by Kai Andrews

Part 2: Hone your ability to lead a hybrid team.

With offices reopening, organizations are flexing to provide employees with the choice of where, when, and how to work – a hybrid work model. As teams embrace the new work dynamic, leaders must adapt their management styles to embrace new structures. Managers need to acquire new skills around building empathetic connections, virtual teaming, and location-independent equity if an organization is going to truly evolve into a hybrid work environment.

This article assumes your company has agreed to a hybrid work model and the prerequisite policies and support structures are in place. If not, you can refer to the first article in this series, “The Next Normal – How to Make a Hybrid Work Model Work.”

Now let’s explore tactics across the three dimensions – where, when, and how – that you, as a leader, can employ to manage your hybrid team.

Where work is done

Effectively manage your team members working in remote locations by implementing the following guidelines:

  • Use team consensus to define remote location options. Determine acceptable remote work locations, within corporate policy. You know your team, so make sure they are OK with someone dialing in from a soccer game sideline or even a beach chair.
  • Recognize team member locations. Know what time zone your team members are in when setting up meetings or reaching out to them via a chat or email. Also recognize there are different experiences happening in different locations. From hot geopolitical issues to sports team victories to the weather, keeping tabs on what is going on around the world and bringing topics up during meetings can help create a sense of belonging and camaraderie.
  • Consider different cultural norms. Meeting formalities, decision-making processes and communication styles must be understood so you can effectively engage with each member of your team.
  • Participate from remote locations. If you endorse remote work, participate in the practice. Work from home a couple of days per week. Call in to a meeting while taking a walk.
  • Increase the rigor of 1:1 check-ins. Combat the “out of sight, out of mind” problem and engage on a regular basis with your virtual team members. Set up short weekly touch-bases where the conversation is casual and light. Then, once every few weeks, conduct a more formal meeting where you discuss work status, challenges, opportunities and needs. 

When the work is done

Not all organizations include this in their hybrid work model, so be sure to align with your corporate polices. To manage teams with varying time differences, consider the following:

  • Set “time of work” guardrails. Work with your team to set rules regarding what type of flex time is acceptable. Determine whether your team will allow more aggressive scheduling options such as 4/10 workweeks or whether you prefer more conservative morning/evening shifts. Secondly, identify when there are times to restrict flexibility. Perhaps there are month-end processes that require all team members to be available during regular business hours. Being up front with these restrictions will reduce confusion later.
  • Understand your team members’ optimal work rhythm. Which people are morning people? Who are the night owls? Or who simply wants to retain a regular working day and flex on occasion? Put together a process of how the team will communicate when someone is flexing their work time.
  • Think about when you are hitting the “send” button. As a leader, consider the impact on your team when they receive a message from you during flex hours. Set expectations for when to respond to messages during the weekend or evening. Perhaps different channels demand different rules – an “urgent” chat possibly indicates a need to respond no matter what time it is, while an email can wait. Once these norms are in place, adhere to them. While it is good to show that you are embracing flex work times, don’t make your team feel like they must align with your own work cadence.
  • Purposefully relieve screen time fatigue. Flex time is not just about when employees work, but also about addressing the work being done during those hours. Work with your team to reduce the number of consecutive hybrid meetings in a day. Block off times or even days for meeting-free work.

How the work is done

Digital tools have evolved considerably to improve our ways of working, such as:

For communication:

  • Decide on communication channels, whether it’s chats, emails or video calls. Align with your team on which channels are appropriate for a given message. Consider the message’s formality, complexity and audience size when choosing the correct medium.
  • Agree on channel response times. Just as important as choosing the right channel is agreeing on how quickly a team member is expected to respond to a communication. Remember, even chats don’t require immediate responses if that is an acceptable norm.
  • Encourage casual chat encounters. Replicate casual water cooler chats via random chats. Take time each day to flip through your virtual rolodex and reach out to someone just to say hello.
  • Engage everyone with polling tools. If you are looking for feedback or a volunteer, use equitable tools to engage the entire team. Whether in the office or working from home, all must have visibility to the request and the ability to respond in a timely basis.

For file management:

  • Agree on file locations. Just like a team understands which communication methods to use, your team must also understand where to store files so that they are easily shared and discoverable.
  • Send links to files whenever possible. Set expiration dates and download blocks on sensitive content, and consider whether the link is read-only or allows for editing. Use one version! All modern file management tools have built-in version control. Use it and learn it to prevent your team from working on or referencing out-of-date content.
  • Once that link is shared, encourage your team to work on the document simultaneously. Don’t create new versions or save copies on your own computer.
  • Alongside your simultaneous edits, use comments to provide feedback or ask questions of others. Resist the urge to send an email with feedback - just comment in the document itself.

For meetings:

  • Treat hybrid meeting participants as equal participants. Give them the ability to interact with content and other meeting members as if they were in the room.
  • Turn on the camera and look at the TV when talking. Angle your tables so that everyone is facing the camera.
  • Mind the microphone and avoid side conversations. Avoid rustling papers or eating food, which can be disruptive to remote participants.
  • Use digital white boards or open a blank PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation, share it with all participants and co-edit on that blank canvas.
  • Actively call on remote participants so that everyone’s voice is heard.

There are many considerations here, but each is important in evolving your leadership skills in a hybrid work environment. Hold both yourself and the team accountable to promote a healthy hybrid workspace. Document your team agreements, “sign” them and post them. Regularly solicit your team for feedback on how well hybrid work is working for them, and evolve the model based on feedback. Set up SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals for yourself and incorporate them into your performance scorecard. For example, are your feedback scores high? Are you promoting equally across a hybrid team? Are your processes more efficient?

But most important: embrace the new work environment. Share stories of success and lessons learned. This is an evolving journey for you and your team, so have fun and explore the new ways of working together.

Looking for more tools and tips? Learn more here