in-office and remote employees the necessary visibility into what they should be focused on—so you can step back and get out of their way.
3. Regularly Offer And Solicit Feedback
It doesn’t matter where your employees are working—they want feedback, but they don’t always know how to ask for it. In a survey conducted by Reflektive, 25% of employees admitted they don’t know how to request the feedback they crave from their managers.
With all of your employees, schedule a recurring one-on-one meeting (at least once per month) where you can connect about their daily work, challenges, and their broader career goals.
It’s not only a great way to demonstrate that you’re invested in their work and success, but it also presents an opportunity for you to collect feedback about what is and isn’t working in your hybrid work environment. Some questions you could ask include:
- You’ve been working [in-office/remote/combination]. How has that been going?
- What do you think our team is doing really well in terms of collaboration?
- What challenges are you running into with team members being spread out?
It’s impossible to know everything and you’re definitely not a mind-reader, so these questions provide a chance for employees to bring up concerns or sticking points that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise.
For example, perhaps a remote employee will mention that in-office workers often forget to turn off screen-sharing when they’re done with a presentation. Then, remote employees are stuck staring at the slide deck and can’t see their other team members.
It’s a seemingly small snag, but has the potential to make remote team members feel like an afterthought. So, it’s worth addressing with your entire team to ensure everybody feels valued and included.
4. Provide Opportunities For Social Connection
There are a lot of logistics to take care of when leading a hybrid team, but the emotional side deserves just as much emphasis.
The relationships we share with the people we work with have a huge impact on our happiness, performance, and even stress levels. Gallup research found that women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged than women who say otherwise.
Forging these bonds becomes a little more complicated when your entire team isn’t working side-by-side, and loneliness is reported as another major struggle of remote work. Even further? If in-office employees have regular opportunities for things like small talk and shared lunches, team members who choose to work remotely can feel even more isolated from their colleagues.
For that reason, you need to provide social opportunities that are accessible regardless of where employees choose to work. A few ways you can do this include:
- Create a dedicated instant message channel for all things friendly-chatter, like Netflix recommendations, and pet photos.
- Reserve time at the start or end of your team meetings for personal updates and small talk.
- Schedule some remote-friendly team gatherings and activities, like participating in a virtual trivia contest, attending a virtual happy hour, or contributing to a shared productivity playlist.
- Set up a standing video conference where people can easily jump in and have lunch or coffee together if they want.
You don’t want your in-office employees to have one experience with your culture, while remote employees have a completely different one. So, offering these opportunities that bring all of your employees together will help them forge strong bonds from wherever they are.
Keep Your Whole Team Together (Without Actually Being Together)
Gone are the days when you’d poke your head out from your office and see all of your employees working side-by-side. Hybrid teams are a new reality, and this level of fluidity can feel daunting for managers who need to figure out how to help their teams collaborate seamlessly.
Here’s the good news: The above strategies can help you oversee a hybrid team that gets great work done together—whether they’re working at the same desk or across the world.