The events of the last year have according to all experts and many businesses, changed the way we will be working forever. The mass return to the office will not be happening and instead, a more hybrid way of working will continue, or in fact start, given millions of people are still on furlough.
Organisations need to really plan for this new way of working – it is a very risky strategy for any employer to just bring people back once their furlough ends or let them return to the office or continue working from home. The last 13 months have not been normal and adapting to a permanently different way of working will take planning, consideration and discussion.
Reports suggest some people are desperate to return to the office, some are happy working from home entirely now and others want a balance. I know I have discovered how effective my entire team have been at working remotely but am also desperate to spend some time back in the office as I long for different scenery, different conversations not conducted through a computer screen and a fridge that isn’t so accessible!
Many companies will be choosing to operate with this new hybrid approach where employees are given the opportunity to work partly from home and partly in the office and this will bring the issue on leading hybrid teams into the forefront.
This will dramatically change how managers and leaders need to support their teams. Training needs to be provided, even to the most experienced of managers to move into this new hybrid environment. It is so important that support is provided so that everyone feels confident and comfortable working in a new way. Indeed, I would go as far as saying that the team ALSO need to be trained on how to work in a hybrid team.
We have identified several key areas that need to be considered.
Training needs to be provided, even to the most experienced of managers to move into this new hybrid environment.
It is ALL so new…
People will need to re-learn. Some employees have been on furlough for over a year, they will need to adjust to a totally new routine. Some will need to adjust to working a different pattern or in a different location again, having to queue for the coffee machine or for the toilets! Others will need to re-connect with those back in the office and make sure they don’t miss out on decisions being made simply because they are based at home all of the time. Some of these working patterns have stood them in good stead for many years and, as change can be difficult to accept or adapt to. Moving from any adapted approach to another new approach will take time and new behaviours must be learnt and embedded.
People look to role models from whom they can learn best-practice and in a team environment, this is usually the Manager or Leader.
It is therefore so important that managers & Leaders recognise that they have a huge responsibility to model good leading hybrid team behaviours and that their actions will set the tone from which the team will follow.
Get this right, and the new hybrid approach can work well, get it wrong and team members could feel isolated & ignored and the team won’t function effectively.
As a manager & leader, all of your actions, approaches and behaviours are visible to the entire team. Make sure they have the right impact.
Recognise that things are different now and discuss these differences with your team and how it is making them feel and the need to still connect as a team albeit differently.
Communication, Communication, Communication. All team members need to be supported and actively encouraged to communicate to try to replace some of the interactions that just happen in an office environment. If you as the Leader or Manager communicate often and encourage communication, the team will follow your lead. Regardless of where you all end up working, make sure the team don’t get excluded from discussions and decisions – ensure the virtual environment of the last 13 months continues in some way.
What is expected needs to be clear. If people on leave are still sending emails, does this encourage the team to do the same? Switching off as we still exit lockdown can be hard, but the message it sends others shouldn’t be underestimated.
I have ensured I diarise my lunch and walk at lunchtime so my team know I am not available. I have also read lots about banning meetings at a certain time of the day to encourage the team to use this time for their own wellbeing.
When leading a hybrid team, interactions with team members can be less frequent. The everyday human to human connections that occur in an office environment are difficult to replicate without it feeling forced and relationships can be more challenging to build, we have actually created a new brand, and onboarded new staff during this period and never met them face to face – this would never have happened beforehand but it has worked. But it has required a lot of effort.
Leading your hybrid team will require managers and leaders to work hard to build and maintain trust.
You need to be communicating with team members on a consistent basis and keeping them informed of developments. We have had a weekly connect session every Thursday morning without fail – we start with our round robbin and then have a show and tell which each week is a different department. This has helped us feel connected and understanding what each department is working on.
Your Team need to know that you there for them and when you are available to respond to their concerns
Make sure you create time in each meeting for some of the cliché conversations that you would inevitably have in the office – this is particularly important for those colleagues who have been entirely home based and will continue to be as part of hybrid working.
Keep the Communication Channels flowing….
When people work together in one location, news and information is easy to communicate, gather the team in one space and deliver the message. It is also easy to understand current workload by walking past a desk and speaking to someone or floating an idea with a colleague…
This means that team members are often ‘in the know’. They might not know everything, but they pick up a lot about what is going on both within the team and in the business more generally.
When Leading a Hybrid Team, it is important to remember that not everyone will pick up the information either at the same time or at all. The gossip mill can kick in with quick teams or zoom calls taking place immediately after and the message getting confused or diluted. Normal face to face communication methods can be lost and the danger over time is that people lack context and start to lose any sense of purpose associated with their role and the organisation they work for.
When leading a hybrid team, it is important that people don’t lose any sense of purpose.
When allocating workload, ask yourself the simple question ‘will this person understand why I am asking them to do this?’ Is what I am asking them clear and should I expect to get this back correctly based on the information I have provided?
We have made sure we regularly update the entire team when we win new clients and have adopted a new project management tool which everyone has access to – this ensures even those not directly involved in delivering our services feel connected to our wins and successes and understand what we do as a business.
It is also really important to not make assumptions that people understand things just because you do – use regular comms to enable everyone the chance to ask questions, to probe or question what you are doing and why.
It is so important that each member of the hybrid team feels connected, valued and treated as an individual.
When working remotely in a hybrid environment it is critical that each team member continues to feel valued and appreciated by their manager. Inevitably, it will be more difficult for managers & Leaders to maintain a close relationship with people when they don’t see them face-to-face on a regular basis.
Therefore, it is so important to make a real effort to keep in regular contact with each team member and that contact needs to be tailored to how the individual needs – some of our team love email comms as a check-in and that is all that is needed or a chat in text on teams – for others, it is a proper video call or the telephone. Whatever it is, make sure you lead on this and communicate in a way that makes them feel connected.
It can also be more difficult to ascertain how the team are feeling through a video call – face to face we can see the full individual and notice changes in their body language, whereas we see shoulders up often on a video call so we might not spot changes. Using good open questions and really probing if you sense something isn’t right are so important. In an office environment, you are more likely to get people to tell you how they are really feeling, in their own environment which might be the issue they might be less likely to do so.
When Leading your Hybrid teams, you can spend a huge amount of time navigating the complexities of working remotely and engaging with everyone. You might find you are being pulled in different directions by the competing demands of working on team dynamics, spending sufficient time with your individual team members, and indeed delivering on your own workload.
This could lead to being overly reactive to the demands of the now. Therefore, managing your own time effectively is key to ensuring team effectiveness. I now book out time each day to respond to emails and to focus on projects – people can see when I need some quiet creative time and when I am free to speak to – this helps the entire team feel connected.