As businesses adapt to the post-pandemic world, it’s clear that hybrid work is here to stay. But while many have accepted that hybrid working is “the future of work”, few are clued up on how to actually manage a hybrid team. What hybrid work actually looks like can vary enormously depending on industry, organization size, employee roles, and individual preferences, so how can we navigate these nuances and ensure tensions don’t arise? Without a blueprint, how can we make sure the way employees are managed is both efficient and fair?
Consider the equity of virtual vs non-virtual work
While hybrid working tends to provide workers with a greater level of freedom and the ability to schedule their work around the rest of their lives, it can also create new tensions within different levels of an organization. There are some people who find remote work effortless, who have instantly adapted to working from home and directing themselves—but there are also many people who struggle with the lack of support or management.
A powerful advantage to working in an office-based organization is that offices act as social levellers, guaranteeing a certain type of equity between employees. But this doesn’t exist in a hybrid team, and the system can be fraught with significant inequality. Not only are some people just more suited to managing themselves, but the WFH experience varies greatly based on its level of comfort, the type of environment you’re working in, and the quality of the technology you have access to.
“We carried out an engagement survey after the summer, and it became obvious that some managers were struggling in the new environment,” a CEO of a European logistics company told Harvard Business Review. “Some managers were reactive rather than proactive, and in a way had disappeared. The subordinates were lacking in support or had increasingly tense interaction with the managers.” As surveys like this show, some employees are unhappy with their virtual effectiveness, or with how hard they find it to express themselves fluently.
In order to best support hybrid teams, companies must think carefully about how they can ensure everyone’s experience is as equal as possible. If someone is feeling unconfident, can you increase managerial training and mentoring? How can you adapt your remote work policy to ensure everyone is able to perform at the same level? It’s incredibly important that CEOs are able to recognize that their own virtual experiences are not necessarily indicative of the whole company, and take active steps to understand what they can do to support others.
Hybrid team communication, collaboration & culture
Another issue that’s recently been highlighted is the “hybrid paradox”, which refers to the fact that while in-person communication is becoming increasingly uncommon at work, at the same time having strong people skills is becoming more important than ever. Leaders must be able to listen, to show empathy, and be able to connect with their team—and when you’re trying to do all this through a screen it can present difficulties and challenges.
To counteract these issues, leaders may have to allocate more time to team management and coaching, and take steps to invest in creating a culture that extends from the physical office and into people’s remote working environments. One CEO told HBR that since going hybrid, they “feel that the discussions, both in teams and one on one, have been more in-depth and personal as would have been the case face to face. I am much closer to my team on a personal level now.”
So how can other leaders adapt their listening and communication skills to ensure that the sense of connection doesn’t suffer? While it may be key to put in extra time and effort to ensure that hybrid teams still feel visible and managed, it’s equally important not to overload people with too many meeting requests. When casual chats or follow-ups used to happen spontaneously, in a hybrid team they need to be formally scheduled – and while hybrid employees may be physically alone, having calendars jam-packed with meetings can make them feel overwhelmed and inundated. So, managers will need to think about how to get the balance right.
Another essential factor for managers to consider is collaboration between departments; how will you make sure collaborative work isn’t compromised? How will hybrid workers know when they can collaborate in-person with their colleagues, or when they should schedule meetings? And if half a hybrid team works mostly from home and the other half is mainly office-based, how can you avoid silos forming?
Finally, whatever steps you take to deal with these issues, how will they actually be managed? Which tools and apps will you use to keep everyone aligned? Because even if some employees are still office-based, to guarantee fluidity between hybrid teams you need to make sure everyone’s kept in the loop and has access to the same information.
Every business looking to manage a hybrid team needs to reflect on and organize around these questions. Ultimately, however you structure and manage a hybrid team, to succeed you must be able to communicate effectively—and this can’t be achieved without a robust remote-first policy that uses async, transparent communication.