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Leading a Hybrid Team Everything You Need to Know

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Welcome to 2021: Hybrid Work is here to stay

What is a hybrid company?
Hybrid companies have a new work model where the employee has the autonomy to choose how, where, and when they work best. This organisation allows employees to choose between working in an office or workspace, working remotely, or between the two.

What is a hybrid team?
For hybrid teams, they may have adapted to having some set days or occasions where they are in the office, or this also may be fluid. At times in 2020, some organisations had 50% of a team remote and 50% onsite to support social distancing.
For some, the concern may be that the flexibility will be taken advantage of?

On the contrary, the top reason that people choose to work remotely is that it supports their productivity and focus. In fact, research supports 60% of employees with flexible work options are more productive and engaged in their work than those with entirely office-based or entirely remote work practice.

What is the best location for your Leadership and Management teams? Remote or co-located?
This is a question and a challenge that can only be answered for each individual organisation. The decision may change over time.
Some questions to consider when faced with this decision:
• How would each option impact culture?
• What inherent biases arise dependent upon where the leadership team is physically located? (workplaceless.com)

My own experience of having complete flexibility in a State Leadership Role- a decade ago and in an industry where it was incredibly rare.

I had complete flexibility in a State Retail Business Management role over ten years ago, responsible for a multiple site business, including the development of the leadership team, and ensuring a performing business across the state. It was traditionally a 9-5.30 role and this was standard in the industry. I was fortunate to have a progressive state franchise owner. In his view; it was not when or where the hours were done, it was about output and focusing on what mattered most, being proactive and being present when it counted.

He used the analogy of a strong leader being like a good plumber- the ability to walk in and know which knob to turn to fix a situation with minimum fuss and leave with everyone happy. I had prior experience in the role, had established trust and this was also why the unique situation was offered.
Without this option, I would not have considered stepping back into a significant leadership role with young children – one at kindy and early primary school.

The flexibility in no way impacted my commitment or performance in the role – and enhanced my respect and loyalty towards my employer. Some days I worked a longer day in the state office, others were on location and other times at home. I was never ever questioned about hours, likely did more than expected as with many senior leadership roles – I did what was needed. At times I chose to work on Saturdays – enabling me to see stores performing at peak times and also to chat with casual staff, who didn't work in traditional 9-5 hours.

The complete flexibility enabled me to be present for both roles – as a high performing State Manager and as a dedicated parent. On a personal level: it enabled me to split school drop off and collection with my partner who often had varied hours. I loved being able to attend school assemblies on important occasions. I often completed work reports at night - which was always a time when I enjoyed deep work.
I extended flexibility around appts, special occasions and life moments where possible to all of those in the business. It created a truly brilliant, supportive culture that took some stress out that a completely rigid work schedule can impose and recognised work and life are both important.

Benefits to Flexibility
Happy employees lead to increased loyalty. The relationship between the employer and employee is result-based, rather than the number of hours worked. It also means for team members that can do components of work remotely; they can do it at the time of the day when they're most productive as everyone's chronotype is different. (letsdeel.com)
Equally as important, hybrid team management focuses on employee preferences and wellbeing. This also requires employees to set some new boundaries and routines to ensure they can separate work from home life.

What challenges are leaders facing now?
Newsdesk LinkedIn Twitter Facebook Citrix released a report in collaboration with research institute One Poll which reveals that 78% of Australian office workers believe remote working is likely to become a new normal once the country emerges from the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. Source
Employers worldwide are faced with two challenges: managing remote working conditions that are in place for some teams amid the uncertainty of today and how to prepare for and optimise tomorrow's hybrid working models. Working through a global pandemic adds another layer of stress and complexity.
Whilst a vaccine will be available at some stage in 2021 opening the possibility for a safe return to the workplace, one thing that does seem clear for many, remote and hybrid work will have earned a permanent place in the employment mix. It seems fully in-person and remote work will be two ends of a fluid spectrum of work options.

Even in organisations where returning to the physical workplace is an option, the health of vulnerable employees will mean some workers will need to continue to work from home until an effective COVID-19 vaccine is available and used widely. So will others, either because they live with health-vulnerable individuals, and are not comfortable re-entering physical workplaces.

Organisations will have to work around their own circumstances and adapt to the future to support both business success and the flexibility that will support employees to perform at their best.

You may have done a lot of checking in on how people are adapting during early phases of the pandemic, but it is important to continue to check-in, as circumstances for some have likely changed.

It is important to remember: The experience of working from home has not been the same for all.
Attitudes to working from home will be different– and team leaders and employers will need to take the time to understand each team members own preferences in the new era of work
Some people may feel anxious or resentful that they are being asked to return to the office, and others may feel that working from home leaves them at a professional disadvantage.
Listen and offer support; people want to feel safe, cared for. It is a time for positive change.

After working from home, some team members may now have found established routines and their flow, and they may be experiencing heightened productivity and a healthier work-life balance.

• Australian workers have claimed the greatest advantage of working from home was using the time they would otherwise spend commuting. 49% use this time to be more productive, and 38% use it for more family time and/or on leisure activities. Source

• Productivity statistics 43% of Australian respondents reporting they work about the same time at home as in the office. (itbrief.com.au)
• 38% work longer hours, while 19% work less. A huge 70% think that their home productivity is the same or even higher at home than in the office. (itbrief.com.au)

Remember to consider many have been unable to have the option of face to face meetings or in-person team strategy sessions; hence the current situation has not been what best practice hybrid working will be in the future.
Some will be missing office life, or their home environment is not conducive to good workflow. These employees may be eager to get back into the office; it may be the call for social interaction or perhaps the need for a clearer divide between their home and work.

Additional statistics that are less favourable:
• 26% of remote workers feel socially isolated.
• More than 45% of remote employees say they have worked from their beds for 11 hours per week.
• According to 84% of virtual workers, virtual communication is more difficult than face-to-face communication. (financesonline.com)

Global trends of employee remote and hybrid working

• A recent survey revealed that remote work is a major benefit for employees. In fact, 34% of U.S. workers would take a pay cut of up to 5% to work remotely.

• HR (63%), sales (62%), operations (57%), IT (57%) and finance (56%) are the department and roles most likely to have remote working. (financesonline.com)

• It's predicted that by 2022, 60% of office-based employees in the US will work from home. (financesonline.com)
More than half the workforce, due to the nature of their role has little or no opportunity for remote work. Some of their jobs require collaborating with others, in-person attention, using specialised machinery, or must be done on location, and some will require making deliveries etc. (McKinsey report

How do hybrid teams benefit organisations?
Hybrid Teams allows businesses to be agile, flexible, and diverse in their approach to hiring and retaining talent. Working parents, caretakers, regional workers, and fully remote workers may be encouraged to apply for roles which previously may not have been an option to them.
Hence hybrid work models will allow organisations to recruit talent better, achieve innovation, and create value for all stakeholders. By acting boldly now, they can define a future of work that is more attractive to the best talent, flexible, digital, and purposeful.

Some top benefits of remote working, according to employers, are
- improved morale (57%)
- reduced employee turnover (52%)
- reduced absenteeism (50%)
- operational cost savings (50%)
(financesonline.com)
Additional benefits of combining a global virtual team
- a global perspective (81%)
- diversity (72%)
- creativity (54%)
- access to talent anywhere (53%)
- cost-effectiveness (32%)
- and productivity (31%).
(financesonline.com)

And those who work remotely say they're happy in their jobs 29% more than onsite workers. (owllabs.com)

Challenges of Hybrid-Remote Teams

Having a team where some employees are co-located in an office, and others are doing their jobs remotely, and a variation of both presents several challenges for managers.

1) Silo's: One common occurrence can be "us versus them" undercurrent among colleagues – a similar phenomenon of having a head office and then varied state-based or regional site locations. This can impact communication, team engagement, and coordination issues common with geographically distributed teams.

2) The informal meeting after a meeting: Another challenge that will likely occur at some time: you utilise the remote best practice of conducting a meeting via video conference to both your in-office and work from home employees can participate. The meeting is productive and collaborative and concludes with everyone on the same page. But now, one team member after the video meeting on site has an idea that just popped into his head that he shares with those still in the room. The meeting you just had where everyone was aligned, is now out of alignment. This is a known challenge in hybrid-remote teams. Informal conversations that happen in-office without cohesive or timely documentation to share and communicate with remote colleagues can completely undermine even the best-laid communication plans. (workplaceless.com)
Another option is all-team meetings take place over Zoom even though some people may be together in the office. This year, we have heard from many clients and particularly from those who were already regional workers that having everyone on zoom equalises things.

3) Inclusion for an informal meeting that occurs: At the time an informal meeting may occur, that is becoming a great discussion; an inclusive leader may be saying something simple like, "Let's get Sam on the phone to discuss this." (hbr.org)

4) Inclusion in cross-functional work: It may seem easier for onsite team members to become involved in cross-functional work, primarily because they're more visible. It may be a matter of convenience and familiarity as you see them more often, and for remote workers, out-of-sight-out-of-mind may slip in. The downside to this can be twofold:
- Onsite employees may be less productive as they get pulled into cross-functional work.
- Remote employees feel isolated they're being forgotten or passed over.
To avoid this problem, ensure each team member is aligned with varied projects, cross-functional teams, and initiatives. Ensure that everyone on the team is listed as a point-of-contact for topic areas or project work. This will ensure remote employees will be much more involved in cross-functional matters and are also more visible across the company. And onsite team members have the freedom to focus on their own work more often. (predictiveindex.com)

5) Ensure all team members have opportunities to present their ideas or on behalf of their team: Be mindful of presentations developed by remote workers always being presented by their onsite located counterparts purely due to physical location. This has been a noted trend previously with onsite and remote working practices and can impact remote workers developing these skills. This can impact their career prospects to leadership as they have less opportunity to be seen as a speaker, team leader and influencer.

Top Tips to Building and reassessing a Hybrid Team
Effective leadership of a hybrid team comes down to practising inclusiveness and fairness with all staff members, irrespective of where they are working.
Best practice tips to achieve this:

• Fairness is the key to success: For example, remote employees who are parents don't have to commute and may be able to pick up their kids from school or schedule appointments since they can make up the hours afterwards. To ensure fairness, you might encourage your in-office team members by giving them some flexibility during working hours.

• Lead by example: where possible whatever you allow yourself to do as a leader, you also allow your team members to do the same.

16 Golden Rules to support leading a hybrid team now and after the pandemic

1) Communicate strategic direction frequently bring your values and vision to life to strengthen culture of 'how we work and behave' around here.

2) Set out expectations and accountability: Ensure expectations and accountability is clear to all staff so that both office-based and remote team members can work together productively and know who is doing what. Ensure targets and goals are communicated and followed up on.

3) Run daily meetings if there are new projects: with your entire team to start each day or weekly when all have clarity and questions are answered. Share progress reports and have regular check-in meetings specific to key projects with the entire team to maintain momentum.

4) Commit equal time and focus on each member of your team: The amount of attention and help you give to each employee shouldn't depend on where they're working or their role.

5) Social technologies are here to stay: Slack supports better communications and can help build stronger relationships. This can assist when working through issues and is a way of having informal conversations. This also enables a positive human element; giphy and emojis can make each other laugh and creates a shared environment of team cohesion and awareness throughout the day. G-suite is popular for team collaboration.

6) Zoom calls insist cameras are on – seeing people face to face assists in better understanding a message, the visual information when a message is delivered assists with building empathy. We are wired from birth to be attentive to faces- hence you will find people are more attentive. You may ask that phones are switched off during zoom calls so that people are not tempted to look at them. Use break out rooms for small group discussions. If your message is important, it is best to use PowerPoint and visuals – a presentation with visuals is 65% more memorable than a verbal delivery.

7) Measure performance in a Fair Way
It is time to shift focus from the number of hours at our desks, to the quality and consistency of the work that is being produced - not how much time or when people are at their desks. Ensure career progression paths are fair irrespective of where people work.

8) Establish a one-page Communication Team Agreement Contract
Communication is crucial to hybrid teams success. Whenever you create or adapt a new working model, it's valuable to outline communication expectations and any key routines to keep the team performing at its best. This is best as a simple, one-page document detailing when and how you'll communicate, general working hours, meeting expectations and how to contact each team member. Engage the team to provide input in this document and feel a sense of ownership. If a new team member joins use this as an opportunity to review and adapt the document accordingly.

9) Consider asking for a volunteer team advocate who works in both onsite and remote environments: who will be a sounding board team member voice for how things are going and an additional touchpoint to give their perspective openly. They may also be a mentor for a new team member adapting to how your team operates

10) Leaders respecting employee deep work time
Many employees complain about zoom/teams fatigue because leaders are not thinking about which communication medium is suitable. A default of pulling a team together over Zoom is not always necessary. Timing must be considered- just because it has come up now, doesn't mean it needs to be communicated right away. A question to ask is – Can this be shared at another time rather than interrupting the team right now. Allocating low internal contact times or days can support deep work getting done.

11) Enable an opportunity to get together at least once a quarter
Aim to get together as a team at least once a quarter. Remote visits or catching up in a coffee shop close to a team member can help strengthen relationships. Be creative a park or offsite venue can ensure all team members feel equal and can add a more social feel to a get-together. These types of encounters help build better personal relationships and can also be used to enhance creativity for more intensive work projects. Factor in some fun and build some positive team memories that keep the team bond strong across times of hard work.

12) Instant Messaging
Instant Messaging is an excellent channel for quick communication- questions and answers. However, there can easily be a miscommunication of tone. If it turns into a discussion – change to a call.

13) Know when face to face is needed:
It is vital leaders know when a face-to-face session is needed. This may be a leadership level discussion to ensure consistency. Whilst a face to face discussion can take more time, it is important in building relationships. It is also important not every face to face encounter needs to be about something – the intent may be purely to check in – which can communicate true care and build trust and connection.

14) Make careful hiring decisions with consideration to the current team dynamics and work requirements.
In building a sustainable and effective hybrid team be strategic about your hiring practices. Consider if a role you are looking to fill can be done remotely some or all of the time. Skills to support offsite candidates may include self-motivation, results-focused, to have good time-management skills. Adaptability will ensure that if the need and travel permits attendance requirements for onsite work and meetings to support the business or to build team cohesion, this is also discussed. Ensure regardless of where an employee is based; they will have supporting skills.

15)Opportunities for all team members to share their wins and successes at team meetings and ensure upper management is aware of all team members who deliver exceptional performance.
Unfortunately, due to human nature and historical models of work, managers are more likely, or at least they BELIEVE they are more likely, to understand the performance of the team members they physically see. This leads to biases in having more knowledge to share about a worker regarding performance reviews or career pathing. Even if direct line managers have a clear view of every individual's work, extended leadership team members may not be familiar with those members not in the office. Hence performance conversations need to be consistent throughout the year to ensure remote, and all workers have ample opportunity to be more vocal and advocate for their work achievements, ambitions and successes.

16) Small talk assists with building a connection
Facilitate opportunities for the small talk and opportunities to personally connect that would happen naturally in an office setting. A round-robin icebreaker and conversation starter can assist of on a zoom call – i.e. What are you looking forward to on the weekend? Mix it up and to support those who may be more introverted try small breakouts of three. You may also have area coffee clubs, where remote workers might connect with others in the area for a face to face morning tea or introduce online meal sessions or Friday afternoon connect with 'no' work talk permitted.