Managing an in-person team is hard enough, but managing a hybrid team comes with its own set of unique problems. As we transition back into the office, odds are you’ll have some employees in the office, some remote, and some a mix of both. For some teams, that hybrid working style might be temporary, and for others, it might be permanent. While we’ve all become (fairly) used to working remotely, this new transition is sure to come with its own set of challenges.
To help you prepare for this quickly approaching turning point, we’ve put together a list of the top challenges of managing hybrid employees that trip up most new — and experienced — managers.
Here are the most common issues managers run into when managing a hybrid team and how to ensure your managers have the skills and knowledge they need to address them head-on:
1. Trouble Communicating
In the office, your people leaders can depend on casual hallway catch-ups and in-office discussions to keep everyone aligned. When managing a remote or hybrid team, your managers don’t have that same luxury.
But, even if your managers do opt for email, chat, video conference, or a phone call to keep everyone up-to-date, their message might not land quite as they hoped. Without proper context or non-verbal cues like body language and tone, these forms of communication can easily be misinterpreted or misunderstood.
That’s why, when it comes to managing hybrid teams, communication has to be more intentional and direct to keep everyone on the same page and ensure no one feels left out. It’s important for managers to over-communicate and ask their direct reports what form of communication works best for them.
Some employees might be fine with a hands-off approach and feel more comfortable reaching out when they have a question, while others might want a standing 15-minute video call sync every other day to run ideas by their manager and ask questions. While it’s your manager’s job to figure out what communication style works best for their employees and ensure they have the information to do their jobs successfully, it’s your job to ensure they have the skills and knowledge they need to understand and practice different communication, management, and feedback styles with their teams.
How to Solve Communication Issues for Hybrid Teams:
- Have Regular Check-ins: Never underestimate the power of a weekly 1-on-1 meeting. While these meetings are important for every employee, they can be particularly valuable for hybrid and remote employees, as they give you time to discuss projects, sync on progress and roadblocks, and ensure managers and their direct reports are both aligned on expectations and deadlines.
- Have The Right Tools: Your HR team needs to ensure your employees have the right tools to keep everyone on the same page. In addition to email and video conferencing applications, you’ll also want to invest in a messaging tool, like Slack, so employees can connect and collaborate outside of meetings. Similarly, investing in a project management tool can be a wise choice for hybrid and remote teams, as it ensures every teammate knows which tasks they’re responsible for and helps them stay up-to-date on the project’s progress.
2. Feeling Disconnected
Even with regular team meetings and 1-on-1s, hybrid and remote employees often feel disconnected and isolated from their colleagues. Because of proximity, it’s easy to form friendships with in-office colleagues, but remote coworkers who live three states away can often feel like they’re an afterthought. And, employees don’t have to live far away to feel disconnected. Hybrid employees who only step foot in the office one to three times a week might feel an “us vs. them” mentality when they try to interact with full-time office team members.
If employees feel underappreciated or cut off from their team, they’ll be less engaged at work and more likely to jump ship. You must encourage managers to foster a culture and workplace environment where every employee feels valued and welcome. While they might not be able to control if they find a “work BFF” or not, they can control whether they feel supported and encouraged at work.
That’s not all: a Workplace by Facebook survey found that only 14% feel connected to their business HQ and just 3% feel connected to their C-Suite. When employees don’t feel connected to the larger company mission, values, and progress, they are at risk of becoming disengaged. Businesses must ensure in-office, remote, and hybrid employees feel connected to the overall business success and have a clear understanding of how their day-to-day role impacts the organization.
How to Ensure Hybrid Employees Feel Connected to Their Teams and The Company Mission:
- Regularly recognize employee contributions: Just because hybrid employees don’t work in the office everyday doesn’t make their accomplishments less important than others’. Because their efforts might not get as much visibility, encourage your managers to ensure their remote and hybrid workers get the recognition they deserve. Whether it’s a shoutout in a team meeting or putting them on a project with high visibility, make sure your team regularly recognizes their efforts.
- Set cascading goals: Remote and hybrid employees are more likely to feel disconnected from their company’s values or mission than in-office staff. A great way to help them understand how their day-to-day contributions are helping your company progress towards larger organizational goals is by introducing objectives and key results (OKRs). This goal-setting framework takes a top-down approach to ensure every employee’s individual goals connect to a larger organizational goal. This helps employees understand how they’re making a difference within the company and can help motivate them to do their best work.
3. Feeling Lonely
Aside from feeling disconnected from the team, many remote employees report they feel lonely. In fact, social media software company Buffer’s The 2020 State of Remote Work study revealed that 20% of remote employees listed loneliness as their biggest challenge with hybrid and remote work, tied with communication. Luckily, scheduling a few times throughout the week to chat about things outside of work can help employees feel more connected to their colleagues.
How to Ensure Hybrid Employees Socialize with The Rest of The Team:
- Plan remote-first team activities: Remote and hybrid employees often miss out on in-office happy hours, dinners, and other team-building activities, but you should try to make them feel part of the celebration in some way. This could be encouraging managers to send them a gift card to their favorite restaurant when you have a team dinner or send them a bottle of wine when the team has a happy hour. A few times a quarter, try to go one step further and plan a remote-first event, like a virtual happy hour, online escape room, Zoom trivia night, etc. so everyone on your team can participate.
- Schedule facetime: Remind your managers they don’t have to wait for their weekly 1-on-1 meetings to catch up with their employees. They can take 5 minutes at the start of each call to socialize or ask everyone how they spent the weekend. Or, they can schedule a casual 15-minute coffee break with a direct report or plan a virtual team lunch every now and then to encourage your team to socialize during the workday.
- Provide a remote/hybrid work stipend: Many companies offer a remote work stipend that can be used to invest in home office equipment, like a printer or ergonomic chair, or to help pay for a coworking space. A coworking space can help give employees the daytime socialization they need.
4. Working Too Much
Lastly, many employees working from home have trouble stepping away from their work at the end of the day, especially without a physical commute to separate their work from their home life. Your managers need to keep an eye on your employees’ work habits, like when they’re sending emails and logging off. If kept unchecked, overworked employees can quickly burn out and their productivity and mental health can suffer.
How to Encourage Hybrid Employees to Prioritize Work-Life Balance:
- Encourage them to take time off: Keep an eye on your employee’s time off. Studies show that employees who take more vacation time are more productive and satisfied with their jobs than those who don’t, so remind your managers to keep an eye on employee PTO and push their direct reports to take a vacation or a long weekend if they haven’t had a break from work in a while.
- Lead by example: Work habits often come from the top-down. Remind your managers to sign off at a reasonable hour and not to send emails overnight. This sets the expectation that your employees are allowed to take the night for themselves and don’t have to worry about checking and responding to their email late in the evening.
While managing remote or hybrid teams can be challenging, it can also be very rewarding for your managers and your business. But, in order to reap the benefits, your managers need to be properly trained on how to support, coach, and manage their teams from afar.
Not sure where to start? With science-backed, live online manager training classes, Hone can partner with your organization to customize L&D programs to your unique workplace skill needs. To get a taste of Hone’s comprehensive leadership classes, sign up for a 30-day free trial and see if Hone is right for your company.