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Hybrid working is here to stay. The events of 2020 radically accelerated the uptake of remote working for many organisations and proved that office-based staff do not need to be tethered to an onsite workplace to remain productive. Clearly, the parameters around where work gets done have changed forever.
Moving forward, many skilled professionals want to retain some form of regular flexibility. According to our recently released Hays Salary Guide FY21/22, of those who worked remotely during the pandemic, only 7% wish to return to the workplace fulltime.
Meanwhile, many employers seem to accept the idea of periodic flexibility; in 12 months’ time, 63% would like their staff to be working one, two or three days remotely, with the remainder in the office.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us into a revolutionary new working world. In 2020, government restrictions and growing concerns around the virus saw a large percentage of the workforce – many of who had never previously worked anywhere else but in an office – quickly set up with the relevant technology to work from home.
Since then, we’ve started returning to the office. Whether that be once a month, once a week, or four days a week, many workplaces are allowing office-based employees to split their time between the office and home working.
This way of working is called ‘hybrid working’. It refers to the practice of some work being completed in the office and some from home. The same goes for the terms ‘hybrid working model’ or ‘hybrid team’. These terms refer to a workforce that is split between those who predominantly work remotely, those who predominantly work in the office and those who split their time between both.
With remote working becoming more normalised, many leaders have understandably adopted more flexible working policies, allowing at least an element of home working to become part of the post-COVID-19 hybrid workplace.
After all, in 2020 employers came to realise that their people remain engaged and productive when working remotely. Moreover, hybrid working aids staff attraction and retention, while employees enjoy improved work-life balance. You can also open your vacancies to a wider talent pool that is no longer limited by local geography.
So, with hybrid team working set to remain a long-term feature of the world of work, how best should managers lead their employees in a hybrid model?
Effective leadership of a hybrid team, in essence, comes down to practising fairness and inclusiveness with every member of your staff, irrespective of where they are working. Managing hybrid teams may seem like a juggling act. But in reality, by adding a few additional checkpoints and boosting internal team communication, you’ll realise the benefits of hybrid team working.
Set expectations and make accountability clear to all staff in hybrid teams so that both home and office-based employees can work together productively and know who is doing what. As part of this, you might run daily or weekly virtual meetings with your entire team to start each day or week on the right foot. Communicate workflows and key deadlines, then share progress regularly to maintain momentum.
With staff based in different physical locations, make sure everyone knows and understands where each team member will be working. Sharing work schedules and creating a shared group calendar where employees can indicate where they’ll be working each day will help to further boost visibility of this crucial information.
When you are managing a hybrid team, it can be very easy for unhelpful or negative attitudes about the ‘other’ group to slip in, particularly if you have a number of staff who predominately work in one location, whether that’s remotely or in the office. You won’t want your co located staff, for instance, to think that remote team members don’t work as hard or have an easier working experience.
Equally, managers who work predominantly in the office may find it easier to connect with office-based team members – and see remote workers as a different ‘part’ of the team. Managers of hybrid teams often need to make a concerted effort to ensure they do not associate with certain members of their team more closely merely due to location. Otherwise, you’ll create the ‘them and us’ culture that you’re trying to avoid.
Moreover, encourage both your office-based and remote workers to proactively build their working relationships. Facilitate this as much as possible, such as through weekly video calls and team meetings that all staff dial into.
Such actions will help you effectively foster a culture of support and respect in your hybrid team.
Your employees who are working from home may find it easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance compared to those who are in the office most of the time. You might therefore try to encourage or facilitate the same level of balance for your office-based team members, by giving them the flexibility to, for example, pick their kids up from school or go for a run during working hours. It’s also important to role-model healthy working behaviour yourself, regardless of where you are based.
The amount of attention and help that you give to each employee shouldn’t depend on where they’re working or what their role is. Just because some members of your team work remotely, they should not receive less of your time and support. Make sure no one falls through the cracks.
In your hybrid working model, you may have employees who work predominately or exclusively remotely. These workers miss out on face-to-face interaction. This means you’ll need to think carefully about how you can make them feel equally included via virtual remote meetings. When communicating with remote team workers, choose voice or video over email or chat, depending on the task. Seeing and hearing you regularly will help remote staff feel included and part of the team.
Similarly, avoid impromptu in-office meetings. While water-cooler moments provide informal opportunities for collaboration, team building and problem solving, they exclude staff who are not in the office on that particular day.
Rather than making decisions in that moment, schedule a virtual call to include all relevant stakeholders. It may seem like too much extra effort, but by involving all the right people in the conversation from the start, you’ll ensure the best decision is made.
Your focus will need to shift from effort or hours at desks, to output based on set objectives. No matter the location of your team members, you should be concentrating on the quality of the work that they produce, rather than how long they spend at their desks. You also need to ensure that career progression paths are fair and equal for both office-based and remote staff.
If you’re recruiting for a role that will involve remote working, you must ensure you’re hiring for the correct skill sets. Look for candidates who are results-focused, motivated and can work on their own initiative. Punctuality, responsiveness and prior experience of remote work are ideal, too. Above all, regardless of where your people are based, adaptability and teamwork remain in-demand soft skills.
It can help team unity, harmony and morale if you arrange occasional opportunities for your hybrid team members to come together and get to know each other face-to-face.
Staff members who aren’t in the office may not be privy to decisions that your onsite employees make, or indeed, decisions made at the executive level, so set up a regular, dedicated call to share such details, ensuring as much transparency as possible. This will give them a clearer overview of the strategic direction of the organisation and wider team, while minimising any sense that they feel out of the loop.
Offering rewards or office-based benefits, such as in-office yoga classes, celebratory lunches or discounted membership to a gym near the office, can be demotivating to remote workers who are unable to participate. If you do offer rewards that are inaccessible to remote workers, you need to at least give them alternatives that feel broadly equivalent to those that office employees enjoy. For instance, if you are paying for lunch for your team, send your remote workers a food delivery. If you are providing an in-office mindfulness class, live stream the session for your remote workers.
While a hybrid workplace has many benefits, in a distributed workforce your remote staff can feel isolated or lonely. What’s more, unless you have regular video check-ins with your remote staff, it can be difficult to spot when an employee is struggling. So, make sure you prioritise the mental health and wellbeing of your staff in a hybrid workplace.
As we look forward, it’s clear that our places of work are more fluid than they have ever been before. Our traditional workplaces have fewer people in them, as employers afford their team members the flexibility to come into the office some days, and then work the rest of the week at home. This may cause the dynamics of teams to change from one day to the next, which necessitates careful management.
As a leader, then, it’s important to put yourself on the front foot, by taking a proactive approach to leading your hybrid team to success.
You may also be interested in these 6 questions to consider to ensure continued flexible working arrangements work for both you and your employees in a hybrid team.
For more on current attitudes towards hybrid working, as well as recruitment and salary trends, download our Hays Salary Guide FY21/22. It is based on a survey of close to 3,500 organisations and more than 3,800 skilled professionals.
Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.
Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.
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