While all of us have grown weary of change, this shift to hybrid teams might be seen as yet another change. However, leaders and employees have demonstrated their resilience throughout the pandemic. They found a way to connect, communicate, and achieve results in a world burdened with professional and personal challenges and changes that none of us could have predicted.
In an episode of Breaktime Breakthroughs, Bryl Zenarosa, learning and development professional, talks about how to manage remote teams effectively which will help us as we start to figure out our path forward in a post-pandemic world.
Leaders can build on some of the best practices and skills they developed when working and leading remotely and apply them to leading hybrid teams. To have greater impact on engagement and performance, we can focus on these five best practices for leading hybrid teams
1. Be a Role Model for Hybrid Behaviors – In an area of change, people often look for role models from whom they can learn best practices. In a team environment, that is usually the leader. The leaders’ actions set the tone that the team will follow. If the CEO or the senior leadership team of a company always comes into the office and works day and night while some employees are working from home, what message does that send? Employees got to be in the office! Indeed, everything has to start with leadership.
Here are also some questions leaders can ponder:
- Do we encourage transparency and open communication in the team but filter information that we willingly share with them?
- Do we actively promote a good work-life balance but we’re fond of sending emails at 11 pm or when we are on leave?
- Do we expect our team members to be agile and adaptable but we’re the first to rant as soon as the upper management implements a cost containment measure?
What kind of example are we setting?
2. Trust Your People – The work-from-home setup brings the challenge of not being able to see if the employees are actually working. If we trusted our staff when work was still in the office, we need to continue trusting our staff when they are not in the office. We employed them because they are capable professional individuals. But just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean that this changes. Fundamentally, if we don’t trust the people who work for us, we’ve made a bad hiring decision and that is on us. A quote from the book Remote by Jason Fried and David Hansson also suggests that ”Either learn to trust the people working for you or find some new people to work with.”
One of the outcomes of remote and hybrid working is the shift from a time-based mindset to an output or delivery-based mindset. With this shift, it is imperative as a leader to clearly articulate the business priorities, set smart goals, empower and trust your team to deliver. Accountability is achieved when leaders stay close enough to the work each team member is doing. This is to provide the coaching and support they need, along with the recognition for their efforts. Most of the time, this can be done without micromanaging.
3. Level the Playing Field – This is one of the greatest challenges when leading remote individuals and teams. It’s even more challenging with a hybrid team! To establish inclusion, leaders must treat everyone with respect and fairness. Remote employees might feel that those in the office have greater access to the leader and to other team members. Those one-on-one meetings that leaders increased during the pandemic should continue equally for all team members. In a team meeting, leaders should seek to establish psychological safety.
To do this, leaders need to include all team members and involve all meeting participants. This will help to create a sense of belonging. Research has shown that meeting people in person is important for building trust. Look for opportunities to have all team members together even if we can only do so on rare occasions such as when employees officially return to the workplace. In addition, we should continue to use our cameras for remote one-on-one and team meetings. In a survey by Zoom, eighty-two (82%) percent of users said there was greater trust with videos turned on. Lastly, create a culture of transparency where all team members are encouraged to share their experiences and concerns. A working environment with this culture allows employees to freely discuss the undiscussable.
4. Ensure the Team Members Have the Right Tools- It is critical to invest in the right tools and setup for each team member’s unique situation. For remote workers, this may include better wi-fi, headsets, and webcams. As a leader, it is also important that we guide the business in investing in the right software. Only we know which software is right for your team. Whichever software we choose should reflect the company culture. In choosing the correct tools, we need to take some time to compare the pros and cons of each option and ask the staff if they have a preference to ensure a complete digital transformation. Here are some major software systems that we can look into:
- Knowledge-Based Systems – Zendesk and Confluence
- Design Tools- Canva and Adobe Photoshop
- Project Management Applications- Trello, Asana
- Brainstorming Tools- Google Jamboard, Mindomo
- Online Engagement Websites- Kahoot, Gather Town
- Cloud Storage Options- Microsoft’s Onedrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive (Keep in mind to employ cyber security measures to keep our data and business safe and secure.)
5. Make People Feel Connected and Create a Sense of Community – When working remotely in a hybrid environment, it is critical that each of our team members continue to feel valued and appreciated. Unfortunately, it is more difficult for a leader to maintain a close relationship with people when they don’t see face to face on a regular basis. Therefore, we need to make special efforts to keep in regular contact with each team member. These efforts should be tailored to the needs of each individual. Some team members may need extra coaching on certain aspects of the job. Another may be worrying about their career progression prospects while a third may be grappling with domestic challenges. Do not confine our discussions to just immediate task-related topics. Talk more broadly about the business, your team’s aspirations, and upcoming developments.
It’s also worth thinking about how to bring some playfulness into the workday. Many of us miss the laughter and spontaneity from our pre-pandemic lives. So, why don’t you hold an informal zoom room every Friday around lunchtime? This is so people can chat freely like they would in the office pantry. We can talk about books they’re reading to their kids or their latest Netflix obsessions. Just make sure that these events are open to everyone on the team regardless of where they are working. We might also conduct themed meetings where colleagues wear witty masks or hold after-office milk tea sessions. Don’t take a one size fits all approach- an effective hybrid leader needs to be sensitive to the different needs of each individual and address those specific needs as effectively as possible
We hope these tips help us in managing our remote teams. Just a word of caution, do not expect any of these to be easy. There will be bumps along the way so be humble and patient. Hybrid teams are here to stay. As leaders, it is wise to continue honing our ability to manage, engage, and build positive culture regardless of physical location. Take heart and all the best in our next normal!