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Managing a distributed workforce can be tough, but these tips for building trust, communicating well and avoiding micromanagement will help your team to thrive
The Covid-19 crisis has thrown countless challenges at individuals and organisations over the past 18 months – among them the need for many people to work remotely. Around the world, spare rooms became offices and kitchen tables became desks (not to mention makeshift classrooms).
While working from home has its challenges, firms are now looking to lock in the benefits of allowing employees to work remotely. Companies recognise that a hybrid way of working has benefits for people, profits and the planet – and it’s also in step with what employees want, post-pandemic. PwC’s Hopes and Fears survey showed that 72% of UK employees would prefer a mix of face-to-face and remote working, where they can choose to work from home, in the office or from a local coworking space.
This model – known as hub and spoke – has already been adopted by global firms including Standard Chartered bank and NTT, both of which signed groundbreaking deals with IWG in the first half of 2021. These partnerships, along with others, will see a million new users access IWG’s worldwide network of flexible workspaces.
It’s worth remembering, though, that while 87% of employees prefer this new way of working, it can present significant challenges for team leaders. According to ServiceNow’s research, those used to managing staff in traditional office environments are often less comfortable with the shift to hybrid than their employees.
Here, we look at four issues that leaders of hybrid teams might face, plus how to tackle them.
Breakdowns in communication
Problems with communication are at the root of most work challenges. Not only can poor communication delay the completion of projects, lead to mistakes and waste time and resources, but it can also damage relationships.
While trouble with communication can easily occur when people are based in the same building, the risk of misunderstandings may increase when discussions happen via email, instant messaging or Zoom instead of face to face.
Creating a set of ‘house rules’ and establishing clear expectations is key to managing a hybrid team successfully. Make clear to your people what each communication channel is best suited for: IMs for quick queries, for instance, and email for more formal requests or long-form explanations.
Brie Reynolds, Career Development Manager at FlexJobs, says that leading by example is key: “Get a strong sense of how to be the proactive communicator for your team.”
Using software such as Asana and Trello is a smart way to ensure everyone in your team knows how work tasks are progressing, and what they’re expected to contribute in order to move things forward. Allowing everyone to access at-a-glance updates encourages personal accountability at the same time as preventing endless ‘Where are we up to?’ messages.
Trouble establishing culture
When workers aren’t in close proximity to one another, it can be difficult for managers to develop and foster a sense of shared purpose. While it might seem negligible, this absence of team spirit can have a real life impact, hampering colleagues’ feelings of connection and affecting efficiency.
Creating a vision for your team, and a set of objectives they all share, can help to build a productive, collaborative ethos.
“The most important thing leaders can do to build a positive remote culture is [create] psychological safety,” says Heather Doshay, Vice President of People at Webflow.
Building a culture where people feel they belong, share a set of ambitions and can trust one another allows your team to be engaged, take risks and experiment without fear of failure.
In practice, a productive culture such as this requires strong leadership. Being open to feedback from your team, acknowledging when things haven’t worked and seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth are all critically important.
Struggling to keep things fair
For hybrid employees, it’s natural to worry that ‘out of sight’ might also mean ‘out of mind’ – particularly if some colleagues are spending more time than others at the office. Such concerns can cause anxiety and strain motivation, so it’s important they are addressed.
For leaders, it’s important to reassure staff that, wherever they’re based, their views are valued and they’re seen as part of the team. Encourage group bonding sessions via virtual meet-ups, offer online appraisals and always ensure that career progression paths are equal for office-based and remote employees.
When staff do meet at the company ‘hub’, it’s vital to ensure that face-to-face sessions are useful both in terms of work and relationship building. Coming together should be a social experience, as well as a productive one.
The urge to micromanage
Any manager worth their salt knows that, if you want to build a successful team, you must have trust in your people. Likewise, many of us are all too aware of how demotivating it is to work with someone who seems bent on clock-watching or tracking our every move.
However, managing remote workers means checking in with them regularly – so how can you make sure that your catch-ups don’t veer towards micromanagement, denting the relationships you’ve built?
Using video calling, rather than catching up over the phone, is a good start, as is beginning the conversation with a personal ‘How have you been?’ or ‘What did you do over the weekend?’ before diving into work chat.
Humanise the interaction so it feels warmer and less pressured. You may also want to consider a weekly catch-up, as opposed to anything more regular: a daily check-in feels a little too much like checking up.
Using questions such as ‘What’s going well?’, ‘Is anything holding up your progress?’ and ‘Is there anything I can help with?’ will keep catch-ups useful, at the same time as helping your team members feel they can be honest about any struggles they might be experiencing.
Finally, make it OK for your hybrid team to clock off when their working day is done. This is key for remote workers, who tend to spend more time logged on to their laptops than colleagues who are based at HQ.
By telling your staff, ‘I’m off for the evening now’, you empower them to down tools and spend time with their friends or family, supporting their wellbeing and strengthening your relationship with them.
With locations in thousands of neighbourhoods all over the world, find out how Regus can help your business thrive in the new, hybrid world of work