Preparing managers for leading in a hybrid work environment starts with a clear understanding of what the hybrid environment will look like and what the new norms will be, says virtual work expert John Hester.
It also requires careful consideration to ensure you understand the implications of this decision.
“More and more employees are looking for jobs that are either fully remote or, at a minimum, hybrid,” says Hester. “The companies I’m working with that are doing hybrid right are putting the implementation of these plans into the hands of individual managers.”
For these managers, this means sorting through a variety of questions for each person on the team: Can this person’s job be done fully remote or does it require some onsite work? What is their working preference? What work of the team needs to be done in person, if any?
“The team manager needs to work with the team, determine the job requirements, then come up with something that's fair and equitable for everyone,” says Hester.
“What you want to avoid is forcing everyone to be in their office a specific number of days each week without a good reason. Hybrid can work, but you have to think differently. You have to be much more purposeful.
“But don’t be afraid to experiment,” says Hester. “A necessary mindset for leading in the hybrid workplace is to experiment and learn. Don’t be afraid to try things out. If it works, great! If not, tweak it or scrap it.
“One client shared how, on a specific afternoon every week, there was an hour when everybody joined a virtual meeting, put their cameras on, and there was talking. So they were basically just working with everybody else working. After a few minutes, the chat would blow up with people sharing thoughts and ideas, throwing out questions, and stuff like that. It encouraged collaboration.
“For other teams, a huddle in the morning for 15 minutes on a remote platform and then a huddle at the end of the day could be effective, because of the nature of the work.
“Consider experimenting with the number of days,” says Hester, “but put some structure around it. You want to be purposeful and ready for questions—or be prepared for backlash.
“Multiple surveys reveal that over 50% of respondents say they'd start looking immediately if they were told they had to come back into the office full-time. You’d better have a solid business case as to why this is important and be able to sell that to people.”
Hester also suggests that managers look at the nature of the work and the tenure of the employees involved.
“Let’s say we're kicking off a two-year-long project. We definitely want to gather in person at the beginning of the project and use that time to not only do the strategy of the project but also build relationships. After that initial in-person meeting, we may come together once a month for a day or two, maybe once a quarter. Once a quarter seems to be kind of the sweet spot to come back together in person.
“When I did my doctoral program, I chose a hybrid three-year program cohort. We got together for three weeks at the beginning. The university was very purposeful in creating a bond between us over those three weeks, in addition to coursework. When we dispersed all over the globe, the interaction online was fantastic—but it did start to wane beginning at about three months.
“After six months, they brought us back together for two more weeks. And they did that for the rest of the three year program. Every six months, we came back together for two weeks. Personally, I think once a quarter is better, but that's assuming you have the budget to do that. Some organizations get together once a year and still have good, strong cultures.”
Hester recommends these best practices for team leaders.
Set clear expectations
“Be clear on expectations. As a hybrid manager, you need be better at managing by the work as opposed to managing by people in seats. This means defining what the work is and what a good job looks like.
“It could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet with everybody's goals and tasks, where everybody sees the work and the progress. It shows who is working on what by when, and each week you're expected to provide a one-line update.
“It's holding people accountable. But it starts with clear expectations. If you can't define the work, how do you manage the work? I've said this many times—a lot of the work involved in leading remote teams is just the stuff you should be doing in person that you don't get away with not doing.”
Be fully present and engaged
“Whether you're a leader or a team member, you need to show up present and engaged. This means not only participating in meetings, but also actively paying attention to posts on remote work platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack. You need to be able to clearly communicate—through technology—your attitude, intentions, and expectations.
Mastering tools and technology
You also need to make sure you are competent using all the digital technology, says Hester. “If Teams is your tool, you become a master at Teams meetings and at using all the tools and apps that are available within a Teams meeting. And you design your meetings to be very engaging.”
Exceptional clarity around purpose and agendas for meetings
“We have way too many meetings. Every meeting should have a clear purpose and agenda. They should be designed to be participative, and not be about presenting information. If you need to present information, record a five-minute video and put it on the Teams site.”
Foster community and trust
The COVID pandemic has provided an interesting experiment in virtual work. Meeting virtually has been easier than expected for many teams because they already had built-in relationships and trust, explains Hester. “Teams formed Post-COVID didn’t have that in-person experience.”
As a result, Hester recommends that when you are onboarding people, have them come into the office—and have the whole team come in as well.
“Again, be purposeful. Use that first week of employment to get to know the team and the work of the team. Break bread together—things like that. Make sure you're purposeful about building community. Before COVID, most virtual meetings were very transactional. One thing we learned during COVID was to start including a personal touch in our meetings. We have to continue doing that to keep the connection.”
Consider individual well-being
Working in a hybrid work environment can blur the lines between work and personal life. Hester recommends that leaders ensure their team members take steps to ensure their well-being, both physically and mentally. This may include taking regular breaks, practicing self-care, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Stay agile and flexible
Finally, Hester recommends becoming comfortable with the fact that getting hybrid right is a moving target.
“Stay agile and flexible while experimenting,” says Hester. “Every day people are looking at hybrid differently.”
By prioritizing effective communication, flexible work arrangements, technology proficiency, strong leadership, personal well-being, and collaboration, Hester believes organizations and their team members can successfully navigate the unique challenges and opportunities of a hybrid work environment.
Ready to learn more? Join us for a free webinar!
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
As organizations continue to adapt to the changing work landscape, many are adopting a hybrid work environment—a combination of in-office and remote work—to meet the needs of their employees and business operations. However, a successful transition to a hybrid work environment requires careful planning and execution.
In this webinar, virtual work expert John Hester will explore four key areas that are crucial for success in a hybrid work environment.
- Define what a hybrid work environment means in your organization by taking into account factors such as business needs, employee preferences, and technological capabilities.
- Create new hybrid work norms that enable effective communication, collaboration, and productivity across your organization. These new norms should be tailored to your specific needs and align with your company culture.
- Identify the responsibilities of managers. Managers play a crucial role in ensuring effective communication, managing remote and in-office workers, providing guidance and support, and building team morale and cohesion.
- Identify the responsibility of individual team members. In a hybrid work environment, individual team members must be proactive, accountable, and flexible. They must prioritize effective communication, time management, technology proficiency, collaboration, and personal wellbeing to ensure their success.
This webinar is ideal for managers, team leaders, and individual contributors who are transitioning to a hybrid work environment or looking to optimize their current setup. Attendees will leave with a clear understanding of how to define a hybrid work environment for their organization, create effective hybrid work norms, manage remote and in-office teams, and succeed as individual team members.
About the AuthorMore Content by David Witt