Can a hybrid work model really work? Or as this article in Business Insider suggests, is it harmful to your employees and team morale? Will it create a two-class system, and unfairly penalize those employees who take advantage of the option to work from home? The article makes several good points about the possibilities for strife within this type of work environment; and there is no doubt that it will test some leaders’ abilities to maintain cohesive teams. But there is good news. The solution is really quite simple once you see it. All it takes is just two easy steps.
I’ve been leading a team of mixed remote and in-office workers since about 4 B.C. (Before COVID) and I’ve worked the Hybrid model myself much of that time. At first, we had our share of struggles with remote workers feeling left out or not truly connected to the rest of the team. And in-office workers sometimes jealous of their remote counterparts. Communications and coordinating efforts was rocky for a while. And then we made some simple changes and everything started coming together as we had always hoped.
Step 1: Hybrid Managers
The first, most important step, is to make your managers work the Hybrid model. Quite simply, there is nothing as effective in training managers how best to work with hybrid workers, than to have them become one themselves. It rapidly leads to solutions to all sorts of challenges. Having communication challenges? Watch them disappear when the manager faces the same challenges and has to solve the problem for herself. The simple act of being a hybrid or remote worker rapidly builds empathy with the other remote workers, and the two-class system disintegrates.
When the manager is not always in the office, they suddenly lose the bias they might otherwise develop toward the people that they see all the time. Out-of-sight / Out-of-mind fades away when the manager themselves is forced to face the same challenges. When a manager has to figure out how to show their value remotely, it opens their minds to seeing how others can as well.
Remember, you’re not paying your employees just to show up and occupy a chair. There is something that you expect them to accomplish or produce. Make that your focus. Yes, that means focusing on results or output, and not attendance. You and your employees may discover that some things don’t take as long to accomplish when you’re not trying to look productive for a full 40.
Once Step 1 has been accomplished and in place for a little while. Step 2 is a natural progression.
Step 2: EVERYONE on Equal Ground
There are many ways that this manifests itself, but one of the biggest, and at the same time, easiest to solve, is the team meeting. If you’ve never been the lone guy on the other end of the speaker phone while everyone else is in the conference room, you have no idea what sort of special hell it can be. And for a real adventure try 2 or 3 people on the phone. It’s particularly lovely when you’ve got people who get sidetracked and start having their own little side conversation at the same time as the main discussion. That type of cross chatter makes the experience for the people on the phone completely useless as they can’t make out the separate conversations and everything gets jumbled together.
In our office we established a simple rule to handle this: If anyone is remote, everyone is remote. Yes, that means that if you need to have a meeting with 5 people who are all in the office, and one person who is not, then every person goes to their own desk, puts on their headphones and joins the conference call from there. This puts everyone on equal footing. There are no more side conversations causing cross chatter, and everyone sees the same presentation. Yes, at first it may be awkward; especially if you have people sitting in cubicles next to each other and they can hear the person behind them speaking, and there is a few seconds delay before they hear it in their headphones, but they’ll get used to that, and the core communication will be FAR superior. And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find that you don’t really need to have as many meetings as you once thought. Perhaps that meeting could have been an email instead.
When you create the norm that everyone is on equal ground for meetings, it ripples throughout the culture, into all other aspects of the business.
Two simple steps to set the tone and help your team to help themselves. Other small decisions and tactics will come from these actions, but start with this foundation, and you’ll be able to grow a healthy and vibrant company using the hybrid work model.