It can be very challenging to manage a team of employees who are composed of some people who work online virtually and remotely and others who work together from the same physical office space.
Hybrid teams are becoming increasingly popular and for this reason, as a manager, it is important to understand certain techniques and tricks to manage the team in such a way that you maintain a balanced and happy team and aid good productivity.
So, what can you do to manage a hybrid team? These seven tips below will help you to get started!
1. Create a Team Mentality
One of the biggest and most obvious issues when managing a hybrid team of people working from different locations is the difficulty in creating team unity.
There can often be a ‘them and us’ type feeling generated when colleagues work together in an office in a physical location together versus those working remotely alone.
This naturally occurs because the group who work together from one office will find it easier to build rapport with each other, as a result of seeing each other each day.
As the leader, you will want to avoid this divide that can happen. You need to create a team mentality that everyone buys into, no matter where they are working from.
i) Weekly meetings
One of the first things I strongly recommend doing is to have a weekly or bi-weekly (or monthly if need be) video meeting whereby everyone is included and is expected to be present. These meetings should include giving one or two people each week a chance to talk about their work including:
- a little about where they are working from, i.e. the location such as city/town and about the local culture
- any challenges they experience working from a distance or their experience in the office
- and a little about themself, i.e. hobbies outside of work.
In other words, create a hybrid workplace where your employees still get to know each other and learn about each other.
ii) Monthly Team Building Event
I recommend also having a monthly team-building event that everyone must participate in.
Make the team-building event fun and use it primarily to build team rapport and for everyone to get to know each other.
iii) Annual Meet Up (if realistic)
It is increasingly common for companies with a fully remote workforce (or with a high percentage of remote employees), to organize a meet-up in a city or location somewhere in the world.
It will very much of course depend on the size of your company and the budget, but if it is realistic to do so, bringing your team together in one geographical space, once a year for a week can be a wonderful idea.
Using the budgets saved in office space, heating, A/C bills, etc., it can often be practical to bring people together to really unify the team.
2. Managing Inter-Cultural Communication
One result of hybrid teams is that we tend these days to work in much more culturally diverse workplaces.
We might work, for example, with people based in different places around the world, whose first language is different, and who are from a great diversity of backgrounds and cultures.
This can make the workplace fascinating as we get to work with people from around the world, but it can also, at other times, result in misunderstandings and conflict (such as because of different cultural ways of doing things).
You should do everything you possibly can to embrace creating a well-managed workplace in respect of intercultural communication.
There are two things I recommend to do in order to go about building better intercultural communication when managing a hybrid team. These two things are:
- Provide 1 or 2 intercultural communication workshops for your managers and team leaders. This workshop can take place online and will help train them in simple techniques for managing an intercultural workforce.
- Do the monthly team building meetings (as discussed earlier) and include some intercultural communication activities, to help them consider intercultural communication.
3. Developing Trust When Managing Hybrid Teams
Trust is essential in any workplace and it is equally so when managing a hybrid workforce.
The difficulty though begins, for example, in learning how to:
- manage body language when you cannot see the whole person online (you cannot see all of their body language and the non-verbal communication and thus developing trust is different from seeing them in person)
- know how the employee is managing their time and workload
- develop a team in which psychological safety is embedded into it in respect of how they feel a part of the team for all employees, regardless of if they work remotely or not
- make sure that everyone you manage feels included, even when they work remotely (and often on the other side of the world)
Managing trust in hybrid teams can be challenging but some things to consider include to:
- have a policy of open communication, i.e. where your team feels comfortable to easily contact you and ask questions when they need to
- work to find the right balance between productivity levels and allowing your team a certain level of freedom and trust. Setting realistic weekly and monthly targets can be worth considering, with time flexibility built into the plan
- use the online meeting and online one-to-ones to develop trust including via using effective listening skills on your part, and to improve empathy
4. Managing Technology and Network Security
The level of technical ability of each team member will inevitably vary and this has both security connotations and work balance implications.
A team member who decides (if you allow them to) to WFA (Work From Anywhere) must, for example, understand and be aware of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and the need to connect securely.
Likewise, the need for each employee to use anti-virus software and to ensure that they regularly run updates on their machine can be essential.
There are, in essence, many considerations and thus you, as the manager, need to provide clarity regards the expected practice for staff working remotely.
In-house this can be managed for staff working from the main office.
Solutions: Require clear guidance of the expectations you as a manager have regards what they are allowed and not allowed to do.
Furthermore, you might want to provide a checklist to guide them on safe practices for security and clear guidance on how to get support for any tech issues they might have or experience.
- Here is a useful article on managing online security for remote teams from Techwireasia
5. Training and Development for Hybrid Teams
When you are in the same physical space as other people, it can be so easy to put more focus on those same people.
Suffice it to say that it is essential to ensure that you give as much time and thought to staff who work remotely, and ensure that they also are afforded the same training opportunities.
Likewise, by the very nature of a hybrid team, some of the training that you will want to provide is related to the hybrid model. You might, for example, want to focus on topics such as intercultural communication as mentioned earlier.
The training you might want to provide can include topics such as:
- Intercultural communication
- How to manage your own computer security
- Inclusive leadership (especially important when managing people remotely)
6. Time Management and Timezones
As mentioned in the previous point, if you yourself as a manager are office-based, it can be easy to give the employees who share the same physical space more of your time.
It is very natural that even during a water, tea, or coffee break, you will inevitably end up chatting with colleagues and team members.
So the challenge becomes how to ensure that you give all employees, no matter where they are physically based, an equal share of your time (at least as best as possible).
With a hybrid team, time zones also become a consideration.
The temptation can be to organize meetings to suit colleagues who work in the same time zone or for the majority.
We need also to think though, in terms of inclusive management and the need to ensure that all of the team are treated equally as best as possible.
For this reason, do consider holding team meetings to vary who it best suits if you have to manage employees across various time zones.
Where you have employees who are expected to work to the standard time zone of the company and who were aware of this from the start, then it is, of course, reasonable to expect them to adjust their schedule to match the meeting times.
This is the case for employees who you allow to work remotely but provided they work the standard set hours. If they wish to work from Thailand but they do so knowing that they are expected to work to European hours, i.e. Paris time, then the employee needs to ensure they work to European hours.
7. Effective Conflict Management in a Hybrid World
Conflict management is a skill that is required in every type of workplace, including in a hybrid world.
What makes conflict management especially interesting in a hybrid workplace is the differing types of conflict that can occur and that you need to deal with, as a manager.
The worldwide nature of hybrid working brings together people from various countries and cultures, for example, and this means that cultural conflicts can occur.
There might be one way of working in one country, i.e. where there is less priority given to time management and where more time flexibility is the norm (as long as people get their work done).
In another country, time might tend to be rigid in a certain company.
Likewise, in a hybrid workplace, conflict can occur from an otherwise simple misunderstanding such as because of different terminology or the formal/informal way in which one speaks to colleagues.
I recommend providing conflict management training to your managers (and maybe even your team) so that they better understand how conflicts can occur, and some techniques to diffuse the conflict.
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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