As the workforce moves back to the office, some workers will face challenges returning or not wish to return, at least as things were in the past. Surveys have shown that as much as 89% of people report higher work satisfaction while working from home and 40% report not wishing to return to the office at all. Failing to support working from home risks alienating almost half of your potential workforce, so clearly going back to all-office all-the-time will not be the strategic model used by the champion companies in the future. But how to manage your hybrid team in your office?
Why Support Hybrid Team?
- Higher productivity
- Improved employee well-being
- Larger labor pool
Allowing people to work from home some or most of the time has long been shown to bring higher productivity, improved well-being as well as access to a much larger labor pool. Commuting, for example, not only takes valuable time away from work but can exact emotional costs of traffic, road rage, and much anxiety. Someone arriving after a close call or unexpectedly long commute likely loses the first hour or more complaining to a friend (costing more time) just to calm down.
People working from home can support their own personal, health, and family needs far more easily, allowing them to avoid days off by shifting their hours as needed and still getting their work done. While having employees that *never* meet with their team in person is not a great practice, with good digital engagement, in-person meetings may be needed as little as once per year to maintain engagement.
Achieving a productive hybrid workforce requires overcoming three major obstacles: clarity of goals and role, autonomy of activity, and equity in access. Failing any of these is likely to reduce productivity and/or cause employees to seek work elsewhere. Without clarity of goals, deadlines, and expectations, employees and managers can’t stay on the same page. The bad old habits of micro-managing and checking in constantly don’t work with remote employees. Clarity on goals and expectations also makes accountability much easier. With clarity and accountability in place, managers can fight their internal pull to retain control and focus on results instead of process.
Autonomy becomes paramount with remote teams: people must be able to work independently much of the time to succeed. Neuroleadership Institute recently had a podcast on the importance of autonomy which they’ve been studying for decades. They developed the SCARF model that reflects the 5 Elements of Motivation and have studied how autonomy fits in. There is a critical balance to be struck in creating autonomy. People have a natural tug-of-war between the desire to be in control and have autonomy but they also need a level of structure and certainty to maintain a sense of safety.
The last major hurdle to effective hybrid teams is equity. Natural cognitive, implicit and social biases constantly cause us to unconsciously favor those in our presence. This “favoring” of people in the office is a big cause of hybrid team failure. People naturally form “us” around people close to us and “them” for those who are not nearby. Fighting this natural instinct and creating equity between in-office and remote employees is critical to success with hybrid teams. It’s a tough fight, so you’ll need good technology, good management practices and ways to measure success and hopefully learn how to improve over time.
How to support hybrid team
- Quality management techniques (right team, clear goals, trust, transparency)
- Methodical use of technology to engage in-office and remote employees equally
- Reimagining the overall work environment
Supporting a hybrid team is not new to some. Global consulting, offshore outsourcing and other firms with far-flung employees have long worked very hard to keep their necessarily hybrid workforce engaged and highly productive. HBR wrote about best practices for “virtual teams” in 2014 which shares the importance of having the right people on the team, clear roles and goals, trust, transparency and effective use of technology. Not really that much different from managing people in the office, except that the stakes for not doing these things well are far higher in a hybrid team. They also offered ideas for engaging remote employees including clear metrics for success, cultivating trust and consistent treatment of remote and in-office employees. MIT Sloan offered best practices in setting up remote workers to thrive (paywall) in 2009! Artemis breaks down many benefits and best practices to dig in further.
Besides great management techniques and tools, a few other issues need to be tackled with hybrid teams. Leverage a few of the myriad of online collaboration tools to enable collaboration, increase transparency and give new employees a way to read through historical decisions to understand leadership’s thought process. It’s also critical to ensure employees have a choice about their location as children, available space and a need for privacy are all issues that can impede employees from working from home effectively.
Reimagining the traditional work environment to emphasize collaboration and connection during time spent in the office while relegating all meetings to video conference to keep participants on equal footing to gain the most from being in person while maintaining consistency with remote employees. Offering flexibility in terms of time and location turns out to increase commitment to the organization as well. Lastly, even for employees who are 100% remote, meeting the team is critical. Be sure to get the tribe together in person at least once per year, preferably more with localized team members.
- Drive autonomy with clear corporate goals, individual goals to support them, and accountability to deliverables.
- Use technology consistently (e.g. no in-person meetings, no after-hours events)
- Maintain access for your employees to *all* opportunities and resources