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Managing a hybrid team challenge

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All over the world the period of forced remote work is coming to an end. Until the restrictions are completely lifted, only some of the employees will work in the office. The rest will continue to work remotely even in post-covid-19 period. Thus, hybrid teams will be popular, the teams where employees interact from different places and conditions. Perhaps for some, this is a familiar work format, but many managers have a question: how to effectively lead a hybrid team and what pitfalls there are on the way?

What exactly are hybrid teams?

There is a shortage of qualified personnel. For development companies, this problem leaves no choice. The main thing is that there are good specialists, and where they live is a secondary question. There is no turning back. In the near future, all teams will be distributed. Our working standards have changed. 55% of businesses offer to work remotely at least partly. In organisations where remote work is possible, the hybrid team model is evolving. A hybrid team is a company or team with remote and co-located participants sharing responsibilities for the work. It is created to blend the best of remote and in-office work and eliminate problems of the both. However, you still can face challenges while trying to implement this system.

Challenges that overlap with fully remote teams

There are problems related to telecommuting, e.g. lack of outer motivation or ability to focus. Workers can feel isolated while staying away from the other team members. However, there are several issues common for fully distributed and hybrid teams:

Relationship building

First of all, there is less opportunity to interact informally when not everyone is able to see others on a daily basis. On a long run it leads to emotional separation of the employees who actually need to be bound at the same project. To avoid this you can create not work-related channels in communication tools, like Slack, where remote workers can discuss personal topics as they would during real coffee breaks at the office. There is a need to make every member feel welcome to the working process and support traditions which employees can participate in. So managers should facilitate a dialogue between co-workers to collaborate productively.

Lack of defined flexible vs. remote work policies

Sometimes it is hard to draw a line of exact duties employees are ought to perform. Moreover, even workers may not be familiar with policies of remote work. Some companies offer flexible schedules but office-based locations when others allow you to work from home every day on fixed hours. To fix this you need to educate and train your staff and to address changes clarifying the company goals. The problem is that for solely remote work there is tons of information on how to deal with any difficulties. At the same time, hybrid teams require their own ways to solve any issues considering the peculiarities of such work.

Challenges that are unique to hybrid work models

As long as hybrid teams combine co-located and remote workers there are some problems, special for this system, that need to be addressed.

Developing and maintaining a remote compatible culture

The basic principle in managing distributed or hybrid teams is that the process is structured as if the entire team is working remotely. Do not take into account that one of your colleagues is sitting nearby in the office. The leader must perceive all participants in the process as members of a distributed team. For all project participants, uniform objective criteria for work should be introduced.

Lack of leadership or team buy-in

In a hybrid remote office it can be a challenge to understand who is doing what and where and have a clear picture of the performance. The effectiveness of hybrid teams largely depends on an experienced leader who defines a transparent interaction algorithm and clear communication principles for the team. Shared culture, team dynamics, and human traits like empathy go a long way toward creating effective hybrid teams. Regular meetings on video communication platforms and constant communication in messengers are also influencing, as a way to encourage collaboration and collective creative thinking. It is also important to gather teams for personal meetings when the opportunity arises.

Where do you put your management\leadership team? Remote or co-located?

Another challenge is that managers cannot have complete accountability virtually, so some prefer to do this on-site. There is no exact answer whether you need to choose a management team which is physically in the office or work from home. You must decide which option is better for you and see how it impacts the overall company culture.

Communication problems

In large companies, hybrid teams often consist of employees who go to the office to work, but these offices can be in different cities and even countries! And with different time zones it is hard to stay in touch or at least quickly respond. So your image of punctuality should be altered, too. You cannot organize immediate meetings in person to discuss current problems. But you still can contact the team online and that is going to be much faster. Choose the tools you will be using. And decide if your messages can be asynchronous or you need an immediate response. Plan some meetings in advance in the calendar and notify everyone about upcoming calls or conferences.

Remote workers need to advocate for themselves more than their onsite counterparts.

For managers it is easier to control the team while seeing employees live in the office. This way they can observe the situation and react to it. Otherwise, it seems that those who work at home become less visible and as a consequence less valued. To prevent this, remote workers need to protect their significance in the working process and maybe even have co-located counterparts who will advocate for them.

Ideas on how to competently organize the management of hybrid teams

Communication is a priority if you want to productively realize a hybrid remote working model. Use tools to maintain constant contact with everyone and do not forget about the importance of informal talks. Involve remote employees into team activity and interaction. Organize real life visits to the office for those who usually work from home. Build strong habits to support such interactions so the team feels connected. Admit that your employees have completely different experiences and react to this accordingly. If you still cannot be sure about the efficiency of the team install some task manager or productivity tracker to monitor what employees are doing. Always share information and communicate to create a strong membership.

Final thoughts

Despite the fact that the online format has a number of advantages and penetrates into our lives every day, the offline sphere cannot be ruled out. Not all employees are able to reorganize to work at a distance, not all are ready to give up daily communication with colleagues, and many viewed remote work as a forced and temporary measure. On the other hand, for some of the employees, this experience turned out to be more successful and positive, they do not want to give up the benefits they received during remote work, and they are trying to do everything to preserve the new work format. The hybrid work model is likely to become a new reality in the post-crisis era and people will have to adapt to new work habits. The winners in this new virtual world will be those organisations that successfully tackle the specific challenges of managing remote workers. It is important to recognize issues and be aware of tools able to fix them.

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