Manager’s Guide: How to Effectively Lead and Manage Hybrid Teams
What is a hybrid team?
A hybrid team is a team where its members have flexibility over the location of their work. The hybrid model hinges on giving people choice, autonomy, and trust to reap the ‘best of both’ benefits from remote and in-office working.
Operating transparently and fairly will be vital for managers as we all navigate this new way of working.
Managing hybrid teams: the challenges and opportunities
As a result of the pandemic shaking up the way we work, it’s very unlikely we’ll see a return to pre-COVID ways of working. Hybrid teams are set to become the norm. Although research suggests that there are huge benefits to be gained from a blend of remote and in-office working, managing a hybrid team won’t come without its challenges.
The shift to hybrid working is a potential hotbed of perceived injustice, so operating transparently and fairly will be vital for managers as we all navigate this new way of working. There’s a risk of an ‘us-and-them’ dynamic emerging between those who attend the office regularly and those who base themselves more from home. Additionally, some of the challenges we’ve seen from all-remote workforces won’t be going away, in fact, they will likely amplify. For instance, organisations have struggled to keep people engaged and cultivate company culture with all-remote workforces, now leaders and managers have to work out how to tackle these challenges with a blend of off-site and on-site working.
The good news is, if these challenges can be overcome, hybrid working presents huge opportunities for organisations. Research clearly shows there is a combined performance boost on offer to those who successfully reset to a hybrid working model. Organisations can benefit from access to a global talent pool, reduced office costs, higher employee engagement, increased creativity and increased social learning. On an individual basis, people can benefit from increased flexibility, potentially improved work-life balance, enhanced autonomy and higher job satisfaction.
top tips for effectively leading and managing hybrid teams
Level the playing field for your hybrid team
1. Be clear and transparent about who can work in a hybrid way – clearly communicate the decision criteria around how roles are reviewed and judged as suitable or unsuitable for hybrid working. It’s important that your team don’t view hybrid working agreements as long-term entitlements. Review agreements intermittently to check they are working for all parties (the individual, the manager, the team, and the organisation) and reassess if necessary.
2. Manage performance fairly – It can be tempting for managers to monitor those who work more ‘out of sight’ differently, over-compensating by ensuring that their jobs are more rigidly defined, providing detailed direction on their tasks and requiring individuals to keep track of time and report on what has been achieved. Avoid the temptation to ‘retrieve control’ of those working more remotely. When it comes to performance management, continue to treat everyone the same. People will perform better in their jobs, and experience less stress, if they feel they are being treated fairly within a team. In a hybrid working world, everyone needs to be managed by results and agreed-upon work plans, no one should feel excluded or penalised for working in alternative ways. All jobs should be clearly defined, and feedback provided in a similar way for all workers regardless of where they work.
3. Communicate frequently – regular, high-quality communication is particularly important when your team is dispersed, otherwise people can begin to feel isolated or left out. Specifically, managers need to ensure they are regularly checking in with everyone, allowing every team member the time they need to solve problems, chat through updates, and talk through work or personal issues.
Maintain a healthy hybrid team environment
4. Keep everyone front of mind (not just those you have seen recently) – when it comes to allocating resource to a new project or crediting people for a job well done, consciously recall those working more remotely. People in the office are more likely to be recommended for projects or have their ‘above and beyond’ efforts recognised, as others see them in the hallway or at their desk late, and they come to mind more easily. However, to make hybrid working a success, it’s crucial this uneven recognition is proactively countered. Everyone should be receiving suitable development opportunities and recognition for their hard work, regardless of where they tend to work.
5. Co-create a hybrid team charter – regardless of how long your team has been together, shifting to embrace a more hybrid way of working will require boundaries and ‘rules of play’ to be re-established and re-contracted within the team. Have a conversation about the team’s purpose and company values, the personal values of each individual, the benefits people see hybrid working bringing to the team, the pattern team members would like to try out in the shift to hybrid working and why) and the opportunities and challenges hybrid working may create for the team.
6. Support people to manage their work-life boundaries – Paradoxically, while ‘better work-life balance’ is often cited as a benefit of remote working, it can often lead to more work-life conflict. Remote workers often feel more pressure to be instantly available and without the commute, it’s easy to just do one more task, with work increasingly encroaching on non-work life and time. Boundaries between work and life need to be well-managed to protect people’s wellbeing, with evidence indicating it’s a topic on which people often value coaching.
Optimise the engagement of your hybrid team members
7. Keep people connected to why they are there – reiterating and discussing how people’s work fits into the mission of the team and company is something managers can’t over-do. As American naturalist Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” This type of busy drifting is a big risk with hybrid working, but the more people internalise the ‘why am I here?’ of their role, the more engaged they’ll be and the better the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of tasks will get done. New joiners are also more likely to stay engaged if they have a clear understanding of the ‘why’ behind their role from day one.
8. Set stretching goals people can get their teeth into – the pandemic has raised the issue of wellbeing high up the agenda of many organisations. It might be tempting to perceive setting stretching goals as unhelpful. This isn’t the case. Co-creating clear, meaningful goals, which challenge people will reduce stress caused from ambiguity, build people’s confidence, and fuel their motivation.
Intentionally help people grow their networks
9. Explicitly value the time people spend relationship building – be intentional and explicit about encouraging people to build their network, whether they are working remotely or in the office. Unplanned and unstructured relationship moments provide people with context about the business, sounding board advice, new ideas, collaboration opportunities, learnings in ‘how to get things done’ within the business and insight into where work overlap is occurring. What may feel like time off the clock is in fact often a rich addition to people’s work, leading to better decision making and increased efficiency and effectiveness. Make sure your team understands how valuable that time is.
10. Set up cross-functional learning opportunities – in a hybrid world, cross-functional learning sessions become another valuable way for managers to nurture the social learning fabric of an organisation. Empower your team to pull on their external and internal networks to set these sessions up and run them ‘dual-track’ (so both in-office and remote workers can attend). They are a great way to keep networks growing and fresh ideas circulating.
Co-creating clear, meaningful goals, which challenge people will reduce stress caused from ambiguity, build people’s confidence, and fuel their motivation.
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 Raffaele, C., & Connell, J. (2016). Telecommuting and coworking communities: what are the implications for individual and organizational flexibility? Flexible work organizations, 21-35.
 Golden, T.D., Veiga, J.F., & Simsek, Z. (2006). Telecommuting’s differential impact on work-family conflict: Is there no place like home? Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 1340-1350.
 Lautsch, B. A., & Kossek, E. E. (2011). Managing a blended workforce: telecommuters and non-telecommuters. Organizational Dynamics, 40, 10-17.