Managing the challenge of a hybrid team

There’s no denying that the hybrid work model is here to stay. And as we evolve and adapt to this post COVID-19 future, business leaders are quickly coming to understand that a shift in management style is also required in order to keep team engagement, performance, and spirits high.

One of the most challenging aspects of the new flexi work environment, say many leaders, is being able to accurately gauge where staff are at (not only physically, but emotionally too). The constant movement between on-site and off-site can lead to feelings of disconnectedness. There is less visibility into workloads and processes, fewer opportunities for spontaneous two-way conversations, and the usual office camaraderie and collaboration can wane.

In this sense, the manager’s role is now more important than ever. They are the proverbial glue that holds the team together. The person that drives performance and productivity, while aiming to maintain cohesion and stop the gap between company leadership and employees from widening.

Trying to navigate this is no small task, and strategies used will depend on staff setup, company policies, and the unique nature of the work. However, in terms of broad stroke solutions to proactively and effectively lead a hybrid team, the following areas are worth considering.

Establish clear boundaries

The first step to creating a winning hybrid model is to establish firm ground rules - will the team be fully remote, or do they need to report to the office? If so, how often? Involving staff, if possible, in the early stages of this decision-making will help gain buy-in. Then, mapping out precisely what is expected on-site and off-site, and being clear about responsibilities, processes, policies and outcomes, will put everyone on the same page. 

Be flexible

Importantly, not all team members will be in the same position when it comes to working remotely. Some may thrive in their home environment, while others may find it stressful. In this sense, managers should remain flexible, and be open to different ‘rules’ for different people. Allowing employees the freedom to decide where and how they operate best (within reason) will go a long way towards maximising efficiencies and staff satisfaction.

Build trust

Not being in the office every day can lead to doubts around performance and job security. Am I doing a good job? Is my position within the company secure? Anxious employees are not particularly productive employees, which is why it’s important to provide regular, positive feedback, and foster trust and inclusion among your hybrid team. Also, reassuring people that it is safe to speak freely and exchange thoughts and ideas can help unleash creativity, build confidence and promote productivity. Managers should proactively establish trust by role modelling and encouraging characteristics such as authenticity, dependability and openness.

Share purpose

Purpose is key to performance, and with hybrid work this is now especially important. Managers need to be clear about articulating purpose and highlighting to the team (as individuals and a collective) how their work connects and intersects with the overall goals and success of the business. Discussing the big picture, but also focusing on details such as mutual dependencies, group aims and desired outcomes, will help build purpose. As will taking the time to celebrate achievements and acknowledging wins.

Maintain connection

Staying connected with co-workers is perhaps one of the hardest challenges under the hybrid model. Virtual meet-ups are fine on one level. However, without the physical face-to-face, it is difficult to maintain professional and social relationships. Managers can help forge stronger bonds by scheduling regular check-ins, organising on-site events, and creating informal opportunities for staff to get together (e.g., an interactive weekly quiz, team challenge, or social chat channel). Keeping the company culture front and foremost is also key. Share good news stories from across the business, keep everyone abreast of the latest developments, and be sure that all the communication is inclusive, and two-way.

Lastly, it is important to remember that the hybrid work model is relatively new, therefore, managers may not get it 100% right the first time, or have all the answers straight away. This is an evolving process! But an exciting one too - and certainly the way of the future.