The Covid 19 pandemic has forced thousands of organisations to restructure how they operate, and this restructuring has forced millions of workers to move out of the office and into a remote working environment. Although we are currently all mainly working in this remote environment it seems likely that, post-pandemic, many companies will choose to operate with a 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 managing hybrid teams into sharp focus.
This will radically disrupt how teams operate and managers will have to re-learn the art of managing a team. At Global Business Culture, we are currently running dozens of training programmes designed to help experienced managers move into this new hybrid environment and we felt it might be helpful to share some of our learnings and some of our top tips on this topic.
We have selected 5 areas which managers will need to address in a hybrid team environment – but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Anyway, we hope these ideas are helpful:
The move from an office-based working environment to a more complex hybrid team environment creates opportunities for people but it also presents a number of challenges. Many people are being asked to re-learn habits and working patterns which have stood them in good stead for decades and, as we all know, change is never easy. Transitions from an old approach to a new approach take time and new behaviours must be learnt and embedded.
It is important that managers recognise that they have a responsibility to model good managing hybrid team behaviours and that their actions will probably set the tone which the team will follow. If they set a good example, it is likely that the team will function well together in a hybrid environment but it their actions set a bad example it is likely the team will malfunction.
Organisations are basically built on trust. We trust each other to perform the tasks we are asked to do; we trust our manager will support us and we trust that the company has our best interests at heart. Trust is the glue that binds the business together and helps everybody achieve corporate and personal objectives.
What we do know is that trust is built over time through frequent, meaningful interactions which deliver purposeful results. Unfortunately, in a hybrid team environment, interactions with team members tend to be less frequent and can be more superficial. The everyday bonding situations which occur in an office environment are difficult to replicate and relationships are more challenging to forge – yet trust remains the glue that will bind the team together and the manager needs to work especially hard on this issue.
Trust is built at both the professional and the social level. Team members want to know that they can trust the manger’s professional capabilities and knowledge, but they also want to feel that they can trust them as a person at a relationship level. Managing hybrid teams will require managers need to work hard to build and maintain trust in both of these areas because the combination of the two is where real trust is found.
The tips below might be a starting point to help managers work on deepening trust with team members.
When people work together in an office, news and information moves around pretty freely. People speak to each other; they overhear the conversations of their co-workers and their manager and they are involved in ad hoc meetings all the time.
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.
In other words, they have context. They understand what they are being asked to do, why they are being asked to do it and what impact it will have.
This gives people a sense of purpose.
When managing hybrid teams, managers cannot allow any loss of a sense of purpose to ocure which results from lack of context.
When working remotely in a hybrid environment it is critical that each team member continues to feel valued and appreciated by their manager. Unfortunately, it is more difficult for managers to maintain a close relationship with people when they don’t see them face-to-face on a regular basis.
Therefore, managers need to make special efforts to keep in regular contact with each team member and that contact needs to be tailored to the needs of each individual. Some team members may need extra coaching on certain aspects of the job, another may be worrying about their career progression prospects whilst a third may be grappling with domestic challenges. An effective hybrid manager needs to be alive to the different needs of each individual within a team and address those specific needs as effectively as possible.
The challenge, therefore, is in keeping close enough to all your team members that you know what to focus on with them at any specific time.
Managers of hybrid teams often find themselves under huge amounts of time pressure which result from the complex nature of working in a remote environment. They find that they are constantly pulled in different directions by the competing demands of working on team dynamics, spending sufficient time with individual team members, managing their own bosses, and delivering on their own core tasks.
The danger in this situation is that managers become overly reactive to the demands of the moment at the expense of taking a more strategic approach to their responsibilities – the immediate needs of the moment start to dictate the structure of the manager’s day. And the more this is allowed to happen the more acute the challenge becomes.
Therefore, the challenge, when managing hybrid teams, is to recognise this pattern and take active steps to take back control of their schedule and workload. Mangers need to take stock of how they are allocating their time on a daily basis and take action if they find their use of time is imbalanced.
It is really important that managers recognise that leading a hybrid team is very different from leading a co-located team and that they need to develop new skills and new approaches.
It is also important that organisations recognise the challenge their management teams face in this new environment and invest in training and development to help them navigate the future world of work.