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Expert Advice for Solving Hybrid Team Challenges

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 27 seconds

 

Buffer and AngelList’s 2020 State of Remote Work reveals that 43% of companies are hybrid, meaning part of the team is full-time remote and part of the team works out of the same office. However, an additional 24% of companies allow individuals to work from home on occasion. That’s a total of 67% of companies who are navigating the complexities of remote vs. in-office dynamics. We wanted to understand in more depth the challenges that these hybrid-remote teams face on a daily basis. 

 

At our Networkplaceless event, we specifically asked attendees, “Does your company have a plan in place to address hybrid team communication gaps?” Thirty percent of respondents said yes, 39% said no, and another 30% said not sure. (Note: if your team members aren’t sure, it’s probably time to revisit your policy and make communication improvements).

 

In order to provide solutions to some of these challenges, we reached out to leaders of hybrid teams to see how they tackle relationship-building, communication gaps, and career development. During our Networkplaceless event, we welcomed two guest speakers to do just that: 

  • Trent Kocurek, CEO and Co-Founder of Airship, a software design, development, and growth agency with headquarters in Birmingham, AL and remote crew members across the United States 
  • Marlene Sidhu, Marketing Director, Shopper Marketing at Bimbo Bakeries, where half of the team members sit in the PA headquarters office and the other half are dispersed through the US 

 

Here are some of the key ideas that they shared:

 

"If one person is remote, everyone is remote." 

This is the overarching theme for Trent's approach. He even structures meetings where his in-office employees log-on via Zoom from their desks vs. from a central conference room. 

 

Structure meetings with intention.

This applies to the physical setup of the meeting, the frequency of the meeting, and the objectives for the meeting. 

  • One instance when the Airship team does use a conference room is to onboard new team members. They have invested in the Meeting Owl from OwlLabs and a television monitor to bring new virtual team members front and center, while all in-office colleagues have name plates. 
  • Marlene and her team have established a fixed schedule for their team meetings. She has a weekly full-team standing meeting with both remote and co-located team members on Mondays, with limited exceptions. Additionally, she meets one-on-one with her remote employees every week and her in-office team members every other week.  

 

Stop trying to equate virtual and in-person interactions.

You can't wholly replicate in-office interactions in a virtual environment, whether it be face-to-face relationship building or hallway conversations. Accept it. Then work to find tools and best practices that open channels for deeper communication. For example:

  • Marlene carries an old school notebook around the office where she jots down notes of conversations happening at headquarters. Then, depending upon the urgency of the idea or decision, she calls her teammates to share or she uses her notes as a reference document during their next one-on-one. 
  • Another fun idea that Marlene introduced us to as a relationship builder for her hybrid team is the creation of Journey Boxes: each team member places items within a box that explain their personal interests and journey. However, in this process Marlene also highlighted the importance of respecting each of her individual team member’s preferences for sharing personal components of their lives and leaving space to opt out of this type of sharing. 
  • Trent and Airship have another approach to relationship building. They’ve created an internal tool that captures personal interests as well as geographic locations. It then shares events happening near their employees where they could have an opportunity to meet up in person.
  • We hear this time and again, that in-person interactions still have value. Remote-first companies, like Zapier and HelpScout, recommend annual retreats at a minimum. Bimbo Bakeries meet up once per quarter with specific business objectives in mind but also to strengthen team culture.

 

Managers play the critical role in advocating for remote workers.

When it comes to measuring performance, it’s clear that the metrics need to be established based upon output. If that’s not the current baseline for performance on a remote, hybrid, or co-located team, then managers have a different problem to solve. However, in hybrid teams specifically, remote workers are often left feeling the additional burden of needing to advocate for themselves more than their in-office counterparts. Especially at larger organizations, it’s human nature that executives and leadership team members are more familiar with the people and the work that they physically see. This means the remote worker needs to be more proactive in terms of showcasing their output, reaching out to colleagues, and developing a network of mentors and sponsorship. There are two important ways that hybrid-remote team managers can help:

  • Building trust and comfort. At a company with over 20,000 employees, like Bimbo Bakeries, performance metrics and rubrics are often highly standardized and are reviewed on a defined schedule. This structured HR process often doesn’t organically allow for flexibility of distinctions between remote and in-office colleagues. As such, Marlene views one of the key aspects of her managerial responsibilities is to build trust across her team, and instill comfort in her remote employees that their full contributions are taken into account. The challenge is that this skill can be highly manager dependent.
  • Leading with transparency. As the CEO of Airship, Trent has greater flexibility in establishing performance metrics for his teams. With that, he’s instituted rituals to ensure that performance components are fully transparent and consistent. He hosts regular company-wide Q&A sessions where his full team can ask anonymously, or otherwise, about company goals and performance as well as how individual expectations should be aligned.

 

Prepare leaders of hybrid teams with a remote mindset.

While remote workers can find answers to individual challenges, a true remote mindset must live at executive and leadership levels across the entire hybrid company in order for best practices to be established. Both Marlene and Trent mentioned the importance of aligning expectations during hiring, onboarding, and throughout employment. With remote leadership skills being so critical to these aspects, it’s important to ensure virtual leaders understand and are aligned on expectations. Companies need to invest resources to ensure new remote and hybrid leaders are up to the task. To help, we’ve created Leadplaceless, a virtual leadership and remote management training course designed for leaders of both hybrid and fully distributed teams.

 

We also captured tips and recommendations from a hybrid-remote team member, Ali Riehle. Check out her article: Things I learned after five years on a hybrid-remote team.

 

Special thanks to the Remote Work Association for introducing us to Trent!

The Remote Work Association (RWA) is a network of virtual business leaders and advocates passionate about fueling the future of location-flexible work. Join RWA to connect with the community of remote work thought leaders and change makers through speaking opportunities, best practice content, and networking. 

 

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