In the era of COVID-19, social distancing has become the norm. The lockdown imposed, as a result, has enforced the concept of remote and hybrid teams. Companies around the world were straddling a bridge between yesterday when employees at most companies were physically present at work, and tomorrow, when a vaccine or effective treatment will open the possibility of a safe return to the traditional workplace. However, remote work will have earned a permanent place in the employment mix even when we move towards the latter. The shift may be welcoming for some but overwhelming for others.
Having a team in which some employees are co-located in an office and others are doing their jobs in remote teams, presents several challenges for companies. Some of these challenges might feel familiar. For instance, there could be an “us versus them” undercurrent among colleagues. There could also be communication, team engagement, and coordination issues, common in geographically distributed teams, affecting the quality and quantity of work.
Therefore, companies need to understand:
- How will they manage various circumstances while treating everyone fairly?
- What protocols will they put in place to ensure that the hybrid teams are in sync with remote teams?
- How will they remain flexible, given that plans may change at any moment?
- How do they help their employees manage the stress levels through this transition?
At Fully Accountable, we’ve successfully run a remote and hybrid workplace for the better half of a decade. We have learned many important lessons about the how-to’s of remote leadership and management along that journey. Now, we’ve put together this guide in hopes that it will help you manage remote and hybrid teams effectively and optimally.
Level the Playing Field
Remote work is not equally possible for all employees. When schools are closed or are conducting virtual classes, childcare duties often intrude on parents’ workdays. Employees who don’t have adequate workspaces at home or no work environment will be at a disadvantage. Moreover, sharing rooms with other family members or roommates can increase distractions and influence interactions during remote working.
The same goes for hybrid working. Many employees put their lives at risk by choosing a hybrid working model. With no facilities or a suitable work environment at home, they go to offices in order to work productively. This can be dangerous, especially if no SOP’s are being followed in the workplace.
Companies can actively rebalance the playing field at both the corporate and team levels to ensure that all employees can succeed.
No single policy or program is likely to fit all circumstances and combinations of remote and onsite work at the corporate level. Even in organizations where returning to the physical workplace is an option, health-vulnerable employees or those who live with health-vulnerable individuals and have urgent family-care obligations may need to continue to work in remote teams until scientists develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Companies must experiment with a range of solutions to address these diverse needs and concerns. They can offer employees a stipend to help them set up their home offices, but it also reimburses co-working memberships and coffee shop working purchases for added flexibility.
At the team level, managers should encourage each team to create shared norms to support remote work and reduce the likelihood of burnout and stress.
One norm to help level the playing field might be that if some employees are in a remote team, team meetings should be conducted as if everyone is working remotely, including members in a hybrid team. That way, members working from home would not miss out on side conversations and the dynamics of the meeting in the conference room.
Create and Set Expectations
Team leaders should discuss with their team about creating new practices and protocols.
They should have an explicit discussion about
- How and when are they going to communicate?
- Who has access to what information?
- Who needs to be in which meetings?
- Who needs to be in on which decisions?
- Should the entire team always be included in the meetings?
- Should recipients acknowledge every message?
They should also set guidelines for when to use what channel – mail, Slack, phone, etc.
Companies should try to be flexible with their employees and give them time to adjust to the new working style. They should adjust their expectations on how employees will initially perform when they start to work from a remote or hybrid system, as handling work from the office and home is different. Companies should be transparent in communicating their expectations to the team members so that there is no undue pressure on them.
They should also discuss how employees plan to structure their working hours and enforce a new culture by figuring out what makes for the best way to work in this environment. An efficient hybrid workplace shouldn’t demand that everyone works the same hours, at the same pace. Employees working in remote teams may want flexibility and the freedom to rework their hours, and the hybrid teams may want more structure.
Building a fair and equitable workplace is more complicated when a leader manages a remote and hybrid team. There is an incorrect assumption that the employees in the office are more productive than those who are not. Companies should put in place practices to counteract this tendency.
They should make a rule that all team meetings will take place over Zoom or Slack, even though some people may be together in the office. Hybrid meetings are unfair to those not physically in the space as it is hard to listen when you are not there and have noise in the background. Partially distributed companies should have group meetings in an entirely distributed way, with everyone on their device. This way, everyone can be seen and heard, and it will cut down on the side conversations, forcing all the communication to be much more precise and consistent.
Moreover, companies shouldn’t tolerate team members in the office talking about work in a way that unintentionally excludes remote teams. They should make sure that everyone in the team is allowed to contribute.
Strive for Equity
Another risk for a leader in a hybrid environment is that it will worsen their own baggage and biases about particular employees. In other words, they will continue to hold their star employees in high regard and will continue to see the employees they have adversely predisposed to in a negative light. It may be human nature, but that doesn’t make it right.
Leaders should check if they are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the employee, they think is terrific, and if they ignore the needs of the employee who annoys them. They should ask themselves if there are people in the team who have not given equal treatment and what it would look like if they did.
They should also pay attention to how they divide up their day and focus on spending more time with people in the office. Leaders need to put in the effort to do better by thinking about ways to position all the team members for success by using objective data to evaluate their performance.
Empower Frontline Leaders to Help Employees Navigate the Shift Towards Hybrid and Remote Work.
Historically, face-to-face team meetings or one-on-one coaching sessions have been the go-to tool of frontline leaders. It’s how they get to know and motivate their employees, monitor engagement in real-time, and offer employees strategic context and meaning. While many may naturally adjust to virtual settings, others will benefit from training and new daily routines that will help them to build their skills in online communication, coaching, engagement, and management of remote and hybrid teams.
Before the pandemic, many organizations trained leaders in critical fields such as emotional intelligence and building community within teams. These practices are increasingly important, especially for employees who have joined the team during the pandemic.
Organizations should also identify frontline leaders who are innovating and experimenting with new tools, routines, and approaches to managing remote and hybrid teams. They can then enlist them in a “best teach the rest” model to teach their peers how to optimize the effectiveness of remote working.
Watch for Signs of Burnout
Leaders should pay close attention to their team members’ stress levels. Many employees will be stressed, irritable, and exhausted with the remote and hybrid system. But if leaders notice that someone is behaving differently – for instance, someone who was talkative and outspoken is now docile, or someone who was calm and composed now has a shorter fuse – this should be considered a sign of burnout.
Companies assume that employees should respond immediately, no matter what time it is, or work overtime. This also contributes to burnout. Therefore, they should clarify their expectations with their team in terms of working hours and response times.
Leaders should take steps to help their employees. If a team member tells they are overwhelmed, they should try helping them prioritize. They may have seven big things on their plate, but of those, only two things may really matter. If someone in a remote or hybrid team struggles with work, they should be helped through it day by day or task by task. Focus and connection are the antidotes to burnout.
Whether there is a pandemic or not, the primary role of a manager is to support their employees. Amidst a global health crisis, economic uncertainty, and ongoing social unrest, it’s been a disturbing year, and employees are under immense stress.
Therefore, managers should have socially distant conversations with colleagues at the office and one-on-one video calls with remote workers. They should ask them about their circumstances and find out about their work-related worries. They may have done a lot of this when the pandemic first started, but they continue to check in, as circumstances have likely changed.
Managers should carry out programs to support mental health, physical health, social connectivity, collaboration tools, and family care. They must continue to develop programs and policies that create an empathetic culture centered on employee wellness.
Make It Fun
The best way to initially motivate and connect more with remote and hybrid teams is to bring some playfulness into the workday. Many employees miss the laughter and lightheartedness of pre-pandemic lives.
Informal Zoom Meetings at least twice a week should be held to chat in a way like they would in the office lunchroom. It should be ensured that these events are open to everyone on the team regardless of whether they are working in remote or hybrid teams. It will help them feel connected and will create a sense of community.
During one-on-ones, they should ask employees how they are coping and if there is anything they can do to improve. It will help employees feel that their opinion is valued, and they are allowed to provide a solution whenever a problem arises.
Finally, none of the employers or employees should expect any of this to be easy. There will be bumps along the way, but they should always be humble and patient.
The change of working in hybrid and remote teams requires a whole new level of being present, being agile, and being able to adapt. It just takes a little creativity and comfort, getting used to a new way of doing things. However, the silver lining in the pandemic is that it has forced organizations to find ways to do that, along with ensuring employees’ well-being and allowing them to maintain a positive work-life balance.
Therefore, the focus should be to look at the bright side. This crisis will help employees develop skills and implement practices that help them for the rest of their careers.
As always, Fully Accountable is here to support you along your eCommerce business journey. We would be honored to speak with you about helping you run your digital business. Schedule a call or request a proposal online to see if we’d be a good fit for your team!