Perhaps even more challenging than a completely remote team is a hybrid model of in-office and remote workers. Here are three tips to keep your hybrid teams humming.
After decades of perfecting in-office work, many companies had a crash course in remote working over the past several months, gradually developing team and company norms for working from home. Many companies are now bringing a subset of employees back into the office, either due to requirements of the job or employee preference, and teams are being confronted with a new challenge: Hybrid working where parts of the team are together in the same physical location and other parts of the team are working remotely.
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Perhaps counterintuitively, this hybrid situation presents a new set of challenges rather than merely providing the best of both worlds, and it’s worth taking the time to rethink your team’s working norms as you transition to a hybrid model. Here are three tips to doing so:
Don’t let either team become an island
The biggest risk in a hybrid working model is that one group becomes an island and feels increasingly isolated. Often, the model the “boss” adopts becomes the norm, and the other model feels like a team marooned at sea. If the boss is in the office, he or she might naturally spend more time with the in-office team, providing formal and informal checkpoints and guidance. Even worse, he or she might assume the remote team is doing fine based on previous performance, and once regular check-ins become scarce until the remote team feels isolated.
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Similarly, if the boss continues to work remotely, he or she may spend hours doing round robin video calls with the remote team and interacting virtually, while the in-office team is left to fend for themselves. Consciously plan for how you’ll interact with each of your teams, particularly if you plan to return to the office, where it will be easy to slip into old routines and assume the remote portion of the team is doing fine. Schedule regular check-ins, and make sure you include all of your team in meetings.
Plan, rather than assume hybrid working will automatically be successful
It’s temptingly easy to assume that since you’ve perfected working in an office, and you’re now competent at working remotely, combining the two will be a smash hit. In practice this is often not the case. Your remote workers might feel isolated when a significant portion of the team is back in the office and laughing and joking on a video conference when the remote workers can’t hear the punchline, or your in-office team might feel they’re putting their physical health at risk due to the nature of the job.
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If you’re considering a hybrid model, take the time to actually plan its launch and execution. Why are people returning to the office and staying remote? Is the nature of the work such that people must be in an office, and if so, are they comfortable and ready to return to the office? Why are others staying home? With the “why” defined, plan out how work will be performed differently. What tasks are best performed by remote workers? How can you optimize the in-office tasks so that you maximize the value of having people in the office? How will you monitor the safety of the in-office team?
With some thoughtful consideration, you can make sure people aren’t returning to the office due to pressure or because “we’ve always done it this way.” You might also find that there are different motivations for adopting a hybrid working model. I have a dedicated home office with high-quality equipment, but several of my colleagues live in smaller urban apartments with several people trying to balance who gets the good room for their video conference versus using their bedroom or even the bathroom to get some measure of privacy with limited real estate. In this case, allowing these staff to return to the office, and providing them with the best physical spaces, makes much more sense than allocating office space based on seniority.
Create a team compact
Whenever you create a new working model, it’s worth outlining expectations and key routines to keep the team performing at its best. This need not be a complex document with fancy HR terms; rather, a simple, single slide detailing when and how you’ll communicate, general working hours, and how to contact each team member is sufficient. Engage the team in creating the compact so they can provide input and feel a sense of ownership. Review this document frequently with your entire team during the first few weeks of adopting your new working model and adjust accordingly.
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Perhaps the biggest mistake we as leaders can make is assuming, and that’s an even graver error when adopting a new working model. With some minimal planning, conversations with your team, and working norms enshrined in a team compact, you can get the best of both worlds of remote and in-office work.