Leading a Hybrid Team

 

Working from home used to be a perk enjoyed by those with specific positions or “open-minded” managers. Since the spring of 2020, it’s been our new normal and the thinking was it would be temporary. As we roll into 2022, with many of us still working from home, we need to face the fact that working remotely is likely our future.

There are some great things that have come out of this new-found ability to be successful in a remote environment. We can recruit talent outside of our geographic area which adds diversity of thought, culture and trends to our teams. We can expand our service hours if employees are available at different times. We also have more time in our day now that we’re not commuting, which can decrease stress and allow us to be more present in our personal lives without jeopardizingoverall productivity.

Not everything is better. Managing remote employees isn’t the same as managing an in-office team. We realize all we took for granted, the drive-by check-ins and ability to ask questions in the moment, being able to read body languageand the intangibles that come with seeing our team. Also, the value of post-meeting debriefs over a cup of coffee or fun impromptu lunch to celebrate a win.

 

The tried-and-true best practices of management still work (and are necessary) in a remote environment, even though we’re not sitting in the same room or across a table from one another.

  • Have scheduled check-in conversations on a weekly or bi-weekly basis
  • Have scheduled team huddles where the weekly goal and focus can be shared
  • Provide feedback often to employees so it’s relevant and timely
  • Be available, previously known as an “open-door policy”
  • Utilize paraphrasing and review action items as the conclusion of conversations

Something else that shouldn’t change in a remote environment is professionalism. As a leader it’s dangerous to assume that team members automatically know this and it can be awkward if it’s not proactively addressed. No one wants to live the Folgers Coffee Commercial with the upper thigh visible in the video call! Make sure you communicate the expectations, including: appearance and dress code, work hours, remote work environment requirements, pets and children present in the workspace, background appearance and sound, etc.

In the office-based environments of the past, it’s unrealistic to believe that managers were available to employees 100% of their time. So, how did we accomplish our individual tasks and effectively manage our teams?  We communicated our availability, and people could see when we were at our desks.  

In a remote environment these easy tips can build an environment of effective communication – maybe more effective than the office environment provided.

  • Share your calendar availability and block out time for “office hours” or designate times when you will exclusively be focusing on team member questions or phone calls
  • Provide guidance for what you’d like your team to do when they need you and you’re not available. Is it a special text, email subject, etc.
  • Define what constitutes an emergency and what the decision-making expectations are for team members if you cannot be reached.

The other aspect of managing is facilitating a team dynamic from home. Likely you participated in a few happy hours over Zoom during the height of the pandemic.  This served its purpose then but are not quite as effective two years later. Technology for team communication is extremely helpful when used properly.

  • Create a Teams Channel for employees to ask questions, share tips and best practices as well as file sharing
  • Use video calls whenever possible to be able to see one another
  • Encourage employees to communicate directly with one another to be a productive team and to continue to nurture relationships
  • Have “just for fun” calls with the team and nominate a team member to lead the meeting so that the topics don’t trickle to work
  • Find times to come together, but make them voluntary for those who aren’t ready to be in-person to feel safe and still connected to the team

If you haven’t reviewed the employee lifecycle and updated it for a remote environment, it’s past due. Your onboarding process must be on point, including nearly all the same content before, but being delivered flawlessly in a remote environment. Determine if you can have a blended onboarding with some in-person learning opportunities.

Bottomline, the most important aspect of management hasn’t changed from an in-office to a remote environment. It’s communication – clear, effective and on-going communication to and from employees and managers. Know your team members, how they like to communicate, and be flexible to their styles in the same manner that you would in-person. Also, remember if you want to know what your team needs or what they’d like to change, ask.  With information you can make things even more effective.