Workers across industries are faced with the challenge of finding new ways to participate in COVID-safe work as we learn to live alongside the virus while ensuring worker health and safety.
Post-COVID, many Queensland public sector employees may now find themselves part of a hybrid team—where on any given day some employees are working in the office—or their normal place of work—and others are working remotely. Hybrid teams also require new and different skills of managers, to ensure ongoing engagement, productivity and performance of their teams.
Hybrid teams are a new way of operating and take some planning and adjustment from all involved. Done well, this model of operating will provide agencies and individuals with a great foundation for flexibility and high performance.
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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. It will also be guided by the number of people who are able to be in a workplace in line with the organisation’s COVID safe plan. Vulnerable employees, such as those with chronic health conditions or employees affected by domestic and family violence, may have needs that should 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 focused setting. For others, it may involve a combination of both modes of working.
These factors should be discussed openly with all team members. Operating in a hybrid environment 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:
- Ensure your team has the technology and resources to do their work safely and effectively, regardless of their location
- Use technology to support a culture of collaboration and connection to build a sense of community
- Lead by example and demonstrate just how effective hybrid teams can be, by combining working in the office, with periods of working from home.
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. Open lines of communication are important 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 for 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.
- When hosting a meeting:
- have all participants log on virtually (even if you are in the same room as other meeting participants)
- 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.
- Encourage participants to keep video on regardless if they are in the office or working remotely. Seeing other’s faces is an important element of connection during virtual meetings
- 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 to increase the opportunities for connection and check-in on wellbeing.
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.