Have you heard? Hybrid’s the word.
Hybrid’s the word (is the word, is the word that you heard)
It’s got a groove, it’s got a meaning
Hybrid’s the time, is the place, is the motion
Hybrid’s the way we are feeling
Most executives still see the need for some in-person interaction and physical offices—63% according to this PWC report. This increased presence of hybrid work requires shifts in working practices and behaviors, especially for leaders. To unlock proven practices for leading hybrid teams, we welcomed Meaghan Williams, Remote Work and Inclusion Program Manager at HubSpot and Scott Wharton, VP & General Manager, Video Collaboration Group at Logitech to share their advice during a Workplaceless hosted networking event.
In the words of Williams, “Hybrid work requires us to pivot from a reliance on in-person communication and collaboration towards a more intentional, asynchronous, and inclusive way of working.”
Our conversation began with a check-in with our attendees. In a poll, almost half of our participants agreed that fostering equitable employee experiences is one of the largest challenges in hybrid work. Williams kicked off the conversation with some advice in this vein:
It’s up to the leadership to balance the power.
By defaulting to remote first, leadership can hold space and create opportunities in a more equitable way. But as Wharton urged, leaders would be remiss not to take ownership of the challenges of hybrid working. Hybrid is harder, as the saying goes, and Wharton says it’s a mistake for leaders to try to pretend it’s not harder. Executives need to take steps to concretely prepare their teams for effective hybrid work, including adjustments to team technology, communication, management, and upskilling.
4 Critical Themes for Leading Hybrid Teams
Upgrade Your Technology for Effective Hybrid Teams
Wharton emphasized the importance of ensuring a consistent environment with high quality audio and video for everyone:
Hybrid work requires an investment to ensure equity.
Organizations committed to hybrid work will need to make investments in resources like multiple cameras, speakers, and IT support. Otherwise, co-located employees will benefit from rich communication and remote employees will be disadvantaged.
Create a true to life interaction with quality technology.
Audio and video should replicate the experience and quality of a co-located interaction as much as possible, Wharton says. But technological barriers are real, and the more people in the room, the more challenging it is and the more support is needed. IT departments need to be involved in your hybrid planning discussions.
Balance Strategic Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
As hybrid teams evolve and establish new norms for collaborating, leaders need to set standards for effective communication. Williams and Wharton noted a few key pieces of advice:
Treat Slack and other chat-based messages like a voice mail.
Messages should be concise and comprehensive. The expectation is that the individual will respond at a time that works for them, not immediately.
Provide context when working asynchronously.
Document expectations clearly, and make sure ownership is explicit. Shifting to async work is not as simple as just using Google Docs.
Sometimes the best meeting is no meeting.
Teams that leverage asynchronous communication are able to maximize their time effectively. By communicating through async channels, effective virtual meetings are reserved for connecting, innovating, and decision-making.
Mentally and physically meander with audio calls.
Wharton emphasized the value of an open conversation with no agenda, and noted that this flexibility and freedom can be found through a phone call, which allows participants to walk, move, stretch. Not only is it good for self-care, but offers a chance for more unstructured, creative conversations too. (We love “walkie talkies” at Workplaceless).
Embrace the pause.
When you’re in a groove you want answers, you want to work on it, and you want to talk about it. But, as Williams highlights, moving to asynchronous means that sometimes you have to press pause. You have to wait until you can meet with that person or to write out that documentation. The pause can benefit the collaboration because it allows “time for thinking and enhances dialogue, discussion, and decision-making.”
Adjust Performance Measurement and Management with Equality in Mind
Managers need to have a heightened understanding of distance bias and develop strategies to specifically counteract it. Here are strategies that have worked for our panelists:
Offer opportunities in an equitable way.
Williams reinforces the importance of recognizing the location and time zone of all team members, and considering when and where opportunities are highlighted, as this can affect the comfort level of the individuals participating.
Avoid the bias of physical presence.
Just because employees are present doesn’t mean they are performing, says Williams. So what happens when team members are present and not meeting performance metrics, or vice versa? A clear structure and plan needs to be in place for all hybrid teams, and it’s important to hold all employees accountable to the same metrics of success, unrelated to physical presence.
Make more 1:1 connections as a leader.
Wharton mentions that skip-level meetings, where a manager’s manager meets directly with employees, can give greater insight into challenges and possible solutions within an organization.
Create structured opportunities to get feedback from team members.
Williams encourages managers to use the phrase “What are you seeing that I’m not seeing?” to guide a conversation to identify problems, while Wharton likes to host small group “Ask Me Anything” conversations. Choosing the right channel, creating safe spaces, and preserving time will require fine-tuning skills for leading hybrid teams.
Strengthen Skills for Empathetically Leading Hybrid Teams
Learning to effectively lead hybrid teams will take time and require a balance of remote work skills and interpersonal skills. Here’s where you should focus:
Master time management.
As boundaries evaporated with work from home, re-establishing effective time management skills is critical to getting work done and avoiding burnout. Wharton highlights learning how to be most productive and not get distracted, but also learning when and how to step away and take breaks from work.
Emphasize writing skills.
With the essential shift to the more asynchronous communication style of remote teams, being able to clearly articulate your point and persuade via writing will become essential.
Value and practice patience.
Williams shares that patience is a highly undervalued skill that goes hand-in-hand with empathy and inclusivity. If there’s an idea stirring in the office, it’s hard to pause. However, leaders need to recognize when not everyone is included in the conversation and take a step back. Then, they can refocus that energy into a time and place that is inclusive.
Lead with empathy.
The forced shift to remote work in 2020 has offered leaders real opportunities to learn new strategies and strengthen their skills—specifically, leading with empathy. With employees suddenly navigating the shift to working from home and all that entails—working with kids at home, coworking with roommates, or adjusting to new technologies—leaders have had to understand what the remote experience is like for the people on their teams. Strengthening the ability to empathize can be a powerful change for employees and organizations. Leading hybrid teams with empathy positively impacts employee motivation, satisfaction, and performance, and is a step towards creating a more human workplace.
Leading hybrid teams requires a commitment to breaking free of previous in-office habits and embracing flexibility and autonomy for your teams.