Here are 5 practical tips for managing hybrid teams (onsite and remote work). Companies that are intentional about adapting management for a distributed team will prevent lapses in productivity and engagement. In addition, they will emerge from lockdown-induced disruption with a capable hybrid workforce that can drive the business forward post-pandemic.
Practical Tip #1 Focus on outcomes for remote work
It’s natural to worry that newly remote workers won’t be productive at home. After all, some may have children doing distance learning in close proximity. Others may have to share a workspace with a spouse or significant other. On top of the pandemic-related issues, there are the ordinary, ever-present household distractions. Regardless of the challenges you and your team are facing, resist the urge to micromanage.
Successful remote teams agree that focusing on outcomes is the best way to do this. Depending on the job role and employee’s working style, have short planning meetings as often as necessary. For some employees, you may need to check in each morning. Outline the priorities for the day and agree on a reasonable time frame for completion. Then let the employee structure their day.
You may already have an effective check-in schedule with long-time remote workers. But don’t assume workers who aren’t remote by choice will fall into the same pattern.
You many need to manage each employee differently. Be positive and empathetic with your team members. Talk with each frequently as you both figure out the optimal schedule for your one-on-ones.
The small teams that are the lifeblood of today’s organizational success thrive with empowering, less-controlling management styles. Better to define the outcomes you expect from your small teams rather than the specific activities or the time spent on them. “Reimagining the pospandemic workforce,” McKinsey & Company
Remote Workforce Glossary
- Remote work is also called telework, work from home, WFH, telecommuting, and virtual working.
- Employees who work remotely are called telecommuters, virtual workers or remote workers.
- A remote team is also called a virtual team or distributed workforce.
- A hybrid or hybrid virtual workforce has employees both in the office and at home or somewhere else offsite. In addition, the employees may have a schedule that alternates working from home and working in the office.
- The term ‘hybrid workforce’ is also used to describe a team comprised of humans and AI-powered digital co-workers that perform automated, repeatable tasks. In this article, we aren’t addressing this type of hybrid team.
Practical Tip #2 Formalize collaboration policies for a hybrid workforce
If you’re like most companies with job roles that can be performed remotely, you have more collaboration tools than you know what to do with. (If you don’t have any, you need some ASAP.) There’s Slack or Skype for quick DMs and impromptu calls. Zoom, Go to Meeting, or Teams for video meetings. Old-school email for more formal correspondence. Plus project management or CRM applications with built-in communication tools.
Some techie employees have figured out how to sync everything. Others, however, have only mastered the basic functions. If you are going to collaborate effectively, you’ve got to set the ground rules while taking into account the varying levels of software proficiency.
Here are key best practices managing remote employees:
- Train employees on your collaboration software
- Clarify which types of issues require a group videoconference
- Outline an appropriate response time for an email or Slack message
- Teach employees how to update their availability status (working, in a meeting, at lunch, on vacation) and sync it with your company’s scheduling calendar if possible
- For those with slow internet, set up a time for an IT rep to help them speed it up if possible. You may have to stagger schedules to accommodate differences in internet quality.
With flexible work arrangements, many remote workers are performing job duties outside of normal business hours, it’s not unusual to get an email or Slack message late at night or early in the morning. If you have team members in multiple time zones, this is a given.
Effectively managing remote employees requires clear expectations. Make sure your team understands that they don’t have to respond immediately to all work communications, especially after their normal work hours or during a break. In other words, just because a co-worker or supervisor messages them at 11:00 p.m., it doesn’t mean it’s an emergency. (If it is an emergency and requires an immediate response, the sender should state that plainly in the message.) The team member is probably simply working at the time that’s most convenient for them. Perhaps they do their best work when everyone else in the household is asleep.
Work-life balance is a term that has long been used, but it focuses on the separation of work and life. Today and moving forward, it’s all about work-life integration. Fast Company
Practical Tip #3 Make sure all employees are on a level playing field
Hopefully, you have a career paths program and help employees progress at your organization. Understand, however, that when it comes to advancement opportunities, your onsite employees have a distinct advantage. This is true especially if their manager also works in the office.
For managers, face-to-face interaction keeps onsite employees top of mind. In-office staff are more likely to have their first pick of projects. They can leverage insider information gleaned from informal conversations that take place outside of virtual meetings.
Be proactive about mitigating this. If you don’t, you are at risk of losing your remote employees. It doesn’t take long for them to become resentful if you show favoritism (even unintentionally) to in-office personnel.
However, the onus for leveling the playing field falls on all parties. Your job is to create equitable processes for assigning work and qualifying for promotions. Your remote workers need to document their achievements, request assignments and take the initiative in progressing along their career path.
I am a huge advocate for flexibility and remote work, but I am concerned about its effectiveness in partially distributed teams. There might be significant overhead for managers/team members to keep distributed workers in the loop, and if they fail to do so, they become no better than outsourcing and it’s terrible for professional growth and opportunities. Mahlon Apgar, IV, Leadership consultant, “The Alternative Workplace: Changing Where and How People Work,” Harvard Business Review
Management should guard against remote workers being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ by giving everyone a fair chance to land new projects and promotions. Sometimes remote workers are stuck in the same roles, slower to receiver raises, or replaced for cheaper employees. Even if their job performance is better than in-office staff, telecommuters are more likely to be passed up for promotions because they are not physically present. Remote employees must also take the initiative to be seen and heard by providing reports of daily accomplishments and staying in touch through technology. “Managing a Hybrid Workforce,” Entrepreneur.com
Practical Tip #4 Default all processes to remote work
If you’re trying to figure out the best way to manage remote employees, priority one is making sure they can actually do their jobs offsite. 100% remote companies have this mastered. They never had operations designed for an onsite staff so their workflows are remote by default. However, few companies who were forced to abruptly send employees home have re-designed their operations. Some don’t even realize they need to, let alone appreciate what a major undertaking it is.
Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab insists that in order to be successful with a hybrid virtual model, all processes have to default to remote even for those who work in the office. He gives some examples in the article “Challenges and Opportunities in the Remote Workplace” (HR Exchange Network). Here are some insightful recommendations from the article:
- Offer parallel perks for onsite and offsite staff
- Create team-building exercises that are fully inclusive
- Where possible, eliminate meetings by using a good project management application to collaborate
- Structure necessary meetings to be asynchronous (all participants don’t need to meet at the same time)
- Have an agenda and documentarian
- Remove wide-angle video cameras from conference rooms
- In-office staff must dial into video calls using their own equipment
What workflows do you have that currently default to onsite staff? Brainstorm with your team to make them designed for remote working. You may need to build them from the ground up. Document the new procedures in your Human Resources Management System (HRMS).
Practical Tip #5 Revisit time and attendance to ensure accurate payroll
In order to pay each employee correctly–regardless of where they are working or whether they are full-time or part-time–you need mobile time and attendance software. Employee timekeeping/scheduling apps have a web portal for clocking in and out.
Effectively managing remote employees requires transparency around hours worked each pay period. U.S. companies are accountable to the Department of Labor for every employee and every shift. A good time tracking app that everyone uses is your number one tool for labor law compliance and paycheck accuracy.
Apps with Mobile Location Management make timekeeping easy. Mobile Location Management uses GPS to identify the physical location of each punch in/out. The employee clocks in on a connected device (the location tracking feature must be enabled) and the system records their location.
If your employees are not authorized to work anywhere besides their home office space or onsite, consider an app with geofencing. Geofencing is a feature of Mobile Location Management that gives supervisors additional oversight into work locations. To create a geofence in an app, the manager defines a radius around a central location. If an employee punches in outside of the fence, the manager is alerted that the punch is out of bounds. Keep in mind that if you allow employees to work in coffee shops, for example, you wouldn’t want to use geofencing.
Some companies only track hours for hourly workers. However, there are many benefits to tracking hours for salaried workers as well. You will ensure accurate PTO calculation, FMLA administration, client job billing and Human Resources analytics.
Hybrid-remote forces leadership to manage two distinct employee experiences, and without great intentionality it can cause upheaval. Done well, it’s a super-power for retention. HR Exchange Network
Remote work: 3 key findings
- 95% of office workers in the U.S. became regular telecommuters when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
- A June 2020 PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) survey found that 89% of executives expect more than 30% of employees will continue to work remotely at least one day a week post-COVID-19; 55% expect more than 60% to do so.
- 97% of North American office workers worked from home more than 1 day/week during the pandemic (88% globally); 67% had not worked remotely on a regular basis before COVID-19 (69% globally). Global Workplace Analytics
Be intentional about adapting management practices. This will help your employees do better work while learning valuable skills that will serve them throughout their careers. Plus, a successful hybrid team will drive your business forward during the pandemic and beyond.
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