Itâs critical to ensure team unity when managing a hybrid workforce.
By Dr. Penny Pullan
As many workplaces move into a hybrid model, with someÂ employees in the office and others working remotely, itâsÂ important to think carefully about how to get the mostÂ out of this new way of working.
A hybrid team can be built in many ways. Employees in theÂ office might be there full time or just a few days a month.Â They might take turns traveling to the office, meaning thatÂ one person works from the office one day and remotelyÂ the next day. The key thing to remember is that the teamÂ is split on any given day, with some in the office andÂ others dispersed geographically.
How did this hybrid situation come to light? DuringÂ the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, manyÂ organizations went virtual within just a few days,Â sending employees home to work remotely usingÂ collaboration tools. Most organizations were suddenlyÂ 100 percent virtual, which in itself requires a special styleÂ of leadershipâone that is more facilitative than manyÂ leaders employed beforehand. This style requires leadersÂ to focus on talent management strategies that make itÂ easy for each person to do the best job they can.
Now, many workplaces are working on safely reopeningÂ offices and considering a hybrid approach for theirÂ employees. But there is a major threat to team unity thatÂ can come with hybrid working that is easy to overlook.Â The danger lies in the disparity that comes from theÂ fact that some people will be in the office while othersÂ remain working from home. Those in the office will be atÂ an advantage by having in-person communications thatÂ enable them to clearly see body language and hear theÂ full details of voice tone. This builds rapport and trust inÂ a very natural way that only happens when people shareÂ the same space, which remote workers canât access. ThisÂ disparity can cause problems and can feel unfair to thoseÂ not in the office.
A solution to this challenge is working hard to createÂ a level playing field. Leaders need to carefully andÂ deliberately ensure that remote team members are notÂ treated as second-class team members. Take, for example,Â team meetings. To maintain a level playing field, considerÂ holding fully virtual meetings with everyone joining fromÂ their laptops or mobile devices over video conference. TheÂ alternative would be to have those in the office togetherÂ in a meeting room and the rest joining remotely.
Remember: Virtual leadership is when leaders facilitate soÂ every member of the team does their best. This becomesÂ even more important in a hybrid situation. Leading in theÂ hybrid context is not easyâin fact, it is probably harderÂ than when all employees are remote! Continue to focusÂ on each person, maintain a level playing field, and workÂ hard to keep things fair and consistent between all teamÂ members.
Be sure to consider these aspects when overseeing aÂ hybrid workforce:
â¢ Team traits. Understand employeesâ skills, preferences,Â strengths, and weaknesses, and find ways that teamÂ members can work together effectively.
â¢ Technology. Develop skills to use virtual technologiesÂ effectively and choose an appropriate mix of live andÂ asynchronous collaboration tools to support the entireÂ team working together.
â¢ Virtual meetings. Find ways to ensure virtual meetingsÂ are effective and engaging.
â¢ Overcoming complications. Be sure to take intoÂ consideration differences across generations, cultures, andÂ languages.
To ensure early success, spend time orienting teamÂ members with a clear purpose and identity, especially ifÂ anyone is new and if the hybrid team is newly formed.Â Before diving into goals, build trust between teamÂ members. Ensure that everyone knows who the otherÂ team members are and what each person has to offerÂ to the team as a whole. When goals are set, make sureÂ everyone understands their accountability, and as everÂ with hybrid teams, be really clear.
Having fun together as a hybrid team is a great way toÂ feel united. With a little creativity, HR leaders can designÂ a shared experience that works for all. For example, sendÂ boxes of treats, nibbles, and drinks that are crafted toÂ suit the preferences and dietary requirements of all teamÂ members. Mark them clearly with the meeting day andÂ time. Employees can open up their goody boxes and enjoyÂ them with their colleagues on video. This is fun and showsÂ each team member that they matter, turning a teamÂ meeting into a memorable, multi-sensory experience.
Dr. Penny Pullan is director for Making Projects Work Ltd., andÂ the author of âVirtual Leadership: Practical StrategiesÂ for Getting the Best Out of Virtual Work and VirtualÂ Teams.â