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How leaders can tackle the challenges of hybrid working

Published 24 Mar 2021
8 min read

Picture this… It’s Monday morning. You want to make a slow start to the working week, so instead of sliding out of bed and heading for the train station, you make a cup of coffee and relax in bed until 9am. After a few hours of working from home, you head into the office for some collaborative time and the (much beloved) after-work drinks. The week after you decide that you want to work from your friends house… but it’s across the county. You pack your laptop and head for the airport. The office will be waiting for you whenever you get back, if you want to use it. This is the reality of the future of work that’s made possible with hybrid teams. Schitt's Creek I believe in this team

One team, one dream.

What is a hybrid team?

A hybrid working style would see the office as ‘optional’. Employees can attend the on-site working space if they wish but they can also work from home. For some hybrid teams, they may wish to use the office as a collaborative space whilst completing ‘deep work’ at home. For others, an office could be used as a casual working space for those who want to use it. There’s also the alternative – those who will never use it, as they plan to live in different cities or countries across the globe.

What are the benefits of hybrid working?

Before we jump into the challenges of hybrid working, it’s definitely worth revisiting the benefits. Our two cents? Hybrid working is the best of both worlds. In our 2020 Remote Work Report, we found that 92% of workers want to continue working from home regularly following the Covid-19 pandemic. Why does this remain such an appealing option? The results weren’t that surprising… Respondents flagged that they wanted to continue avoiding the commute and being regularly interrupted at their desk. They were also happy not to be around sick colleagues – a very understandable desire following what we’ve all been through! However, there were things that employees missed about the office. They wanted to bounce ideas of coworkers, they missed the camaraderie of in-office interaction and how easy it is to communicate with their managers. Hybrid working allows employees to still enjoy the benefits of remote working, without leaving all the things we like about the office behind. The biggest drawcard of hybrid working model is the fact that it offers flexibility to your team. They can choose how and where they want to work depending on their personal circumstances, current situation and mood. Office worker working on a desk at the beach

Work how and where you want to work.

What are the challenges of hybrid working?

Even though hybrid working is a fantastic way to run a team, there are challenges that leaders will face.

Connecting a distributed team

Have you ever run into a colleague in the office kitchen and had a really pleasant and insightful conversation? Maybe you’ve even followed them up after your chat to get their advice about a piece of work or an upcoming project. For all of the benefits of working at home, these random conversations can be one of the elements of the workplace that are really missed. Collaboration, both intentional and unintentional, can flow much easier when you have someone’s in-person energy to bounce off. This challenge is a multi-faceted one for hybrid teams. Firstly, your team will miss out on having spontaneous discussions with all of their colleagues. Secondly, those who come into the office may find themselves connecting with their teammates more often, building stronger bonds which may make remote teammates feel isolated.

The leadership solution:

There are plenty of measures that leaders can use to tackle this one. Wherever possible, take a “remote-first” approach to all meetings. Instead of having all the in-office staff attend the meeting together and dialling in the remote staff, get all staff to dial in from their desks. It can be hard to express your ideas from a laptop when everyone else is there in person, this measure makes sure that everyone has their ideas heard. Every couple of weeks allocate time in the workday for team-building activities. Just like in-person activities, these can help team members get to know each other and flex their team working muscles! 🎲 Not sure where to start? We’ve put together a guide of 39 (yes 39!) fun games to try. As well as encouraging group bonding, one-on-one time is crucial to having that “watercooler” socialising feeling. But how can we make these feel random? Make it a rule that 15 minutes a fortnight each team member will enjoy a “virtual coffee”. Jerry Seinfeld enjoying coffee

We worship at the altar of coffee.

Create a rotating roster or use an app like Donut – which will automatically match two coworkers. Heck, Donut will even give you some conversation starters if you’re not sure where to begin. Whilst it may not be completely spontaneous, getting into a regular social routine will do wonders for your team’s relationships.

Decentralising company operations

We’re so used to thinking of a company having a set headquarters – the office being a physical place where work happens. The idea that workforces might be distributed across several locations, from different cities to different countries, is a bit harder to imagine. When running a hybrid team, you’ll have workers completing all kinds of responsibilities from various locations. In order to facilitate this, it’s important to let go of HQ as being the place where the most important tasks take place. All important information needs to be easily accessible to employees wherever they may be.

The leadership solution:

The last thing you want to be doing is relying on email, (or even worse – snail mail) to exchange important documents or information. If you’re predominantly sourcing files from a server that’s based in the ‘main’ office, or still filing paper documents in cabinets, you might be creating a lot more work for your entire team. If possible, make sure that most (if not all) of your business information and operations are cloud-based. Implement cloud storage and online collaborative documents for your whole team. If your employees do not currently have the skills to use this technology, the investment will be well worth it in time saved. 💡 Say goodbye to people management paper documents and filing by taking HR digital! By replacing outdated HR practices with digital solutions, you can free your HR team from time-consuming administration, giving them the opportunity and resources to create dynamic people management strategies. Download our guide to learn more.

Keeping tabs on employee wellness

If someone is struggling with mental, physical, or other aspects of their personal wellness, it can be difficult to identify from a surface level. It can be even harder to recognise a drop in wellbeing when you’re not physically in the same location. From a mental health perspective, it can be especially difficult to look out for the signs of a drop in wellbeing – which could include becoming withdrawn and antisocial or changes in appearance. It’s incredibly challenging to keep track of these things when you’re only seeing the Zoom snapshot of a teammate. Similarly, it can be tricky with hybrid teams to monitor your staff member’s work life balance. In our 2020 Remote Working Report, 37% of respondents reported that not being able to ‘switch off’ was one of their top reasons for not liking remote work. When all of your work is (literally) on your doorstep, there’s little to stop stressed out workers from working into the night. Alternatively, if managers are working remotely, it can be difficult to see if in-office staff are pulling long hours after the workday is over.

The leadership solution:

Strong connections between managers and staff can be an effective antidote to wellbeing issues. Understandably, your staff members are unlikely to make it clear in a team meeting that they’re not doing well, but in a private format they’re more likely to open up. We’re huge advocates of the regular 1:1 meeting between managers and their direct reports, not only because they’re a great opportunity to exchange work-related updates, but because they’re a confidential space to flag any other issues. De-stigmatise any discussions about mental health and take an authentic interest in wellbeing. Do they need increased flexibility? Help with prioritising work? Increased support as they move through a challenging time? These are all things that can be easily and privately arranged through a caring manager. 💡 Take this practice of de-stigmatising all areas health to the rest of your company culture. An effective workplace wellness program can help you promote wellbeing for all staff. As part of your wellness program, it’s worth fostering a culture that discourages overworking or long working hours. Our 2021 Wellness at Work Report found that employees who rated their work/life balance poorly were 174% more likely to be less productive. Overworking is working against success. Don’t suggest that working after hours makes employees more dedicated or reward employees who consistently do so.

Welcoming new employees without physically meeting them

One of the more surreal elements of the remote work revolution is the fact that employees might not physically meet some of their closest teammates. Sometimes they may not meet them until the next major work event, sometimes they may not meet them – ever! From the new employees perspective, starting a new role in your own home can be similarly strange and stressful! If your new workplace is disorganised with your onboarding, you might find yourself a bit stuck and without the option of seeking help from your nearest colleague. This can start your new employee off on the wrong foot, and risk having them instantly feeling disengaged with the business. Chrissy Teigan looking awkward

…awkward.

The leadership solution:

Create a bespoke online induction for your new starters. A remote induction shouldn’t just be a virtual version of your regular induction program. As well as capturing classic elements of an induction program – like collecting essential details, introducing the new starter to the team and sharing company values – it should give the incoming employee a complete understanding of the company’s culture and operations without stepping foot on site. A few key steps for success:

  1. Prior to their first day, make sure they have provided the essential information you need to make their onboarding process as seamless as possible. This includes their signed employment agreement, payroll details and copies of any licences required for the job
  1. Provide a comprehensive list of information they’ll need, including policy documents, an induction schedule, system login information, and – most importantly – the contact information of their direct manager
  1. Make sure that your new starter gets proper face-to-face time with not only their manager, but other members of their team, on their first day

Bonus step: To make the experience extra special, consider sending your new employee a welcome pack. You could include any equipment they’ll need to get started, as well as a personalised welcome note and some snacks for their first day of work online. 💡 Get organised for a killer online induction with our Remote Onboarding Checklist.

The wrap up:

Yes, there are challenges in running a successful hybrid workforce. But is it absolutely worth overcoming them for the happiness of your team and the good of your business? Absolutely. Simple leadership solutions will help your staff thrive in the hybrid model. If you prioritise connection, invest in tech and dial up the trust – you can’t go wrong. Employment Hero makes running hybrid teams easy with our extensive people management functionality. Learn more about how we can transform your HR for a changing world of work. Book a demo with a small business specialist today.

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