Amid America's coronavirus epidemic, more leaders are facing the unique challenge of managing "hybrid" teams, where some people are in the office and others are working remotely, Rebecca Knight writes for Harvard Business Review.
Why managing a hybrid team can be difficult?
According to Liane Davey, co-founder of 3COze and author of "You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done," issues with communication, coordination, and team engagement are common when you're managing a team of geographically dispersed employees.
Other challenges, however, are unprecedented, Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School and the co-author of "Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader" told Knight. For example, the country's epidemic is creating "another layer of stress and complexity" for leaders managing hybrid teams, Knight writes, and requiring team members to tackle ever-more complex circumstances at home, including childcare and health issues.
However, according to Knight, there are several ways managers can improve how they manage their hybrid teams.
8 ways to manage your hybrid team
1. Provide support
Your primary responsibility as a manager is to support your employees—and, given the "global health crisis, economic uncertainty, and ongoing social unrest," employees need support now more than ever, Knight writes.
"Employees are under immense stress" and some of them "may be in shock," Davey told Knight. As a result, managers should reach out—whether at the office or remotely—to discuss each individual employee's circumstances and concerns, Knight writes. Moreover, during these conversations, managers should give their employees space to "open up about their anxieties," Hill told Knight.
Ultimately, "[p]eople want to feel safe and that they're being cared for," Hill said. Therefore, managers should "[d]emonstrate that you're committed to making the situation work for everyone on the team," Knight writes.
2. Establish expectations
Next, managers should speak with team members about setting up new practices and protocols, Knight writes. "Consider this an opportunity to affirm the aspects of your organization's culture that you want to be the same, and talk about those that need to be adapted," Hill told Knight. "Have an explicit discussion about how and when you're going to communicate, who has access to what information, who needs to be in which meetings, and who needs to be in on which decisions."
Hill recommends teams reach an agreement on their norms for communicating—and discuss how they plan to structure their workday since "[t]he end of the day is becoming nebulous." According to Knight, a manager's goal should be to figure out what functions best in the work environment.
3. Set priorities with flexibility
With all the uncertainty surrounding the epidemic, managers must set priorities—with flexibility in mind to adjust when health guidelines shift, schools close, or cities lock down, Knight writes.
The best way to provide employees with flexibility is to set up clear priorities so your "team knows what's most important," Davey told Knight. For instance, according to Davey, teams can hold a "Monday huddle" to discuss what teams should prioritize and what is merely "nice to have." Divvying up work that way will create flexibility for your team, which means they can pivot when new circumstances arise.
4. Focus on inclusion
According to Hill, creating a fair and equitable workplace is difficult for leaders when they're managing a hybrid team, in part because it's hard to overcome the "proximity bias," or the belief that "the people in the office are more productive than those who are not." To overcome this challenge, Davey recommends setting a ground rule that all meetings occur via Zoom, even if some employees can meet in the office. That's because having "everyone's face appear in those little Brady Bunch boxes … equalizes things," Davey told Knight.
Davey added that it's crucial for employers to give everyone on their team an opportunity to weigh in on matters—and this can be done by simply setting up a phone call.
5. Pursue equity
The hybrid environment also could exacerbate "your own baggage and biases about particular employees," which means you may continue to see your star employees in a positive light and your less-than-stellar employees in a negative light, Davey told Knight. So, it's important for managers to "[a]sk [themselves], are there people on this team that I have not given a fair shake to, and what would it look like if I did?" Davey told Knight. Managers should see who they're spending time with on their team, think about how they can set up all their team members for success, and make sure they're using objective data to evaluate how their team members are performing.
6. Keep an eye out for burnout
During these challenging times, managers should watch for signs of burnout, such as notable changes in behavior, Hill told Knight. For example, when "someone who was talkative and outspoken is now docile; or someone who was calm and composed now has a shorter fuse."
And when you do spot a burned-out employee, there are steps you can take to help. These employees "may have seven big things on their plate, but of those, only two things really matter," Davey said. "If somebody is in a bad spot, help them through it day by day; if that's too hard, go task by task. Focus and connection are the antidote to burnout."
7. Make it enjoyable
According to Davey, managers should also consider how they can "bring some playfulness into the workday" since many people miss the joyful moments they had with their colleagues before the epidemic.
To create a space for employees to casually share one another's company, managers could set up an "informal Zoom room" during lunchtime, Davey recommends. Manager could also "[f]ind times where there is no agenda" to allow their employees to talk about their children, host themed lunches, discuss the books they're reading, or pursue any other topic they enjoy. "Have fun with it," Davey told Knight. "It doesn't always have to be serious."
8. Take heart
Lastly, managers should remember none of this will be easy for their teams—and they will encounter "bumps along the way," Knight writes.
"It's a new time," Hill told Knight. "It requires a whole new level of being present, being agile, and being able to adapt."But there's a silver lining: "This crisis is forcing you to develop skills and implement practices that will stand you in great stead for the rest of your career," Davey told Knight (Knight, Harvard Business Review, 10/7).