Flexible work is here to stay and employers need to think about how to best manage hybrid work teams.
That’s one of the major conclusions of a Microsoft report that surveyed over 30,000 people in 31 countries and analyzed trillions of productivity and labor signals across Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn.
The report notes that employees want the best of both worlds – they want flexible work options to remain in place as well as to spend more in-person time with their colleagues. A number of other studies have come to similar conclusions – greater workplace freedom seems to work well for a lot of people.
Of course, there are pros and cons to the hybrid workplace model for employers that need to be taken into account. Yet, given the still uncertain trajectory of the pandemic, shifting to a hybrid work model currently seems to be the most viable option.
So what should companies do to manage hybrid work teams successfully? Here are a number of tips that can help you stay on top of your management game as you shift toward this model.
Before we look at how you can manage your hybrid team successfully, it’s best to define what is meant by a hybrid work team.
Over time, the meaning of hybrid work has changed. Up to a few years ago, the dominant understanding of a hybrid team was one where part of the employees worked in an office, and another part worked remotely. These groups were distinct and different.
Currently, hybrid work teams are more dynamic. For many companies, a hybrid team is one in which employees largely decide on their own where they want to work. This means that an employee may be anywhere on the spectrum between working full-time in an office and working full-time remotely.
This is hardly news to most and the pandemic certainly offered a crash course in how to do it. But as a manager, you can successfully lead your hybrid team in a way that both supports employees but also sets clear expectations and rules. That way, you won’t be overwhelmed with uncertainty and will always have a clear sense of the team’s performance, regardless of its location.
Managing a hybrid team is about setting the right frame and expectations along with empowering employees to do what works best for them. This will allow you to reinvent and reimagine traditional work environments and scenarios while maintaining performance. Below are some tips on how to get started
You can explore this topic even further in this in-depth eBook on making the hybrid model sustainable for all.
Prior to introducing any kind of hybrid work model, you should consider soliciting employee feedback about whether such a model would be welcome. Depending on the model you currently have in place, a hybrid arrangement may be met with support or resistance… or both.
By providing employees with greater autonomy and input in deciding on whether to adopt a hybrid model and what that should look like, you are setting the ground for greater buy-in down the line. This is an important precondition to successfully negotiating the terms and expectations within any model that you end up adopting.
Trust is an essential building block of any hybrid team. The increase in remote work over the last few years has redefined how trust is built within teams but that needn’t scare you. Less immediate oversight doesn’t necessarily mean less control or input.
One way in which you can build trust in the team is to invest resources and time in solidifying and growing your company’s culture. You can do this by providing more opportunities for social connection between team members and regular above-average communication. Seeing how everyone is taking care of their part of the work helps build trust across geographic distances.
Offering support and understanding to people’s individual circumstances is an important element to building a functioning and healthy hybrid team. You may find that some people agree begrudgingly to returning to the office, whereas for others it may offer relief from feeling locked in and isolated. In either case, supporting your team is essential when looking for the right way to implement a hybrid model.
Finally, make sure to watch out for signs of stress or burnout. As people shift their lives around once again, being flexible and accommodating is key in making an easy transition.
Trust is built on shared expectations. Setting ground rules and clear expectations about everybody’s input in the work process helps reduce uncertainty. There are several different dimensions that you need to keep in mind here.
One set of expectations applies to what you expect of team members in terms of availability and behavior during working hours. Here you will need to strike a balance between those who wish to work more flexibly and those who wish to work within a specific time frame, and certain compromises may be inevitable.
Specifying individual responsibilities and tasks, how these fit into the big picture, and what goals you are working toward is a second dimension. This is best communicated by providing a simple and shared overview of the process that is accessible by everyone at any time. It helps contextualize people’s individual input and when and how it is required.
Thirdly, in order to support the above, you need to lay clear ground rules about how to best communicate – via what channels, to whom, when, and how (for more about communication, see below).
Creating shared work schedules is important in order to maintain greater transparency but also in making sure that you can safely accommodate employees in your office.
For this reason, it is necessary that you coordinate work schedules in advance. One way of coordinating the use of individual desks as well as meeting rooms is through hybrid workplace management software.
This will allow you to avoid scheduling complications and the need to keep track, as is often the case, of a multitude of spreadsheets. It will also guarantee that team members can make use of the office safely and efficiently.
Providing and receiving regular feedback is central to the task of managing a hybrid work team. Whether it is through weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings, surveys, or else, regular feedback helps you stay in touch with employees and their needs.
Any hybrid team is a work in progress and receiving regular feedback will provide you with clear information about what is or isn’t currently working in your specific case. Based on this, and in collaboration with the team, you will be able to change course and adapt to new circumstances.
On the other hand, regularly providing feedback to employees about their performance in the team is also vital. Due to the greater autonomy afforded to members in a hybrid team, it is essential to regularly check in with them, transparently assess their work, and look for ways to improve, if necessary.
In all of the above, good communication is key. Managing a hybrid team creates ample opportunities for communication gaps and these are one of the main sources of problems.
To avoid such gaps, communication must be clear and detailed. Ideally, you should centralize your communications, and reduce them to only a few official channels so that they don’t get scattered.
Meetings should be scheduled well in advance (and recorded, when necessary) and impromptu meetings which cannot be attended by everyone concerned should be avoided. Similarly, while watercooler conversations are certainly a pleasant aspect of working together in an office, you should make sure that no decisions are taken in that format because this can further feed the breakdown in communications.
Finally, because team members in a hybrid team are located in different places or because they may need to be offline for the purpose of focusing on their work, you should consider implementing forms of asynchronous communication when possible. This will guarantee that you stay in touch but do not interrupt each other unless necessary.
A hybrid model almost inevitably raises questions about performance and how it is measured. Ultimately, in a hybrid team, performance measurement must be based on the quality of work and its relation to the objectives that are shared by the team, not someone’s presence in an office or specific hours of work.
For this reason, it is important that you measure performance in ways that are fair and equal for everyone. How you do that is also something that you could discuss with the team in order to come up with solutions that are shared and that team members subscribe to. Since performance is also linked to career progression here, too, you must develop progression plans that are fair for the different types of employees.
As the work environment changes, what’s called for is for managers to adapt and find ways to support their teams while maintaining structure and internal cohesion. The hybrid work model is already reshaping our understanding of how companies can function, and it presents both challenges as well as opportunities. The tips above will help you get started with creating your own model and manage your hybrid work team successfully.
Want to know more about how to introduce a hybrid model and manage your team? Make sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Hybrid Workplace Management!
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