Manage hybrid teams

Both the private and public sector have adjusted to new ways of working in response to COVID-19—including the increased uptake of remote working to support health advice.

A responsive and flexible public service is critical to respond to emerging priorities and service delivery for Queenslanders, and new ways of working has long formed an important part of our 10 year human capital outlook.

Coming out of COVID-19 restrictions, many employees will find themselves part of a hybrid team—where on any given day you will have a greater mix of some employees working in the office—or their normal place of work—and others working remotely.

Bringing together a hybrid team takes some planning, and adjustments from all employees but done well, will provide agencies and individuals with a great foundation for flexibility and high performance.

1. Set the hybrid team up for success

Decisions about who works in the office and who works from home will be guided by a combination of factors, including business need, team requirements, individual circumstances and personal preference. Vulnerable employees, such as those with chronic health conditions or employees affected by domestic and family violence, may have needs that need to be prioritised.

More generally, it’s important that employees work in conditions where they can thrive. For some, that’s working in the office surrounded by the buzz of other colleagues, while for others it is working from home in a more quiet and focussed setting. For others, it may involve a combination of both modes of working.

These factors should be discussed openly with all team members. Implementing a hybrid model will work best when teams decide together what could work for them, when options are trialled, when feedback is open and considered, and where adjustments are made as needed.

Hybrid teams can operate effectively, when managers put in place a few simple strategies:

  • Team goals: use technology to communicate the team’s priorities, including what needs to get done each week, so that everyone is on the same page. Priority work should be discussed as a group and in one-on-meetings.
  • Individual roles: showing how each team member fits into the bigger team and organisational picture will help maintain motivation and engagement. Managers should communicate the importance of each team member’s role and they will complement and support each other.
  • Culture through collaboration: working from different locations and across varying schedules requires a concerted effort by everyone to build a sense of community. Create opportunities and spaces where people can share information about their non-work lives – hobbies, kids, pets – to build more personal interaction.
  • The right resourcing: equip your team with the technology and resources they need to work safely and effectively, regardless of their location. This means designated online spaces to chat, host video meetings and share documents, and ergonomic work spaces in the office and at home.
  • Lead by example: managers can actively demonstrate just how effective hybrid teams can be, by combining working in the office, with periods of working from home.

2. Practical tips for hybrid teams

There are some unique challenges that come with managing hybrid teams. Strategies are required to ensure that, regardless of where and how people work, everyone feels informed, included and connected as a team and as individuals. Success requires sector leaders and managers to establish new routines for priority setting and promoting a shared culture of purpose and accountability. 

  • Managing by outcomes: everyone has a job to do and it’s important to monitor and assess performance consistently, regardless of where an employee is working. This means focusing on the quality of outcomes, and not whether employees are ‘visible’ in online forums or at their desk. 
  • Culture: What makes a team a team? Related projects, common goals and shared experiences are all important. Regardless of where we work, teams need to be able to collaboratively build their own values and ways of working. Make sure there are plenty of shared opportunities for teams to connect and create their own team ‘story’.
  • Communication: hybrid teams require a special focus on communication, to ensure everyone has the information they need to perform well, and when there are open lines for feedback, troubleshooting and celebrating success as well as discussing pain points. Think through different communication patterns and methods, and harness technology to make sure you are communicating with everyone equally.
  • Context: consider your availability, and the way you distribute work, reward high performance and share information—these issues shouldn’t be influenced by whether a person is in the office or working remotely.
  • Turning off from work: the ability to disconnect is just as important or those working remotely as it is for those who physically leave the office. Just as office-based employees will take the time to chat with a colleague or get a coffee, let remote employees know it is ok to be offline for short breaks and take time for lunch or to clock off at the end of their work day.

3. Getting the most out of virtual meetings

  • Spend a little time every meeting covering broader topics that are important and may impact the team.
  • When hosting a meeting have all participants log on virtually, ask remote participants to use the chat feature to let the group know when they want to jump in, nominate one person to be the custodian of the virtual experience, to make sure when someone raises their virtual hand, they have a chance to speak. Regularly stop and check that the virtual participants can hear, follow the dialogue, and make contributions.
  • Recorded meetings and emails to the whole team can ensure those who weren’t available can stay in the loop.
  • Create an expectation that all members have weekly one-on-ones with their supervisor.

4. Engagement

  • Ensure frequent check-ins on colleagues’ wellbeing can help in identifying ways to support everyone.
  • Strong relationships and trust come from getting to know an employee as a whole person. Create a space where people can share information about hobbies, kids, or other aspects of their lives. Giving your team the ability to know one another in more than a work capacity will allow more personal interactions and boost morale. 

5. Understand the dynamics of hybrid teams

A key to managing hybrid teams is greater awareness that remote and local employees have different experiences of work. Being aware of the unconscious biases that might play out or the imbalances is the first step towards overcoming them and levelling the experiences for all employees regardless of where they are working.

  • Distance bias: a tendency to favour people who are closer to us in time and space. Overcome it by taking distance out of decisions.
  • Similarity bias: a tendency to favour those who are like us. Overcome it by finding similarities.
  • Communication imbalance: serendipitous communication may occur in the workplace during meetings or outside meetings that remote workers miss out on. Create communications for everyone.
  • Connection imbalance: relates to those who work together creating greater connections. Overcome it through virtual connections (e-coffees, chatrooms, group catch ups, team sponsored activities).
  • Perceived fairness imbalance: relates to a feeling of justice in how we are treated. Overcome it in transparent decision making.

Refer to the COVID-19 resource finder for more details.