While a hybrid workplace – where part of the employees work from an office and others remotely- is nothing new, Covid-19 has changed the rules of the game. Managers of hybrid teams are more than ever faced with the challenge of leading their teams efficiently by synching their workforce and filling the gap of fairness and flexibility. In the era of Covid-19, the hybrid workplace, one in which some employees are co-located in an office and others are doing their jobs remotely, presents a number of challenges for managers. Therefore, we need to create awareness and practices that ensure employees in the office are in sync with those working from home, and also build fairness and flexibility into our workflow (HBR Knight 2020).
This blog article summarises the main points from a LinkedIn Live with Nancy Settle-Murphy (Hybrid work expert) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero).
Hybrid work expert
Table of contents
What are the differences between today’s hybrid teams, compared to a pre-Covid world?
Employees who worked remotely before the pandemic usually tended to feel at a disadvantage compared to their on-site team members. Covid-19 and its accompanying home office regulations for the whole workforce has suddenly dissolved this imbalance and substituted it with a feeling of equality among the workforce – everybody was forced to work virtually. A situation which without any doubt has been enriching for both parties allowing them to sit equally around one big virtual table.
This balance however is shifting again as some employees are going back to the office and others continue to work remotely. While remote workers got a taste of what it means to work equitably, on-site workers at the same time were able to get to know the advantages of remote work and became accustomed. Interestingly, recent surveys show that more and more employees would like to spend at least some time working remotely, the average being two days a week in the office and 3 days at home. When comparing leaders who led people face-to-face before Covid-19 and leaders who were running a business virtually before, one could argue that leaders who were leading people in person before the pandemic experienced a steep learning curve as these leaders had to come up with entirely new structures and processes. Leaders who previously had led their workforce virtually however could profit from the knowledge gained beforehand and rather adapted fast to the circumstance by modifying existing communication channels and structures.
How to include remote workers in hybrid organizations?
One of the crucial factors for properly including remote workers in hybrid organizations is creating an atmosphere where all voices are encouraged, and parity is lived as a company value. Unfortunately, remote workers are often overlooked when it comes to promotions due to a lack of visibility within the company. This is also called “proximity bias”. Proximity Bias is when we unconsciously favor whatever is closest in time, space and ownership while also undervaluing those in remote locations. In this bias, we pay attention and give value to whatever or whoever is literally closest to us, this means e.g. being in the office. This is particularly challenging for remote workers, as they are often overlooked when it comes to communcation flow, project updates and even career moves. One advice to counteract this potential invisibility of remote workers would be to establish oneself as an expert in a certain area, volunteering for assignments can help to raise visibility and enable access to people outside of the organization, being proactive in meetings and literally speak up to be seen. Beyond this, we strongly recommend remote workers to establish the practice of 1:1 meetings if this is not offered by the manager. 1:1 meetings are an excellent way to counteract proximity bias.
While a lot of companies do not have a clear idea about their hybrid working policy yet, organizations must establish common ground rules and communicate those to their employees. With that in mind, leaders need to work on team norms together with their team and communicate these clearly to their employees so that they everybody has a clear understanding.
When it comes to maintaining/building trust and ensuring equity and fairness, what are some of the most important steps hybrid teams and their leaders can take right now, even before people return to the office?
Generally speaking, a team culture should not depend on where someone works but rather on how a team works together. The goal for hybrid teams would therefore be to maintain a consistent team culture based on common values, respect as well as a common understanding of how to collaborate and how priorities are set.
A gap that seems harder to fill is the question of how to integrate remote workers into social meetings. As face-to-face social interactions are crucial to bond as a team, it is recommended to aim for a social get-together that allows all the team members to meet physically from time to time. If the distance however does not allow this, gift vouchers or tangible presents are a great way to show your appreciation as a company.
? Agree on hours where everyone should be available. Agreeing as a team on hours when everybody must be reachable smoothens not only the internal communication processes, it also increases the efficiency of the team. Hone hours when you are not available. Productive working goes hand in hand with switching off and concentrating on one particular task.
? Signal your presence as a leader. By signalizing one’s presence as a leader you can proactively counteract issues of distrust. If you have not done so yet, consider introducing the concept of 1:1 meetings on a regular basis with and for each team member.
? As a leader, spend more time with remote workers in intentional scheduled conversations. Recent studies suggest that leaders of hybrid teams are spending up to 20-25 % more time in meetings with their remote workforce in contrast to their on-site workers. The reason behind this is that in the office conversations between leaders and their on-site workforce are happening casually while conversations with remote workers must be set up intentionally.
? Share your working calendar. Another good piece of advice for hybrid teams is to share working calendars and, in this way, let colleagues know about national holidays and availability for meetings.
What is the biggest piece of advice for leaders of today’s hybrid teams?
Ease people gently back into the office starting with a couple of days a week for 2-3 months. Find a strategy to keep people safe and make sure your workforce feels safe entering the workplace. This can mean requiring proof of a vaccine, social distancing at the workplace, or also a mask policy. In the end, it is about creating a space where everybody feels physically safe.
Once the safety issues are addressed, it is recommended for leaders to design for a virtual workplace as a first step and only then start thinking about how to bring people back into the office.
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Buk, Sveta/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How to design a virtual onboarding event for newcomers?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Canale, Abril (2021): Best practices for online team collaboration
Staffa-Healey, Almendra (2021): How to design effective virtual international internships