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The People-first Approach to Leading Hybrid Teams

The hybrid team has emerged as the new norm in the workplace. With employees working remotely or at different times, there are now hybrid teams that have never met each other. This poses a challenge for leaders who need to know how to best lead these types of teams because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In this article, we will explore ways to be successful when leading hybrid teams through tough situations and why it's important for managers to create space for their hybrid team members' success.

What is a Hybrid Team?

A hybrid team is made up of employees or contractors with a flexible work structure where they can choose to do their jobs from the comfort of home or an office. Hybrid team members can also choose their schedule and workload, so some are working full-time as internal employees while others work part-time as external contractors or freelancers.

💡 EXAMPLE: Most startups I've worked with have an internal marketing team that consists of a Content Manager or a Marketing Manager who's working full time. He or she has 2 or 3 freelance writers that work on a project depending on the volume of content that's needed each week or each month.

Okay, so we've defined a hybrid team. But what does a hybrid workforce mean? Are they the same? A hybrid team is a micro setup. For example, a company still operates traditionally with a physical office, but they may have one hybrid team (ie. their marketing team), working remotely.

A hybrid workforce, on the other hand, means that you have multiple hybrid teams working for the entire company. You may have one physical location where local employees can work when they want to.  This is a common setup among tech startups who want to keep their overall operation cost down while still having access to top talent across the world.

However, nowadays, even big companies such as Amazon, ASUS, and Microsoft are investing heavily in building a hybrid working environment after the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to operate remotely. Managing hybrid teams post Covid has become the norm with 70% of organizations likely to adopt a hybrid workforce long-term according to the Return to Workplace survey conducted by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).

Now, if there's a hybrid workforce, what is a hybrid way of working? Today, this transcends a setup that combines remote and on-site work. It's more of a lifestyle that empowers people to choose the kind of job and career that suits them best.

👉 More on what is a hybrid employee and the types of flexible working models for a more comprehensive discussion.

How to Manage a Hybrid Team

While having a hybrid team seems highly efficient, it poses challenges to leaders who don't have a lot of experience in the new hybrid workplace. So, how do you manage a hybrid work team? Ideally, there shouldn't be a huge shift. You want to stay true to your leadership style while making adjustments for your hybrid team. For example, if your team leader fundamentals are all about nurturing your people's growth, you can still stay true to this style.

The main difference is that HOW you'll nurture a people-first approach in a hybrid working environment.

Do you prioritize one-on-one coaching calls when leading your on-site team? You can still carry on the same practice while adding some improvements. Here are a few best practices to get you started.

Enough of this sheet!

Ditch the spreadsheet, ‘Where’ is a more social way to schedule your days in the office and see where everyone’s working from....all right in Slack.

Hybrid Teams Best Practices

Set Workplace Ground Rules

The rules of engagement for virtual teams are almost the same as with on-site teams. You remain respectful of your colleague's workspace and time. For the physical office space, it's a lot easier to maintain, as you can physically see when someone is busy working. The challenge is when people are working virtually—sometimes, they think that everyone is available 24/7.

Leading in a hybrid work means setting new boundaries, such as:

  • Asking your team to set Do Not Disturb notifications on Slack, so it's clear when someone is offline.
  • Having clear indicators as to who is on leave or available to work.
  • Providing enough lead time for projects, so the team doesn't have to work on weekends.

Create a Transparent Communication Process

Once boundaries are set, it's also critical to create a communication process. For micromanagers, there's a risk of overcommunicating because you want to know what's going on with your employee's daily tasks. But if you have a system in place where you're managing the tasks and deadlines, then there's no need to overcommunicate.

Other questions you may need to ask and deliberate with the team regarding communication are:

You might need to work with your HR team to answer some of these questions. For instance, the biggest question that leadership teams ask is this: Should you start tracking time and time spent on specific projects?

Set Up Fun Virtual Activities

When your ground rules and communication process are solid, you can start thinking about activities outside the context of weekly meetings. It doesn't need to be complicated. Setting up a simple Watercooler channel on Slack is a great start. This is a channel where people can share updates outside of work, such as a new fur baby or travel photos.

watercooler-channel

And of course, you can go all out once a year and have a major town hall meeting with fun virtual games that the entire team can enjoy.

Invest in In-Person Meetings and Events

Lastly, if there are team members that are living in the same area, make sure to invest in having those in-person meet ups regularly.

💡 Example: When I was leading a hybrid marketing team from the Philippines and Ukraine, I asked our HR Manager to give my team a monthly coffee budget so that teammates who live close by in the Philippines could meet at least once a month for coffee. I also scheduled brainstorming sessions during this meetup. For example, if we have a big launch coming up, we would meet for coffee or work in a co-working space three months before the launch to gather ideas.

Leading Individuals and Teams

As you grow into managing a hybrid team, leading in a hybrid world becomes second nature. You'll also develop different routines and styles in managing individuals and teams. However, hybrid teams are always evolving, you might keep asking yourself, "What is a hybrid team and how do I lead one?"

It's important to remember that each hybrid employee or team member has different motivations and goals. What works for one employee doesn't necessarily work for a contractor. So, you adjust your strategies based on the person, situation, and overall objective of the company. Here are a few tips:

Learn How to Measure Productivity

How will you measure the productivity of your hybrid team? For example, a full-time employee is measured in hours, but a freelance writer may be measured by the number of articles he or she can submit in a week. Have a strategy in place on how to measure individual members that contribute to the overall productivity of the team.

Have Regular One-on-One Meetings

Try to have regular one-on-one meetings not just with your full-time hybrid employees, but even with contractors and part-timers. These meetings not only let your team know you care, but it's also a great opportunity to gather data about your hybrid setup, and find out whether it's actually working for you.

Adjust Management Style

Always adjust your management style depending on the individual. For example, for full-time hybrid employees who are aiming for promotions, how can you help them build this path? On the other hand, you have talented contractors who aren't looking for a promotion, but it still helps to build a long-lasting relationship with them. Are they looking for more work and do you need extra help during busy times?

Leading Teams in the Digital Age

Without a doubt, the future of leadership will be managing hybrid teams. Leading teams in the digital age and managing a hybrid team isn't a process that you'll nail down overnight. It takes a lot of trial and error. And as long as you focus on a people-first approach, you'll not only have an efficient and productive team but happy and empowered colleagues that will support you through tough times.