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Managing Mixed Location Teams as Companies Re-open Workplaces

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Depending on geographic location, some companies are activating plans to open workplaces. A common component to re-opening plans is the notion of split teams or staggered shifts to minimize the density of employees in the office at one time. Here are some ideas to help managers as they face the prospect of leading mixed location teams – employees working remotely or from home, and some in office:

Think Remote First

“It wasn’t until we were all working remotely that we realized that we rarely (if ever) considered how our policies, procedures, and management choices trickled down to our employees who were already working from home pre-pandemic. Now we realize we have to think remote-first when making workplace decisions,” admitted an HR Manager in a recent interview of executives navigating the sudden work-from-home reality. The pandemic has been an eye-opening experience for company leaders on many levels. Maintaining sensitivity to the impact of employment experience decisions on those working away from the office will be critical to talent empowerment, engagement, and productivity going forward.

Keep Communication & Collaboration Going

From our recent research of employees working from home during the pandemic, nine out of ten said their companies were doing a great job keeping everyone in the loop. Those habits must continue as employees migrate to a combination of in-office work and at-home work. All the tools managers used to connect and collaborate with their distributed team should continue into the post-pandemic future. The purpose and value of project management tools have become dramatically apparent during the crisis. Managers who had habitually relied on in-office face-to-face interaction, eschewing project management, and communication platforms pre-pandemic, quickly found themselves disadvantaged by a lack of understanding of the nuances and features of these tools once working from home. One team leader acknowledged in a recent conversation about leading during the crisis, “It’s been a growth opportunity for me as a manager because it forced us to use technology and tools that I avoided. It’s been excellent for project management, and we are more productive than ever.”

Maintaining the Pandemic-inspired Culture of Trust

The pandemic crisis was a crash course in distance productivity and accountability. Ready or not, managers needed to trust that team members would complete their jobs on time without the physical hovering and check-ins that came with collocated management. Frequent telephone and video call meet-ups during the crisis and better-utilized project management tools facilitated updates, collaboration, and next step planning. In the best scenarios, this fostered another level of trust that should be carried over and encouraged in the new normal. Whether a team member is located on-site or at-home, managers should aim to crystalize expectations, keep communication open, and provide frequent feedback, while modeling the reliable, responsive behavior they want to see in their direct reports.

Staying Mindful About Circumstances

During the pandemic, managers have been sensitive to the pressures of multiple family members, children, and pets sharing space with team members working remotely. Employees may be residing in another time zone as well. These circumstances may not change when some teammates return to the office, while others continue working remotely. As we have learned in our pandemic-period surveys of talent, the added flexibility and personal circumstance understanding have been appreciated by employees. If productivity and engagement remain high once re-opening plans are activated, managers should continue to accommodate employees’ schedules and circumstances whenever possible to inspire positive morale. The key to managing teams in the re-opening phase of the pandemic is to carry over the processes, tools, and mindsets that were effective for everyone working from home. We are all grappling with the idea that there’s probably no going back to how things were. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing. For more insights on building a strong employer brand, click here.