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MANAGING HYBRID TEAMS IN AN INCLUSIVE WAY

Manage hybrid teams inclusively

COVID-19 has forced many challenges upon us and for leaders who continue to manage a hybrid team, understanding inclusive workplace practices in this new team environment is one of them.

When managing a hybrid team, you are overseeing a distinctly uneven playing field – some of your staff are based in the office while others work remotely. According to our Hays Barometer Report, 55 per cent of professionals say they have worked from home during this crisis. Of these, 51 per cent do not yet feel safe and happy to return to the workplace.

The recent forced work from home experience has also led many organisations to realise the benefits of flexible working. Many employers are now considering what form of regular, long-term hybrid working model they could support.

Clearly then, hybrid teams will remain in place for some time yet to come. While there are many advantages of this model, it also creates challenges. There is, for example, a risk that remote employees may be left out of conversations or decisions made in the office. Your office-based staff could also have incorrect perceptions about their remote colleagues’ productivity or work-life balance, while a potential team divide could develop.

To overcome these challenges and create an even playing field for both office and remote workers, employers need to be intentional in their efforts to manage their hybrid team in an inclusive way. After all, creating an inclusive work environment allows you to create a sense of belonging for all employees. This in turn helps you support their mental health and wellbeing while also improving morale, productivity, teamwork and innovation – all important factors that will help an organisation quickly return to growth.

How to purposefully manage a hybrid team in an inclusive way

1. Design inclusive team meetings: To begin with, gather feedback from your employees to determine how team meetings could best work for everyone. Make sure all members of your team have an opportunity to share their insights, both personally and professionally, on how meetings attended by remote and office-based workers could be administered successfully. Share the parameters within which you must operate, too, so that your staff are aware of the circumstances. Take care to be respectful of each individual’s personal circumstances and try to tailor a solution that works for all.

Since your team now has ample experience in virtual remote meetings, continuing to use video conferencing tools might be the best solution. This gives your remote workers face-to-face interaction with their colleagues and helps them feel included rather than a detached add-on.

Before the meeting, distribute an agenda so everyone can prepare their talking points or thoughts in advance.

2. Ensure every team member has a voice: When it comes time for the meeting itself, confirm that all remote participants can hear and be heard. Allow enough time for everyone to participate. You may like to start the meeting by mentioning that you would like everyone to contribute and you value everyone’s opinions. Mention that rather than interrupting another speaker, you should wait until they have finished talking to share your perspective. Try to foster an environment in which ideas are respected.

During the meeting, ask a lot of open-ended questions to encourage people to share. You could even try to structure involvement during the meeting, such as by giving everyone a set role or by assigning everyone an agenda item to introduce and discuss.

3. Understand that office and remote employees have different work experiences: Coming into an office where you interact with colleagues is a very different experience to working in isolation at home. Therefore, talk to your individual employees about their experience of remote working and understand what does and doesn’t work for them. Then, you can focus on retaining the positive experiences while improving upon the negative.

4. Create opportunities for informal conversations: Pre-COVID-19, how often did you strike up a conversation with a colleague at the lift, in the kitchen or elsewhere in the office? These unplanned informal conversations help to build team connections and improve morale, while also supporting mental health and wellbeing. So, purposefully create opportunities for informal interactions between remote and co-located employees, such as virtual Monday morning coffee chats, Friday afternoon drinks or by inviting people to stay on the line at the conclusion of a meeting for a relaxed conversation.

5. Ensure team communication actively involves all staff: Office-based staff may naturally revert back to informal meetings over their computer screens. But to encourage an inclusive environment in a hybrid team, this mindset needs to shift. Remind your office-based staff to use the agreed communication channels for all work-related conversations, rather than hold ‘watercooler’ discussions that exclude remote employees. If possible, use video conferencing tools so that your remote workers have face-to-face interaction and connection with their colleagues.

6. Have regular one-on-one catch-ups: Do not skip your regular one-on-one meeting with your remote employees. These meetings give you a chance to check in to see how they are. For your staff, they can be an essential lifeline to you and the workplace, so regularly postponing these meetings can lead to your remote workers feeling disconnected and underappreciated. While it is naturally easier to spend more time with those who are co-located in the workplace with you, proactively ensure the amount of time you spend communicating with remote workers is proportionate to the time you spend talking to co-located staff.

7. Give staff a sense of purpose: Regardless of where they are working, make sure all employees understand the purpose of their organisation and how their role and individual results contribute. Communicating the big picture keeps your employees invested in the overall vision of the organisation and how their own personal responsibilities fit in.

Build a culture of inclusion, trust and assurance

Of course, the above strategies will not work until your organisation has created a culture of inclusion. As part of this, you should prioritise communication to employees that is always purposefully inclusive, regular and transparent.

For more insights on equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, download our Hays Barometer Report.

AUTHOR

Nick Deligiannis
Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand
Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director, began working at Hays in 1993 and since then he has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business. In 2004 he was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors. He was made Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand in 2012.