With restrictions around the world beginning to slowly ease, and home working set to become more normalised, many leaders have understandably been wondering how their teams will operate post-crisis.
Much of the answer to this question is currently unclear. However, it seems inevitable that many organisations will adopt more flexible working policies, allowing at least an element of home working to continue after the lifting of national lockdowns.
After all, employers have found throughout the toughest times during the pandemic that it’s possible for them to quickly set up huge infrastructure to allow for home working. In the process, they have also largely discovered that their people have remained engaged and productive, having adapted quickly to their new working lives.
But, how will this remote working shift impact teams more widely, and importantly, how best should managers lead their employees amid such significant changes in how they work?
Everyone’s experience of working from home has been different
After weeks of working from home, many employees have now found their flow and established routines that suit them well. Consequently, they have been able to both heighten their productivity and achieve a healthier work-life balance.
Yet there are also some workers who are struggling with the transition and missing office life. These employees are eager to get back into the office for the social interaction and clearer dividing line between their home and work lives.
Everyone is different when it comes to their attitudes to working from home – and employers will need to take the time to understand each employees’ own preferences in the new era of work.
Will the post-COVID-19 era see a rise in hybrid teams?
It’s likely that a degree of home or remote working will become a longer-term part of our daily working lives, post-crisis. This might mean that – government guidelines permitting – many organisations contemplate the adoption of hybrid teams going forward.
Some organisations will inevitably leave the decision as to whether and when to come back to the workplace to each individual employee. It is likely that such employers will manage this process on a case-by-case basis, acknowledging that some people will be keen to come back to the office, while others won’t be.
Variations in employee circumstances, preferences or requirements within the same workforce could lead to the rise of hybrid teams, which are teams in which some members work in the one co-located workplace while others work remotely.
So, each day at your workplace could look very different, with part of your team coming into the office on some days, and others staying at home. This is an entirely new challenge for most leaders, so it’s important to think now about how you might best lead your newly hybrid team in the not-too-distant future.
11 ways to lead a newly hybrid team after the pandemic
Effective leadership of a hybrid team, in essence, comes down to practising fairness and inclusiveness with every member of your staff, irrespective of where they are working. You can achieve this in the following ways:
- Set out expectations and accountability early. Early on, set expectations and make accountability clear to all staff so that both home and office-based employees can work together productively and know who is doing what. As part of this, you might run daily or weekly meetings with your entire team to start each day or week on the right foot, then share progress regularly on key projects with the entire team to maintain momentum.
- Define clear working hours. This will help you and your team know who is working when and where. Sharing your work calendars will help to further boost visibility of this crucial information, enabling your team members to know what each other is doing at any one time, including colleagues who they do not physically sit next to in the same space.
- Discourage a ‘them and us’ culture. When you are managing a hybrid team, it can be very easy for unhelpful or negative attitudes about the ‘other’ group to slip in. You won’t want your office-based staff, for instance, to think that remote team members don’t work as hard or have an easier working experience. So, encourage office-based and remote workers to proactively build on their working relationships, and facilitate this as much as possible. There should be a culture of support and respect in your hybrid team.
- Understand the benefits of each working situation and ensure fairness. Your employees who are working from home, for example, may find it easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance than those who are in the office for most of the time. You might therefore try to encourage or facilitate the same level of balance for your office-based team members, by giving them the flexibility to pick their kids up from school, or to go for a run during working hours. It’s also important to role-model healthy working behaviour yourself, regardless of where you are based.
- Commit equal time and focus to each member of your team. The amount of attention and help that you give to each employee shouldn’t depend on where they’re working or what their role is. Just because some members of your team work remotely, they should not receive less of your time and support.
- Be mindful of communication. Remote workers miss out on face-to-face interaction. This means you’ll need to think carefully about how you can make them feel equally included via virtual remote meetings, during which you as the leader might be sitting next to an office-based member of your team. When communicating with remote team workers, choose voice or video over email or chat, depending on the task. Seeing and hearing you regularly will help your remote staff to feel included and part of the team.
- Think about how you will measure performance in a fair way. Your focus will need to shift from effort or hours at desks, to output based on set objectives. No matter the locations of your team members, you should be concentrating on the quality of the work that they produce, rather than how much time they spend at their desks. You also need to ensure that career progression paths are fair and equal for both office-based and remote staff.
- Hire wisely. If you’re recruiting for a role that you anticipate will mainly involve remote working, you must ensure you’re hiring for the correct skill sets. Hays US CEO David Brown recently wrote about some of the traits you should be looking for in a remote worker, including the ability to ‘self-start’, punctuality, responsiveness and – ideally – prior experience of remote work. Above all, regardless of where your people are based, it’s clear that adaptability will be a key in-demand soft skill going forward, post-crisis.
- Create occasions to physically bring your team together. Once the crisis is over and government restrictions lift, it can help team unity, harmony and morale if you arrange occasional opportunities for your hybrid team members to meet and get to know each other face-to-face.
- Keep your remote employees informed about company and team decisions. Staff members who aren’t in the office may not be privy to decisions that your on-site employees make, or indeed, decisions made at the executive level, so you should set up a regular, dedicated time with them to share such details, ensuring as much transparency as possible. This will give them a clearer overview of the strategic direction of the organisation and wider team, while minimising any sense that they feel out of the loop.
- Ensure rewards and benefits are fair for all. Offering rewards or office-based benefits that remote workers are unable to participate in, such as in-office yoga classes or discounted membership to a gym near the office, can be demotivating. If you do offer rewards that are inaccessible to remote workers, you need to at least give them alternatives that feel broadly equivalent to those that office employees enjoy. For instance, if you are paying for lunch for your team, send your remote workers a food delivery. If you are providing an in-office mindfulness class, live stream the session for your remote workers.
Prepare yourself and your team for new ways of working
As we look forward to the new era of work post-COVID-19, it’s clear that our places of work may become more fluid than they have ever been before. Our traditional workplaces may have fewer people in them, as employers afford their team members the flexibility to come into the office some days, and then work the rest of the week at home. This may cause the dynamics of teams to change from one day to the next, which necessitates careful management.
As a leader, then, it’s important to put yourself on the front foot now, by starting to think about how you might best lead your newly hybrid team in the not-too-distant future.
Nick Deligiannis began working at Hays in 1993 and since then has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business, including the role of Director responsible for the operation of Hays in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. In 2004 Nick was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors, and was made Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand in 2012. Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.