By Joanne Bushell, Managing Director IWG Plc, South Africa.
Seamless communication, all-inclusive support and a solid sense of equality are just some of the ways to create synergy when leading a hybrid team in 2021.
Your team got used to working remotely in 2020. Now, in 2021, they may need to adapt to a new hybrid model, with some members based at home, others returning to the office, and others working from satellite offices. Here’s how to help them adjust and ensure your business thrives during the transition.
1. Keep communicating
Being a strong communicator is one of the key management skills required to successfully manage any hybrid team. But it’s important for managers to set out their stall upfront with house rules and progress expectations for every member of the team. Avoid a ‘them and us’ scenario by always keeping everyone in the loop with any decisions made, try to be as transparent as possible, and keep everyone up-to-date and involved. “Communicating via automated workflows for certain processes can help eliminate time-consuming email ping-pong and engage remote teams,” suggests Mirko Holzer, CEO of BrandMaker in a feature for the Forbes Technology Council.
2. Offer equal opportunities
When working with a distributed workforce it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to monitoring performance. But when you’re working with a hybrid team, it’s even more important to be open, fair and inclusive with every team player, no matter where they’re based. The Global State of Engagement study by Officevibe showed that 31% of employees wished their manager would communicate more frequently with them. Encourage in-team bonding with weekly virtual meet-ups, hold appraisals online, and ensure that career progression paths are fair for both office-based and remote employees.
3. Factor in some flexibility
It’s impossible to predict the unpredictable, but if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that flexibility is a vastly underplayed skill. “Maximise flexibility and establish ‘work-life’ integration,” recommends Jay Friedman in a report for Business Insider. Define clear working hours for everyone by using shared work calendars, so that every member of the team knows exactly who’s working on what and when, including the colleagues they can’t see. Also, try to factor some flexibility into the working week, so if individual situations change for anyone, such as sickness or school closures, the rest of the team are fully aware and can adapt appropriately.
4. The right environment
Beyond relationship building, offices matter for a host of other reasons. Both people and organisations use work settings as a means of expressing their values and aspirations. The design of physical places helps us express our professional identities. While the ever-present virtual work is working — for now — many of us are still functioning from cultures, norms, relationships, and practices that were in place prior to the pandemic. If we wish to change or adapt any of those factors in the future, it will be difficult without some degree of physical presence.
“In the wake of the global pandemic, the world of work has undergone a wholesale evolution,” IWG Managing Director South Africa, Joanne Bushell said, “While employees have wanted the ability to work remotely in recent years, many still want to return to an office environment at least part of the time. The pandemic has shown how employees can be productive and efficient in this changing model, and we are already seeing significant shifts in work policies that will allow a hybrid workplace model going forward.”
5. Provide a support network
A study by VitalSmarts published in the Harvard Business Review showed nearly half of respondents (46%) said the most successful managers checked in frequently and regularly with their remote employees. When teams work in several different locations, it’s easy to lose sight of who needs support when they’re not working right under your nose. The office-based team may feel anxious about coming back into communal space after working from home, while remote workers may feel resentful that they’ve not been asked to return to HQ and may miss out on promotions. Tensions can run high if employees feel that their concerns are not heard. A successful hybrid system is based on a culture of support and respect, so it’s important to ensure that support is accessible to all the team.
6. Share the benefits
Always treat everyone the same whether they are working from their kitchen table or at the next desk. A recent study from the Center for Talent Innovation found that employees who feel as if they belong are 3.5 times more likely to be productive, motivated, and engaged. When it comes to team rewards, it can be demotivating for remote workers to miss out on benefits offered to office-based staff only. If the company is providing in-office yoga classes or discounted gym memberships, consider live streaming the sessions or offering local discounts for remote employees too. And if you organise a team lunch, maybe send a food delivery to your remote team as well.
The variety of combinations of time and place that are possible with a “hybrid” team requires highly competent and motivated leaders that are committed to making it work. It will require a degree of intentionality that has not been necessary in traditional working practices.
*Want more business tips and advice? Check out the 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here.