How to Communicate Effectively With Hybrid Teams
— December 15th, 2021
More than 20% of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office, without affecting productivity, according to McKinsey.
Supported by Accenture, who report that 63% of high-revenue growth companies are embracing hybrid workforce models, BBC news reporting that 43 of 50 major UK employers expect Hybrid to become the norm and 83% of workers prefer a hybrid model (Accenture), it looks like it’s here to stay.
If you’re a manager, what does that mean for you and what can you do to be more effective at communicating with your hybrid teams?
Let’s start by looking at what’s different about hybrid working.
For many years organizations have had non-desk-based and remote roles such as sales or service teams who spend a lot of time with customers or out on the road. However, these have tended to be aligned to a particular role-type.
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What is different about hybrid working, and what the last year has certainly shown us, is that it’s much more possible for many roles to work flexibly than many organizations cared to believe.
Those that were previously slow to adopt this model found themselves forced to adapt overnight, which has paved the way to this new way of working.
I’ve seen many definitions of hybrid working, but in simple terms, we’re looking at the flexibility of location and hours. I say simple, because the reality requires much more consideration. For example:
- Does flexibility of location mean working from the office or home or does it include holiday resort or relocation?
- Does flexibility of time mean the days or time worked, or both?
- Is flexibility within a framework, or does an individual literally choose how to work each day?
While many organizations are working through their approach, managers are facing a new challenge. How do they communicate with their newly hybrid teams?
As with the way of working itself, there is no magic answer as every experience is different, so my advice is firstly to talk to your team and involve them in designing your way of working, using the following steps as a guide:
Where to work
Talk to your colleagues about the reasons behind your company policy and ask them how they would like to work within it.
For example, if office space is limited, you may require individuals to work on a rota basis, or you may need to hold a team meeting together on a certain day.
You may have some colleagues who want to remain working in the office full time or some who just want to work at home, so it’s important to understand and communicate the framework that is available.
Listen to your team preferences and empower them to work with you to design the most appropriate and efficient framework for you all.
Engaging your team in this way will help them to feel involved and included (and they are likely to come up with some great suggestions as a result!)
How you work
One of the most essential requirements of hybrid working is trust; the ability to give it to your teams and to earn it in return.
In the early stages of hybrid working, one key challenge is micro-management. Suddenly, managers who have previously worked alongside teams in the office find themselves detached and feeling out of control.
The knee-jerk reaction is to be extra vigilant on what team members are doing with their time by frequently calling them and asking for updates.
Whilst the intention is understandable, to team members this translates as a lack of trust in them.
Those managers who successfully manage the transition to hybrid quickly establish a culture of trust, allowing individuals to take accountability for their own deliverables by agreeing on clear goals and milestones and allowing them the space and autonomy to deliver.
With the move to more permanent hybrid working now is the time to talk to your teams about your expectations – and theirs. How would they like to be managed, how should you communicate as a team and what behaviors should the team adopt? Think about things like:
- Working hours. Do you expect everyone to keep the same time and if not, what are team expectations around responding out of ‘normal’ hours?
- Team meetings. How will you manage with hybrid workers? Are expectations that everyone will be together in person? What if some individuals are working from home or in different time zones? What if some are together in the office and some are off-site?
- If you have an office-working roster, how is it agreed upon? Do you have overall responsibility, or can individuals collaborate to agree the best fit?
- How will you check in with individuals without being seen as a micro-manager?
- How will you role-model hybrid working as a manager?
- How will you ensure line of sight into work across the team and ensure clear goals and accountability?
- How will you communicate as a team and via which channel?
Building this way of transparent way of working with your team will develop trust, enabling you to understand and overcome any challenges together.
Reevaluating team tools is another priority. While most hybrid workers have now been set up with basic equipment, it’s important to understand how you are using communication tools as a team.
- Do you have a shared team platform such as Teams, Zoom, or Webex to communicate remotely? It is mobile-friendly?
- How do you collaborate as a team? You may not have had to do this online before, so have you investigated tools such a Miro, Trello, or Mural?
- How do you collaborate as a hybrid team when you’re not all together? How do you ensure everyone has a voice and feels included?
Ask your communications team about available channels if you’re unsure. They will be able to advise the most suitable tools for your requirements.
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Your role as Hybrid Manager
Managing a hybrid team undoubtedly requires different skills to one which is office-based. Your role becomes more that of coach, mentor, and connector.
We’ve already talked about the importance of trust in making this transition, and to this, I would add compassion, recognition, and empowerment.
- Compassion – now, more than ever, it’s really important to get to know your team. Check in with them regularly on a personal level. We all have individual challenges and by listening well during these conversations you will be able to spot signals around mental health and well-being, challenges at home, and/or ability to cope, enabling you to set up early support interventions
- Recognition – recent research from SHRM shows that 34% of employees believe that remote work limits their career opportunities and 29% believe they are given fewer development opportunities. Think about the opportunities you have to recognize your team both within the team and the wider organization, and to allocate opportunities fairly, regardless of location
- Empowerment – give your team the trust and autonomy to take accountability for their goals, and deliverables. Focus and reward the delivery of outputs rather than hours spent to develop a mindset of empowerment
For me, Roland Busch, CEO, of Siemens summed up his approach beautifully by integrating hybrid working into their corporate culture.
“The basis for this forward-looking working model is further development (of) our corporate culture. These changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focused on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office.
"We trust our employees and empower them to shape their work themselves so that they can achieve the best possible results. With the new way of working, we’re motivating our employees while improving the company’s performance capabilities and sharpening Siemen’s profile as a flexible and attractive employer”
With hybrid working here to stay, isn’t this something we should all aspire to?