One question many remote workers are asking is “Are we going to work from home forever?” And the answer is simultaneously yes and no. Some companies have transitioned fully to remote work, while others still plan to return to work at the office. And for some businesses, they are opting for a mix of the two working arrangements.
Managing a team with in-person and remote workers requires new skills and tools. This guide will help you learn what a hybrid team is, how to overcome its unique challenges, and how you can lead one effectively.
What Is A Hybrid Team?
A hybrid team is made up of both in-office and remote workers. This means that some people commute to work while others work from home. It is a flexible work arrangement that lets workers choose what suits them best in terms of productivity. Hybrid teams used to be a feature uniquely set aside for distributed teams, but this changed once the pandemic hit. One reason for the increased adoption of the hybrid work model is that workers have mixed feelings about returning to work.
A survey by Gallup shows that 59% of US workers would prefer to continue working from home. And the remaining 41% would want to return to work as they did before the pandemic. Plus, another consideration that has led companies to hybrid teams is the health and safety concerns of everyone returning to the office at one time. When done right, the hybrid work model allows businesses to maximize worker productivity and access talent outside local pools. But as great as these advantages might sound, they’re not without their challenges.
The Challenges of Leading a Hybrid Team
Exclusion of remote staff
There is a tendency to de-prioritize inclusion of remote workers in office culture, as they’re not present in-person. A Harvard Business Review study revealed that “many (remote workers) feel their colleagues don’t treat them equally… Specifically, they worry that coworkers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities.”
The 2019 Buffer state of work report states that “75% of respondents said their company does not pay for home internet, and 71% said their company does not cover the cost of a co-working membership.” Leaving remote workers to cover the cost of setting up a workspace and internet services not only makes them feel excluded but also leaves them to battle with problems that might lead to lower productivity.
In his article on hybrid remote teams, Sid Sijbrandij, the CEO of Gitlab points out that sticking to systems and processes that made the office-based model successful could lead to failure for remote workers. Your new workplace might not be anything like the old one, especially with a team composed of in-office and remote workers. Unlearning old practices and adhering to new systems will be a challenge.
Your team’s communication problems won’t disappear with a return to the office. It might even get more complicated as the team will be divided into onsite and remote staff. There’s the danger that “watercooler conversations” might begin again and vital decisions will be taken without the knowledge of your remote team members.
Lack of leadership buy-in
Not everyone believes that a mix of flexible working arrangements is a viable business decision. If rules are not changed to create an enabling environment, working as a hybrid team will be near impossible. With all these challenges, you might be thinking, “Is the hybrid work model a good idea?” The answer is yes.
Dan Radu, President at Macro, a marketing operations agency, successfully runs a hybrid team and has this advice for leaders trying it out for the first time “Don’t be afraid. I know there is a lot of skepticism out there but it’s very well possible. Find out what motivates your team, don’t forget to build emotional connections with your contingent staff, and use digital work management systems to their full potential.”
How to Manage a Hybrid Team
Now that we’ve considered the challenges of hybrid teams at work, we should also talk about best practices for those who are choosing to move forward with this structure. It’s possible to succeed — and even thrive — with a hybrid team. But if you want to have the best experience possible, you might need to reinvent some things about your workplace. Here are some strategies and tools you can use to best manage a hybrid team.
Have a remote-first work culture.
Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase explains that “being remote-first requires a mindset and behavioral shift. It means that the employee experience should be the same, whether you’re in an office one day a week, five days a week, or never.” You should restructure work culture to accommodate all workers. It is important to make processes more inclusive for remote staff, and eliminate current office practices will affect them negatively.
Leonard Souza of Webflow suggests making all-hands meetings less office-centric by making everyone (even in-office staff) attend virtually. He also suggests replicating company events for virtual team members and getting the whole team together at least once a year.
Utilize asynchronous communication.
There will be a temptation to send out messages, schedule video calls, or arrange presentations at synchronous times immediately. You might expect that members of the remote team should answer your messages as quickly as someone in the office. But that probably won’t be the case. On their end, they might have problems accessing information or keeping up with meetings and conversations.
To prevent this, follow the basic rules of asynchronous communication:
- Constantly over-communicate with context
- Reduce the length of meetings and eliminate unnecessary ones
- Set agendas beforehand and ask for availability before scheduling anything
- Record meetings and document work
- Using specific outlets for communication (your team members can use a tool like Hive to keep track of the progress of any project)
Ensure leader buy-in.
Create an enabling environment that provides and supports both in-office and remote workers alike. Building trust, encouraging accountability, and communicating openly will go a long way in strengthening the hybrid work culture.
Invest in the best tools.
The tools your team use will influence how productive they are. Project management tools help bring order to the chaos that can come with hybrid teams. Hive is a great project management tool that encourages collaboration on all types of teams. In Hive, team members can track projects and assign tasks to others, which helps teams collaborate effectively and accomplish shared goals from anywhere.
It is also crucial to use a video conferencing tool like Zoom to host meetings. In addition, having a central place where information is stored and easily accessed by all team members like Google Drive will help everyone get their work done.
Blurry pixelated faces and barely audible voices during video conference meetings may be due to bad equipment. Your team’s current personal computers and workspace might need an overhaul. Whether someone is working in-office or from home, here are some useful products your company can consider investing in:
- A laptop
- Standing desk/ standard desk
- Comfortable ergonomic chair
- Computer speakers
- Mouse pad and wrist rest
- Microphone and dedicated camera for Zoom calls
Always include remote workers.
Even though they’re not present in the office, you should let remote workers feel like part of the team.
- Include them in birthday celebrations, happy hours, and trainings
- Plan hybrid meetings to include both in-office employees and remote workers
- Keep a water cooler chat room where conversations happen and everyone can get updated on funny or random events in the office
- Plan virtual team bonding exercises
- Organize company retreats that involve everyone
Have flexible working arrangements for different types of workers.
You should not impose expectations on remote workers that should be reserved for in-office staff. Ingrid Ødegaard, cofounder of Whereby says “When you can’t see people working, you need to trust people to do their job. Most people want to do a good job, and you may be surprised by what can happen when you give people the freedom to control their workday. Different personalities need different environments to be productive and thrive…”
Find out what times and work patterns that work for different members of your team. With this in mind, set expectations and deadlines that suit them. Make sure to focus on results instead of processes. For employees who do come to the office, optimize their experience by designing your workspace based on how they actually use it. You can also take advantage of technology like Density, which lets you anonymously measure workplace occupancy in real-time, so you can make more informed design decisions about who will be working when.
How To Create A Hybrid Work Schedule
Because in-office and remote staff will work differently, you need to plan ahead to enable successful collaboration. A hybrid work schedule is a clear plan that maps out how both teams will collaborate. Keep getting feedback from your team and make adjustments when needed.
Encourage visibility and openness in your team culture.
Let’s face it. It is normal to think the people that we see are those getting work done. This is why it’s important from the start to create a hybrid team culture that encourages your remote workers to be visible, open, and communicative.
When Erin Rooney Doland, head of content and SEO at Vulcan, was the only remote staff at her former workplace, she updated management regularly of her work. “In addition to all of the regular meetings throughout the week (stand-ups, project meetings, planning meetings, etc.), I realized early on that I needed to have scheduled one-on-one time with my supervisors, supervisees, and key positions in other departments.” Using workflow management software makes it even easier to keep track of remote workers.
A more important point is to encourage openness. A hybrid work environment will be prone to conflict and it is up to you to manage. Have regular conversations about how well working as a hybrid team is going. To encourage honesty, you can use a survey tool like Polly to find out what your team’s thoughts and opinions.
Train team leads and managers.
40% of 215 managers surveyed in a Harvard Business Review study doubted their ability to manage remote staff. It is unrealistic to expect managers to know how to lead a hybrid team without training. While a lot of their expertise will come from experience, there is a need to actively learn about it. A great way to do this is to study how other hybrid companies work and adapt the lessons to your team.
At the end of the day, a hybrid team thrives when productivity is measured by results and not by the hours spent at a desk. Focus instead on the results, and less on the process — that will be different for everyone. By taking into consideration the needs of remote workers and in-office staff, you can find a balance that helps all workers do their work the best way they can.