Virtual Space Hero

How to Lead High-Performance Hybrid Teams?

Written by



Hanna Gruber

#virtualspacehero Blog Team

While a hybrid workplace is nothing new, Covid-19 has changed the rules of the game. Managers are facing the challenge of leading hybrid teams efficiently by synching their workforce and filling the gap of fairness and flexibility. Therefore, we need to create awareness and practices that ensure employees in the office are in sync with those working from home. As well as building fairness and flexibility into our workflow (HBR Knight 2020).

This blog article recaps the most important points from a LinkedIn Interview with the Remote Work and Training Expert Nancy Settle-Murphy from Guided Insights and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero).

🤓 What are the differences between leading hybrid teams today, compared to a pre-Covid world?

Employees who worked remotely before the pandemic tended to feel at a disadvantage compared to on-site team members. Covid-19 and its accompanying home office regulations for the whole workforce have suddenly dissolved this imbalance. It substituted it with a feeling of equality among the workforce – everybody was forced to work virtually. A situation which 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 in this case being two days a week in the office and 3 days at home. 

In comparison, leader who were leading people in person before the pandemic experienced a steep learning curve. These leaders had to come up with entirely new structures and processes. However, leaders who previously had led their workforce virtually could profit from the knowledge gained beforehand.  This allowed them to adapt fast to the circumstance by modifying existing communication channels and structures.

💻How to include remote workers in hybrid organizations?

A crucial factor for properly including remote workers is creating an atmosphere where all voices are encouraged. Unfortunately, remote workers are often overlooked. For example when it comes to promotions, they lack visibility within the company. This is also called “proximity bias”. Proximity Bias is when we unconsciously favour 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. When it comes to communication flow, project updates and even career moves, they are therefore often overlooked.

One piece of advice to counteract this potential invisibility of remote workers would be to establish oneself as an expert in a certain area. Or volunteering for assignments can help to raise visibility and enable access to people outside of the organization. Being proactive in meetings and literally speaking up helps to be seen as well. Beyond this, we recommend remote workers 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 many companies do not have a clear idea about their hybrid working policy, organizations must establish common ground rules. And communicate those to their employees! With that in mind, leaders need to work on shared norms together with their team and communicate these clearly to their employees so that everybody has a clear understanding.

“Many people say that virtual meetings need to be kept relatively short, and generally this is true. We have a very short attention span, and after a while, people will start to multitask and look at their phones. At the same time, if we need and deserve a full-blown discussion with an exchange of ideas, we cannot just plan for the meeting to be only one hour long.”

Nancy Settle-Murphy, Tweet

How to build trust and ensure fairness while leading hybrid teams?

Generally speaking, a team culture should not depend on where someone works but on how a team works together. The goal for hybrid teams would therefore be to maintain a consistent team culture. It should mainly be based on common values and respect. But also a common understanding of how to collaborate and how priorities are set. 

A gap that seems harder to fill is 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, gifting tangible presents is a great way to show your appreciation.

🔥Agree on hours when everyone should be available.

Agreeing as a team on hours when everybody must be reachable smoothens not only the internal communication processes. It additionally 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 intentionally scheduled conversations.

Recent studies suggest that leaders should spend 20-25 % more time in meetings with their remote workforce than on-site workers. The reason behind this is that in the office conversations between leaders and their on-site workforce are happening casually. But conversations with remote workers must be set up intentionally.

🔥 Share your working calendar.

Another good piece of advice for leading hybrid teams is to share working calendars. In this way, you let colleagues know about national holidays and availability for meetings.

What is your biggest piece of advice for leading hybrid teams, Nancy?

“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 a virtual workplace as a first step and only then start thinking about how to bring people back into the office.”

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