It’s critical to ensure team unity when managing a hybrid workforce.
By Dr. Penny Pullan
As many workplaces move into a hybrid model, with some employees in the office and others working remotely, it’s important to think carefully about how to get the most out of this new way of working.
A hybrid team can be built in many ways. Employees in the office might be there full time or just a few days a month. They might take turns traveling to the office, meaning that one person works from the office one day and remotely the next day. The key thing to remember is that the team is split on any given day, with some in the office and others dispersed geographically.
How did this hybrid situation come to light? During the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations went virtual within just a few days, sending employees home to work remotely using collaboration tools. Most organizations were suddenly 100 percent virtual, which in itself requires a special style of leadership—one that is more facilitative than many leaders employed beforehand. This style requires leaders to focus on talent management strategies that make it easy for each person to do the best job they can.
Now, many workplaces are working on safely reopening offices and considering a hybrid approach for their employees. But there is a major threat to team unity that can come with hybrid working that is easy to overlook. The danger lies in the disparity that comes from the fact that some people will be in the office while others remain working from home. Those in the office will be at an advantage by having in-person communications that enable them to clearly see body language and hear the full details of voice tone. This builds rapport and trust in a very natural way that only happens when people share the same space, which remote workers can’t access. This disparity can cause problems and can feel unfair to those not in the office.
A solution to this challenge is working hard to create a level playing field. Leaders need to carefully and deliberately ensure that remote team members are not treated as second-class team members. Take, for example, team meetings. To maintain a level playing field, consider holding fully virtual meetings with everyone joining from their laptops or mobile devices over video conference. The alternative would be to have those in the office together in a meeting room and the rest joining remotely.
Remember: Virtual leadership is when leaders facilitate so every member of the team does their best. This becomes even more important in a hybrid situation. Leading in the hybrid context is not easy—in fact, it is probably harder than when all employees are remote! Continue to focus on each person, maintain a level playing field, and work hard to keep things fair and consistent between all team members.
Be sure to consider these aspects when overseeing a hybrid workforce:
• Team traits. Understand employees’ skills, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, and find ways that team members can work together effectively.
• Technology. Develop skills to use virtual technologies effectively and choose an appropriate mix of live and asynchronous collaboration tools to support the entire team working together.
• Virtual meetings. Find ways to ensure virtual meetings are effective and engaging.
• Overcoming complications. Be sure to take into consideration differences across generations, cultures, and languages.
To ensure early success, spend time orienting team members with a clear purpose and identity, especially if anyone is new and if the hybrid team is newly formed. Before diving into goals, build trust between team members. Ensure that everyone knows who the other team members are and what each person has to offer to the team as a whole. When goals are set, make sure everyone understands their accountability, and as ever with hybrid teams, be really clear.
Having fun together as a hybrid team is a great way to feel united. With a little creativity, HR leaders can design a shared experience that works for all. For example, send boxes of treats, nibbles, and drinks that are crafted to suit the preferences and dietary requirements of all team members. Mark them clearly with the meeting day and time. Employees can open up their goody boxes and enjoy them with their colleagues on video. This is fun and shows each team member that they matter, turning a team meeting into a memorable, multi-sensory experience.
Dr. Penny Pullan is director for Making Projects Work Ltd., and the author of “Virtual Leadership: Practical Strategies for Getting the Best Out of Virtual Work and Virtual Teams.”