Hybrid teams reign in the new world of work. Yet for most, leading a hybrid team (with success) will be one of the greatest leadership challenges of our generation.
What is a hybrid team?
Let’s start by defining a hybrid team, because many people are still making a lot of assumptions. First, think of this style of team as dynamic and operating along a continuum. On one end of the continuum you have an “either/or” model. In this set up, there are individuals who are working “in the office” full time and individuals who are working “remotely” all the time.
The hybrid team is more than simply combining these two–it is marked by the fluidity of both location and hours without preset expectations at the individual level.
On the other end of this spectrum, and in the most flexible execution, companies will take a “both/and” approach. While you will certainly have individuals who maintain a single workplace or set hours, the most opportunistic approach to hybrid work also includes individual team members who work in a variety of locations (home, office, beach, etc.) with fluidity of schedule based on demands and deliverables.
To further complicate this team model, everyone has their own perspective on what works and there are several predictable problems. Use these categories to assess your readiness for the future of hybrid work?
Communication with fully remote team members has never been great without great intention. Truthfully, most organizations don’t even get basic in-office communication right. Now, we complicate this even more by the hybrid worker/hybrid team model. Going forward, internal communication will transform. When “working hours” are no longer set, and employees are moving in and out of locations based on client and project demands, communication must become asynchronous.
“Ownership for informing” (by the employer) will have to be combined with “ownership for knowing” (by the employee). This one is going to hurt. But there are great technologies already making this a much better employee experience even for traditional teams. So, begin to rethink how you share information, how you collaborate, and how you establish criteria for actually having a meeting. This leads me to success tip #2.
D, E & I
The hybrid model of works creates a barrage of challenges for diversity, equity and inclusivity. We’re already seeing bias for in-office workers emerge, which could undo many years of progress especially in our gender equity work. In addition to equity in your communication strategy, your formal evaluations and performance review process, how you make project assignments, and day-to-day feedback methods (just to name a few) all have to be rethought to ensure all team members are getting equitable access to the information and opportunities that impact their work and careers.
Historically, one of the most painful parts of being a remote worker was the day or week you were requested to “be onsite” – why? Because your technology never seamlessly worked. Remote workers are often scrambling to find a place to plug in and work at the office. When March 2020 hit, the opposite effect happened, and most in-office workers were challenged to work from home with effective set ups, adequate cybersecurity and reliable connections. Most companies’ technology mindset is an either/or mentality. Hybrid teams require a “both/and” mindset where we experience effortless technology transitions—and not only for the individual, but for the group, too. Think hybrid meetings, not virtual meetings.
Training & Development
Much like communication must become asynchronous, so must much of your training. Whether it’s onboarding, technical skills or leadership academies, the current model of a set time and place (even if online) will prove to be ineffective for a hybrid workforce. Learning and development teams within organizations have a significant opportunity to create value for the employee and the company like never before in their existence. The challenge will be rethinking everything they think they know about learning, being willing to try some things that fail, and working to create the frameworks for how content is delivered in a way that doesn’t create access bias. Additionally, the types of skills need to both lead and effectively work on hybrid teams are different from traditional teams. How will you retool and train for this new skillset?
If 2020 contributed any good to the world, it would have to be in the area of mental health. Well, at least the heighted awareness and increased conversations. Employees will expect that mental health strategies and coverage be a part of an overall health and wellness benefit package offered by employers. Additionally, in this hybrid model, leaders will have to figure out how to effectively check-in with their team members on an individual level and in a way that shows concern for the whole person. I am certain that many current managers don’t have the skillsets to have a truly empathetic conversation, which may be one of the greatest contributions to turnover in 2021 and 2022.
This is not business as usual. Many leaders will need to completely rethink how they lead going forward in this hybrid team model. Concentrating on these five areas can certainly accelerate your success.