05/31/2021 Beacon Blog 0 Comment

6 Strategies to Managing in a Hybrid Workplace

In this new world, connections must be scheduled and planned, not left to the beauty of serendipity. In the past, you could walk by a co-worker only to have an insightful conversation that solved the predicament of the moment. While those days seem behind us at least for the foreseeable future, that teamwork and capacity to connect need not be diminished  by the barriers of the screen and the limitations of virtual platforms.  

In a post-covid world many have stayed nimble by optimising remote working solutions. With employees staying at home intermittently or permanently, managers and leaders have to build workflows and create the “culture” of the organisation virtually.

Here are 6 key strategies that mangers can employ to effectively manage their remote teams:

1. Establish Team Norms

Every team has a specific dynamic and rhythm, that mangers and team members learn to navigate and harness. It used to be that the “boss” would be in by 9:30, and you had time to grab a coffee with Gary at the breakroom to chat about that client. You knew that Samantha hated slides with paragraphs, and that past 5pm George would be packing up. In the past, teams that had spent time in the trenches together knew how best to communicate and work with one another. In the world of remote work, those tiny uncommunicated habits are now lost, hidden behind grainy cameras. By neglecting these behavioural ticks, managers forego the opportunity to harness the quirks of remote working. Now the kids stay home, and perhaps adults like having breakfast with them. A new work environment means different habits and routines. Establishing clear and agreed-upon behaviours in terms of how work will get done, and what team members can expect of each other is instrumental in a hybrid work setting. It is the acceptance of the realities and distractions of home, but also confidence in the honesty and integrity of the team that allows team to fight in the trenches in the digital space. The first strategy is to communicate and re-visit these norms.

2. Expectations of Team Members

It is easier to say something and hope the implied meaning is conveyed. In your mind, at the end of the zoom meeting the next steps are crystal clear, but to your subordinates, the lack of clear instructions is permission to dither and wait. Managers need to master the art of expressing their expectations without exhausting themselves by perpetually repeating the same instructions. Research has shown that the lack of clear guidance, leads to dejection, disengagement and demotivation. Why work hard when you are never quite sure what the boss wants? The problem is worsened when new employees are brought on while work is being conducted remotely. Therefore it is vital that there are systematic ways for managers to set and clarify expectations, goals, tasks (and behaviours) to ensure that team members understand these expectations. In a world where human connection is now scheduled, and filtered through the screen, the only way to make sure you are understood is to directly address your expectations. The second strategy though direct and inelegant is to be clear and honest so that everyone is on the same page.

3. Goals & Outcomes

The nature of work, and the assessment of productivity has shifted from quantity to quality. The bosses of yesteryear, who relied on the belief that if their employees sat at their desks, they must be working hard, have realised it is not the length of time their employees spent but the work produced. A manager has to ensure that everyone (including themselves) are on-task without “hovering”, without also implying that they have seemingly little faith in their subordinate. When work is done only under the constant glare of the boss, it is time for some honest reflection.  It stems from the old-school of thought that the pressure of boss’s watchful eye can keep people in line. With the norm of remote working, these managers who have only ever used fear to motivate are now stuck in a world where their employees can turn off their cameras. There is an art to making sure that goals are met without threat. It begins with being clear on the goals and measurement of those goals. Articulating goals and checking-in on employees in a virtual world has presented its own challenges, but when organised and conveyed honestly and realistically, the team can begin to function cohesively without the threat of the boss being present. The secret trick to the third strategy is involving the employee on the goal and expectation setting. They are not cogs in a machine, but capable individuals, and managers can learn to harness and unleash their employee’s potential.

4. Understanding Motivation Drivers

The latent potential within each and every employee is an opportunity, that sadly goes to waste when Managers fail to properly understand what makes their employees tick. Gone are the days of the group rah-rah speeches, or the friendly competition that could be engineered in close working spaces. Getting employees to deliver their best is a weird alchemy of inspiring them but also understanding what makes them perform. For some it is external validation such as a meaningful and sincere praise casually mentioned in a group meeting. For others it is going the extra mile to check-in on their mental well-being. The virtual landscape does not erase these tricks of the trade, but demand they be deployed in a deliberate way. A manager must work hard to understand how their team functions at an individual level. Just as different plants respond to different types of fertiliser, degrees of sunlight, and water, so too do individuals. The fourth strategy is understanding how best to help your plant grow.

5. Giving Feedback

Work, like life, is full of lessons and the best performers know that this cycle is iterative. Mistakes are made, lessons are learnt but the loop is often left unclosed. Employees fear failure, and rather than learn they are more concerned that the boss be not too mad. The best managers turn those moments of fear and shame into learning opportunities not moments of ridicule and pain. The oft-used ‘hamburger’ method is useful, but has grown to feel inauthentic and contrived. It is also hard to hide the rage when a mistake is made. Using the “3-2-1-Oh” technique, which is but one of many ways to consistently deliver difficult yet necessary feedback. With work having gone virtual it has never been easier for employees to avoid the ire of their bosses, which is why managers must construct formats for honest feedback-giving. Nobody likes to know they have failed, but managers are critical to convey those lessons learnt because they feel the impact of the consequences.  Agreeing on a format before disaster strikes and regretted words are uttered is the fifth strategy to turn a painful lesson into a story of growth.

6. Managing Conflicts

Great office tales can often begin with “and then he flipped the table” but they often end in terminations and irritation. The bigger the team the more varied the personalities. In the past the close proximity of the office forced parties that did not work well with one another into the others orbit. With a virtual office environment, it has never been easier to avoid people we dislike, but for managers it buries simmering tensions that can awkwardly surface. The inability to visually “see” these growing conflicts, together with the general lack of transparency into the day-to-day affairs of their subordinates almost seems like a recipe for disaster.

At the risk of having employees rage over zoom, Managers must proactively prevent and soothe tensions. Managing these conflicts requires early detection and creating an environment where team members feel comfortable with sharing difficult or sensitive issues.

At the minimum Managers must be aware, lest a recorded zoom meeting gone wrong go viral. The sixth and final strategy is putting out the fire before it burns the building down.

This new world has so many challenges, and it is easier to lament and wish for the days of old. The truth is the nature of work is changing and teams must adapt. The rhythm of your organisation is being adjusted, and if managers do not learn to dance to the new beat they will get left behind. This painful and disruptive process is a challenge but there are programmes, tricks and guiding tools that help strengthen the management strategies of even the most senior of leaders. Beacon has been actively helping organisations navigate this new world. The trick is to accept that the world has changed and being willing to learn to harness the winds of this new age.