The most challenging aspects of leading hybrid teams
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In a bit less than a year, companies worldwide from all industries were faced with the difficult task to go either completely or partially remote because of the global pandemic. No one expected this to happen so quickly, and for many businesses, transferring everyone to a home-office meant losing a lot of time and resources.
Given the circumstances, having hybrid teams seemed to be the most optimal option to bring the best of both worlds. However, it wasn’t exactly the easiest.
So what are hybrid teams and what are the most challenging aspects of leading them?
Hybrid teams: What are they and why?
A hybrid team is a work team that has several people working remotely while another group works directly from the office.
This way of working can be beneficial for companies that have many employees and not enough workspace. It can also be the go-to solution for employers who like to give more flexibility to their employees.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, having a hybrid team was a very efficient way to respect the social distancing protocol without shutting down the workplace altogether.
It's also interesting to note that a hybrid team doesn't necessarily mean the same thing for everyone. While some companies like to designate specific jobs or positions as remote vs. on-site, others prefer establishing a rotation shift that would give every employee a home working experience as well as an on-site one.
Hybrid team structures are therefore not set in stone and each company can adapt them to its needs and that of its team.
Challenges of leading hybrid teams
Despite all the benefits that a hybrid experience may offer, leaders face important challenges when it comes to handling such a complex work team.
Offering equitable experiences
One of the most difficult tasks for a leader is to be inclusive towards everyone in their hybrid teams and avoid some of the following missteps:
Hybrid teams depend a lot on technology, but when half of your team works at the office, it can be easy to assume that the ones who work at home have all they need to do their job perfectly too.
For example, it might be that all your company's office computers have specific programs installed that are necessary for the proper communication and workflow of your business. It would be a mistake to assume that everyone in your team is tech-savvy and will automatically know how to install and handle such specific pieces of software in their home devices.
Try to make technology easy for your hybrid team by providing tutorials or even putting a tech person at their disposition if they need anything related to that. You can also make use of AI based programs to make your video conferences go more smoothly and avoid technical inconveniences.
No one can deny that when it comes to a hybrid team, the more people it has, the harder it is to manage. Difficulties can arise from different angles, one of them being the time zone differences.
As a leader, you have to be intentional about the times you communicate with your hybrid team and be mindful of how it can affect opportunities. Let’s say you want to make an announcement about a new project that has a “first come, first served” basis. It wouldn’t be fair to send the message to everyone at the same time, because some members might be finishing their day while others are just waking up.
Some people who aren’t used to meetings via video conferences or calls have a difficult time communicating with their colleagues who are working remotely. As a leader, you should make sure that everyone understands that you are one single team, no matter where you are located, and that your remote employees are an integral part of your company and not part-time participants.
This lack of synchronization can mostly be seen when a person is used to going with their own independent workflow and find it difficult to work as a team with someone who isn’t physically present.
In these cases, the leader should encourage both parties involved to exchange weekly reports and updates with specific information about what they did, what they need to go further and the suggestions they may have.
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t expect an immediate response from your hybrid team, especially if you live in a different timezone. This doesn’t mean that your employees aren’t diligent in their jobs, but one has to be mindful that many things can happen when working from home. Maybe an emergency arose, their children needed immediate attention or the internet went down.
Of course, these circumstances shouldn’t serve as excuses not to fulfill their responsibilities. However, the leader should be confident enough in the integrity of its team members to trust them to respond when they’re definitely able to, while also being conscious of the challenge that a home office can bring.
A good approach can be setting up a timeframe of 12 hours responsiveness from the moment the message has been delivered.
Besides, there should always be a second and even third channel of communication with your hybrid team members, including one that wouldn’t depend totally on the Internet, such as a secondary phone number or a person of contact in cases of a prolonged no response period.
Too many meetings
To a certain degree, a hybrid team faces similar challenges a remote one does, especially the lack of direct contact.
The problem is that we usually tend to compensate for that lack of physical interactions with more and more meetings. In the long run, this can get exhausting and drain your team’s energy. Try to use written updates more often and use meetings for specific purposes such as collaborations with clients, training or an important update.
Some hybrid team members may feel frustrated for many reasons: maybe they have personal issues that are affecting them mentally, or a difficulty adapting to their new shift, or even technical problems and are ashamed to ask for assistance.
The leader should be able to set a time so that anyone in their team can have access to them to be able to speak up if something’s wrong or if they feel overwhelmed or burned out.
This can look like an “Ask me anything” type of session with a small group at a time, where everyone will be asked to come with questions, complaints or observations about what they probably are noticing that the leader isn’t.
If the team isn’t responsive, maybe you can make it possible for them to convey these feelings and thoughts anonymously in a written form.
You need to make sure that your hybrid team doesn’t feel like the company is using double standards.
It’s true that each team has its own requirements and that someone who works entirely from home isn’t the same as someone who does it partially. However, when it comes to working ethics, everyone should be held to the same standards, including the leaders, so that the company can evolve in a healthy environment.
Just because someone is home doesn’t mean you can ask them to have a meeting at any time of the day and night, or that they are given one day notice about an important deliverable, while on-site workers have their personal time respected and have longer deadlines.
On the other hand, your on-site team shouldn’t feel neglected. This is another extreme where you are passive about internal issues and count on the present team to work it out on their own because you’re too busy putting efforts in that new remote structure.
Even if hybrid teams are on the rise, the newness of this form of work can still be felt within companies’ structures, and leaders are learning new things everyday. By following these tips, you can make sure to detect red flags, avoid mistakes and use your team’s inputs to further perfect your leading and management skills.