While remote work has become a catch-all for work done anywhere not on-site in a designated office, hybrid work is emerging as organizations redefine the work environment to include both remote and in-office team members. For some managers, juggling multi-national, distributed teams is nothing new. For others, even without the barrier of time zones, the shift to managing remote or hybrid teams is a radical departure from business as usual. No matter the configuration of team members, how can leaders ensure alignment, and cultivate an engaging and productive work environment for all members of their teams, regardless of location?
Here are ten tips to help ensure alignment with your hybrid teams:
1. Establish core hours
Establish core hours when team members are expected to be available and focused on work. If you have team members spread across multiple time-zones, discuss your team’s needs for synchronous work time (i.e. during what hours can everyone be online at the same time), and during what hours will team members be working asynchronously. For asynchronous work, it’s also helpful to discuss the degree of flexibility for choosing when those asynchronous hours take place. Are there business needs that require a consistent schedule, or can employees have more discretion around how they manage their asynchronous work time?
2. Set standards for calendar management
Set standards for calendar management such as clearly blocking off any appointments that will take you away for a significant portion of core business hours. Consider scenarios like, how should team members make others aware when they will not be available during core business hours (either for planned time off or unexpected circumstances)?
3. Establish team norms around the use of
Consider “quiet hours” for a moratorium on messaging apps, and establish status indicators that help team members signal when they are open for collaboration, and when they are trying to complete focused work and want to avoid distractions. It can also be helpful to outline the types of communications that the team prefers to handle via email vs. a messaging app. For example, lengthier updates that teams may need to refer back to may be better shared via email, or even a team wiki vs. quick questions or real-time project status updates that are better suited for a messaging app.
4. Designate “meeting-free” time periods
Designate “meeting-free” time periods throughout the week to help everyone preserve time for independent, focused work. This also serves as a forcing mechanism for everyone to be more judicious about when a meeting is required, or if an email or other communication is sufficient. Of course, if you have team members working in different time zones, the portions of the work day that don’t overlap often serve as a built-in meeting free period.
5. Over communicate
Over communicate and facilitate open, transparent discussion. It can be more difficult to assess tone and emotion over digital communication channels, even if you are on a video call. Don’t assume that silence signals agreement, especially for more introverted colleagues. Be sure to explicitly ask for feedback and circle back privately if you suspect a team member may not have been comfortable fully sharing their perspective during a meeting. And, avoid using messaging apps for conversations around sensitive topics. If a chat thread veers into a topic that requires a delicate approach, it’s best to halt the thread and suggest a video call or (where possible) in person discussion instead.
6. Expect the unexpected
Emergencies can and do happen and with team members spread across different locations, you might not realize it if there is a weather emergency or other unusual situation in another location. For this reason, be sure to establish emergency communication procedures to help ensure employees are safe and accounted for in the event of severe weather or other emergencies. Out of sight never means out of mind.
7. Encourage balance and healthy work habits
There have been numerous recent studies highlighting the challenge some remote workers face in establishing healthy boundaries to preserve work/life balance. When you work from home, it can be difficult to fully disconnect from work. As a leader, it can be helpful to explicitly tell your team that you don’t expect responses to emails sent outside of their normal work hours. Or, if you do need an urgent response, you will text them. This can help avoid employees feeling like they need to be “always on” and give them more space to fully decompress and enjoy pursuing their personal interests outside of the workday.
8. Create opportunities to connect via “water cooler moments”
One of the biggest differences for a remote or hybrid team and those in the office is the lower likelihood of the accidental engagements that can sometimes spark new ideas for collaboration, or discovery of common interests. Apps like donut, which randomly pairs two colleagues together for a 30-minute “get to know you” chat, can be a great way to build connections between individuals who might not interact otherwise. Many new virtual games have also popped up in the last year, like Quiplash, which can make for a fun virtual team happy hour (note the “family
friendly” setting to keep things PG). With a hybrid team, you may have to be more intentional about building in time to have fun and socialize, but the benefits to your team culture and cohesiveness are well worth it.
9. Routinely review and adjust team norms
As your team composition and priorities change, so will their needs. For this reason, it’s a good idea to regularly host a “Ways of Working” discussion with your team to revisit team norms and communication preferences. In this discussion, encourage individuals to share what is and isn’t working and collaborate on ideas for adjustments that could be made to better meet the needs of the team. For more on how to host your own “Ways of Working” discussion, check out this blog post.
10. Help your team understand how they work best
As work has moved primarily to digital platforms, there is now a wealth of information that can be gathered and shared to help teams and individuals understand their own work habits and how they work best. Just as fitbits provide a wealth of data about an individual’s physical activity and health, workforce productivity and analytics solutions can provide similar insights about how people work with summaries of focus time, multi-tasking time, collaboration time and more. By sharing these insights with individuals and teams, it’s now possible to actually see how changes in team norms, communication strategies, and work locations (i.e. remote vs. in-ofce) impact productivity and focus.
Manage hybrid teams with confidence
While barriers to productivity vary by individual (e.g., stage in life, type of residence, parental status), it’s important for managers and organizations to consider how they can best provide an accessible and supportive environment for all employees, whether in the office or remote. Wherever you and your team are, set the standard that everyone should be actively engaged while “at work”, and enjoy the downtime they need to recharge outside of working hours. An approach that emphasizes full transparency and clear expectations helps manage comfort, confidence, and performance for managers and individuals alike.
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