By John Rampton, the founder of Palo Alto, California-based Calendar, a company helping your calendar be much more productive.
It’s safe to say the office doesn’t look like it used to. Today’s employees expect more flexibility from their employers. That might mean 100% remote roles for some. But for many staff members and managers, flexibility involves working in hybrid environments.
While managing a team nearly always comes with challenges, hybrid work environments present distinct difficulties. When employees are only in the office part-time, creating a strong sense of connection and culture becomes even more crucial. Plus, leaders often have to find ways to maintain and measure productivity across different schedules without the crutch of face-to-face communication.
Whether you’re managing a hybrid team for the first time or have some experience under your belt, there’s always room for improvement. Letting go of traditional leadership ideas is often the most difficult hurdle to overcome, but it’s vital with hybrid teams. Below are four ways to better manage a hybrid work environment.
1. Set clear expectations.
For employees, increased flexibility entails more self-direction. While this can be a good thing, too much of it can derail the team’s efforts. A lack of performance guidelines is like trying to reach a destination without a plan or a map. Establishing clear expectations for schedules, communication methods and milestone completion ensures productivity stays on track.
A sense of structure can also help prevent ill feelings. Knowing that everyone is expected to be in the office at least twice a week stops allegations of favoritism. Guidelines like these can also help managers and teams coordinate tasks. You might want to schedule brainstorming sessions or important meetings when the whole team is working in person. At the same time, clear expectations give employees enough autonomy to get solo work done without interruptions.
2. Provide the proper tools and support.
In hybrid work environments, employees aren’t in the office all the time. However, they still require access to the tools and support an office environment provides. This means they must have ways to engage with you and other team members in real time and asynchronously. Your team also needs the same technology they have access to when working in person.
Although hybrid team members save on their commutes, they may not want to foot the bill for home office expenses. Monthly stipends for high-speed internet and providing equipment like dual monitors can be part of the solution. Companies might also give hybrid teams portable technology like laptops and smartphones loaded with internal software, including a VPN and collaboration applications. Using cloud-based solutions is another way to facilitate the work of hybrid employees.
3. Use meetings strategically.
One temptation managers might have with hybrid teams is to use meetings as a way to constantly check in. Handling status updates and progress discussions via meetings can be more efficient for a team leader since they hear from everyone at once. For employees, though, these gatherings can be a waste of time and feel like micromanagement.
It’s one thing for a boss to ask someone what they’re working on or where they’re at with a project. But having to give a progress update every week and listen to statuses that may not impact their work is another. Some matters might be better managed through collaboration software or a one-on-one conversation. Think of meetings in terms of necessity and effectiveness. If bringing the group together won’t result in progress or action items, resist the urge to do it.
4. Create inclusive employee experiences.
Despite an increase in hybrid and remote work, managers’ perceptions about it remain largely negative. When someone is out of sight, they’re often also out of mind. An SHRM survey reveals that 42% of supervisors admit to sometimes forgetting about remote employees when handing out task assignments. Furthermore, 67% of managers believe that remote workers are more expendable than those in the office full-time.
While hybrid employees aren’t 100% remote, their in-person schedules may differ from those of peers and supervisors. As a result, some team members might be left out of critical conversations, including new directives or changes. A few employees may get passed over for high-profile project assignments because they’re not as visible.
Managers could also let personal biases about productivity influence performance evaluations. Instead, try to divvy up work equitably according to skill and include all key contributors in project discussions. Don’t just reach out to who’s in the office while you’re there.
Hybrid environments are a new way of working and a setup that managers often feel unprepared for. Conventional ideas about leadership and productivity, such as seeing what employees are working on at all times, can get in the way. By learning to let go of traditional management methods, supervisors of hybrid teams step into practicing true leadership principles. Balancing flexibility and autonomy with guidelines and equitable support can be a solid start.