5 Simple Tips for Leading a Successful Hybrid Team
December 1, 2022
Hybrid work isn’t a passing phenomenon—it’s set to take over work as we know it.
In fact CBRE’s 2022 Occupier Survey found that most (73 percent) of companies will adopt a hybrid work model. This means that leading a team that’s at least partly remote will soon be the norm, not the exception.
Are you ready for that?
Some companies may have a portion of their workforce in the office all the time while another portion works remotely. For other businesses, hybrid work allows all team members to spend a portion of their weeks in the office and a portion of their weeks remotely.
Regardless of the format your company adopts, hybrid work isgoing to require leaders to refocus their strategy and take on some new perspectives.
What makes leading hybrid teams so challenging?
There are numerous factors that complicate hybrid work relationships, but in this case, we’re going to focus on communication.
Communication is vital to the success of any team, and it’s one of the biggest challenges for a hybrid workforce. Interactions require more deliberate effort and intention without a physical office environment. Remote team members don't just bump into coworkers during the day, and quick exchanges with colleagues don't happen on hybrid teams the way they do with in-house teams.
In a hybrid team, there may be some members operating in different locations or even different time zones, while others work in the same physical space. As a manager, it’s essential to ensure nothing falls through the cracks—least of all, people. With a hybrid team that means ensuring everyone has the same access to the people, information, and resources they need in order to thrive and do their best work.
Failing to understand the unique challenges hybrid teams face can lead to poor communication, missed deadlines, and even high turnover rates. To prevent these issues, leaders of hybrid teams need to focus on providing equal support to everyone on the team.
5 Simple Tips for Leading a Successful Hybrid Team
Remote work offers flexibility at the cost of more regular face-to-face interactions. For some employees, that’s a double bonus—and that’s okay. Not everyone does their best work from an office.
As a people leader, it’s important to ensure everyone has what they need to thrive—supplementing and balancing that flexibility with clarity, predictability, and equity. While there’s no magic switch to flip that can solve these issues instantly, working to continuously improve in these five areas will make it easier to lead a successful hybrid team.
1. Communicate clearly.
Having a portion of your team working outside the office adds layers of complexity to daily operations. For one thing, a lot of communication may happen with a delay, especially if you have people who work in different time zones or you’re dealing with contract workers who don’t have the same set hours as the rest of your team. You may need to anticipate a lag time between responses in chat, or wait for a response to emails that were received after hours.
And when you communicate, you’re not always able to fall back on body language or tone to ensure your words come across the way you intend. According to Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, emails are frequently misunderstood. People interpret unclear communication as being more negative than the sender intended, leading to unnecessary tension.
As a result of these many challenges, managers on hybrid teams need to prioritize clear and deliberate communication. Supporting healthy communication loops and promoting these skills across the team can help ensure communication in all directions is intentional and productive in a hybrid environment.
2. Set and track priorities.
Priorities are essential for any team’s success, yet many still struggle in this area. Gallup Research found that about half of employees they surveyed don't know what's expected of them or how to set priorities at their jobs.
Sitting down with your team members and working together to set priorities, you communicate your team's needs and ensure that the most important tasks are always getting done.
To make this work on a hybrid team, you may need to set up weekly standups with remote team members. You can use this meeting to set direction, check progress, and listen to your remote colleagues’ concerns.
Providing a reliable, easily accessible central source of truth for the decisions you make and the information you gather is an equally important effort. Having that resource means priorities can be set, shared, and referenced by any member of the team at any time. Nobody needs to wonder what their priorities are, or how well they’re tracking towards success.
3. Avoid assumptions.
It’s easy to make assumptions—and even easier to make those assumptions when some of your team members work remotely. But when you make assumptions as a leader, you may miss the information you need to get the most out of your team.
Though it's easy to assume that younger employees prefer to just stay in touch through Slack or other online chat features, a survey conducted by Robert Half revealed that the majority of Generation Z prefers face-to-face communication instead of tech or social media. Though they are "digital natives," this generation "thrives on genuine relationships" and presents a new challenge to the hybrid manager.
Instead of making assumptions, it’s more helpful to take the time to get to know each team member and to have regular check-ins so you can learn about their personal and professional obstacles.
4. Watch out for harmful dynamics.
The structure of a hybrid team presents opportunities for several harmful dynamics to take hold if left unchecked. Of those dynamics, presenteeism stands out as especially challenging and common across hybrid teams.
Presenteeism isn’t a new idea—and it has manifested itself differently over time.
Prior to the remote work revolution, it led employees to show up to the office and meet the expectation of being ‘present’ at work, even if they might be unable to work at their full capacity due to sickness, a battle with chronic pain, or mental health challenges to name a few. That mentality frequently pushes people who are sick with a transmissible disease to show up, with the consequence of others becoming sick as well. Research suggests that form of presenteeism actually costs companies more than absenteeism.
This same expectation toward being present persists in the hybrid work environment. Remote workers are sometimes expected to “show up” even when sick. But illnesses and conditions like migraines can be equally debilitating, even when you’re at home.
Additionally, this presenteeism bias can (consciously or unconsciously) translate to a stigmatization of remote work that Eddleston, et. al. found leads to an office-first dynamic where remote team members experience a slower salary growth than their in-office peers.
It’s important for leaders to be aware of biases like presenteeism, advocate for their remote team members, and ensure they have equal opportunities for success.
5. Lead better meetings.
Meetings become especially important when you run a remote team, as they provide an opportunity for clear and deliberate communication—from you to your team, from your team to you, and between members of your team who may not see one another regularly.
The quick meetings that occur in most offices don't work the same for hybrid teams, as they tend to exclude remote workers. Instead, establish regular meeting times. Encourage team members to approach you with anything they want to be included in the team meeting so you can ensure there's time to address everyone's concerns.
If you have a hybrid team that includes members in different time zones, you may need to be careful when scheduling your meetings to meet everyone's needs. If you have to ask your remote team to come in early or leave late one day to accommodate your in-house team, ensure it's your in-house team accommodating the next week.
It’s equally helpful to find ways to communicate clearly and effectively asynchronously.
For example: if your team participates in standups, experiment with an asynchronous format that allows everyone to share the important tactical information in advance. That way, you can reduce the number of synchronous meetings, and when you do get together, it’s easy to have a more informed discussion.
Empower your hybrid team
Different team members may have a “grass is greener” viewpoint, which can create tensions between your in-house and remote team members. In-person team members may want more flexibility, and remote team members may be frustrated at a lack of communication, an office-first mentality, or even something as simple as a lack of supplies.
The best thing a team leader can do is to listen. Address employee concerns, work together to develop an action plan, and then take action to overcome obstacles and thrive in their unique careers. By focusing on communication within the team, you can empower each team member to bring their A-game daily while ensuring that everyone’s needs are met.