Managing a Hybrid Workforce: Tips for Teams with In-Person and Remote Employees

Across the globe, as thousands of people are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 each day, an emerging topic in the workforce is how to best manage hybrid teams across an organization. This – as some workers are eager to return to offices and others prefer to continue working-from-home (WFH).

Benefits of Work from Home

Several studies show that working from home during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in employee productivity. A 2020 study of Radware C-Suite executives found that 46% of respondents saw an increase in productivity among remote workers.

Advocates believe working-from-home fosters autonomy, giving employees even more flexibility to work under their own terms, setting their own schedules and creating independent methods for achieving results. It also provides most employees a better sense of time-management and work/life balance, as long commutes are eliminated.

In many cases, office distractions are eliminated through work-from-home, creating a quieter environment, along with the ability to move around your home freely and take breaks whenever someone feels necessary.

Studies also show 80 percent of employees are more loyal to their employer, if they are allowed to work from home, on occasion

Pros of Working in the Office
In contrast, in-person meetings are often best for brainstorming sessions and team-building exercises. Depending on individual team member’s personality types, meeting in the office at least three times a week, could boost productivity through direct collaboration.

Psychology Today reports that two-third of communication can be non-verbal, including subtle changes in facial expressions, vocal inflections, hand gestures, and eye contact. Though you may see some of these elements through a Zoom call, professionals say you can still lose some of those signals.

A pre-pandemic Forbes study shows 84 percent of executives prefer in-person meetings because they “build stronger and more meaningful business relationships.”

Casual conversations about kids, sports, or entertainment aren’t happening as much in a Zoom environment. This really makes a difference between simply “meeting” or taking it a step higher — to “connect” — which builds trust and understanding.

Results Vary Based on the Individual
Ultimately the pros and cons and the motivations surrounding work-from-home, in the office, or a hybrid model will vary from person to person.

For example, consider an extrovert versus an introvert. Extroverts typically get their energy from the outside world and to an extent, during remote work, that energy is cut-off.

Also, consider someone with at-home family obligations versus a single person. An employee with children may value the hybrid model because it gives them a chance to accomplish work outside the home, while also having flexibility to manage household chores during at-home breaks.

Individual living situations could play a role. Perhaps you have an employee who lives in a smaller apartment, within a noisy apartment complex. That employee might prefer an office environment, as opposed to someone who lives in a house with their own, quiet home office area.

Current Developments

The hybrid work model could arguably be one the most continuously developing corporate trends for 2021. Several companies are already announcing plans to pivot to that model, with hopes of partially opening offices up sometime this summer.

Microsoft
In October 2020, Microsoft released its plan for a hybrid workplace, officially making work from a home a permanent part of its new, flexible workplace.

The tech giant’s new philosophy includes:

  • Consistent flexible work hours for most positions.
  • Working from home part of the time is viewed as standard.
  • Geographic locations are up for discussion.

Facebook
The social media powerhouse announced the first week of March 2021 that it would reopen its offices at 50 percent capacity, with voluntary work from home to continue through July 2.

Amazon
Corporate employees returning to office on June 30 is a decision Amazon released in October 2020. The company said it would re-evaluate the plans during vaccine roll-out and based on other government guidance.

Past Occurrences
Pre-pandemic, several companies tried a hybrid work model, but it didn’t stick. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer ended the company’s remote work model in 2013, saying “face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture.”

Companies like IBM have also been known to call WFH teams back to the office, pre-pandemic.

Part of the problem could exist within the challenges of managing hybrid teams, and maybe not so much with the challenges of managing a team that is strictly work-from-home, versus either all out of office and all in office.

New Research

MIT Sloan Management Review suggests preparing your teams for two models. In this multi-model approach, most of the time, team leaders will operate in a virtual coordination mode, which means “establishing goals, monitoring progress, driving information sharing, and sustaining connections among colleagues working remotely.” Other times, they will be in face-to-face collaboration mode, “fostering deep learning, innovation, acculturation, and dedication.”

Under this model, tasks that require more teamwork would be reserved for in-person, while other day-to-day tasks would still be completed remotely. Researchers say that tasks involving a large amount of collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication are better served through in-person interactions.

Tips for Managing Hybrid Teams

Chances are, at least for a little while, you may find some of the teams within your organization operating in a hybrid model. This makes sense as some employees are waiting to be fully-vaccinated before returning to the office. A Glassdoor study found that 70% of those surveyed would like colleagues to be vaccinated before returning to work.

To prepare for this transition to a more hybrid model of work, here are some of our favorite tips for best workforce management:

Neither Team is an Island
When you have people working both at-home and in the office, you run the risk of one section of the team feeling increasingly isolated (like they are on an island). In many cases, the option the boss adopts becomes the norm. To keep this from happening, make sure to continue regular check-ins with all members of the team.

Also, even if your employee is miles away, there are several ways to make them feel included. Regular virtual community events for all team members could help foster this environment. Also, make sure to recognize remote workers for their contributions.

Use Technology
As people return to the office, consider still having the same Zoom meetings you had during the pandemic. For now, it does not matter who is in the office and who is not. Continue having everyone meet virtually over their computer. This fosters a sense of equality, especially among those who haven’t been able to secure a vaccine yet. Perhaps they are not eligible, based on their own local laws for vaccine priority.

This can be beneficial as some experts say Zoom creates more inclusion for some employees by allowing people the same “square” on the screen and a chance for those who are more soft-spoken to have a voice.

Create Team Guidelines
A working document that outlines the expectations and key routines will help keep the team performing at its best. Make sure to clearly outline what is expected from each employee. If a work-from-home policy is included in the company handbook, make sure to include that wording as well. Also, make sure to establish a clear purpose of why you have this policy, and define the scope of which roles are eligible for work-from-home and any regular working hours required, during work from home.

Avoid Assuming 
As your organization enters this new hybrid model of work, hold active individual 1×1 conversations to gather open and honest feedback from employees. This helps build collaboration, which is not just about actual cooperation and exchanging of ideas, but it’s also about trust and building strong relationships.

Training
Consider having company-wide training, special town halls, individual training, and team training for specific tools and methods to make a hybrid work environment a success. Planning the trainings could take some time upfront, but long-term benefits will be felt across the organization.

Re-evaluate
Strive for fairness and continually re-evaluate on a monthly or quarterly basis if your current systems are working. You may even consider having a special committee, with a manager from each department, to meet and discuss different successes and failures surrounding the new hybrid model. This is an easy and efficient way to gather different perspectives, ideas, and have round table (or Zoom) discussions.

Demonstrate Empathy
Overall, remember to be empathetic. Everyone in an organization – including your HR leaders, your executives, and your departmental managers – should prioritize empathy for any business environment, a hybrid model of remote work, included. A recent study from DDI found that empathy, or the ability to share the feelings of another, is critical for high performance.

Avoid these Common Mistakes

Communication Gaps
In any remote or hybrid work environment, there’s a potential for a delayed work coordination effort. This is more common when people are working in different time zones or different continents. Delayed communication can be costly. If you are a manager and managing teams in different locations, try to check-in during the middle of employees’ days, regardless of the time zone difference. It doesn’t have to be every day, as you may have concerns about work/life balance. This is especially critical if a deadline for a project is approaching.

Over-Reliance on Emails
Another reason to check in by phone is to avoid focusing the conversation on emails, where sometimes it is hard to gauge the sender’s tone of voice. With 205 emails sent worldwide daily, email is a popular form of business communication, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the main form of communication. Though efficient at times, emails limit discussions by not allowing open communication.

Hiring Too Quickly
If you are hiring a remote employee to be part of your hybrid team, take special care and time to make sure you are gaining the right person. Workers without the discipline to concentrate on projects while working at home can lower productivity and morale.

Conclusion

Overall, the largest key for success in operating a post-pandemic hybrid team may be to continue still focusing on virtual elements and consider a virtual-first approach. The efforts will ensure equality among all employees, leveling the playing field, and allowing teams to participate equally in a virtual space.

For teams who all live locally in the same place, calling your employees to the office on certain days for meetings, regardless of whether they are considered mostly remote, could also be effective in fostering an environment for inclusion and high productivity and creativity.

For more tips on managing a remote workforce, please view our #peopleandpayroll articles on:

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