As the COVID crisis becomes increasingly controlled, some companies are announcing their plans to return workers to the office over the remaining months of the year. As a result, 2021 will mark when remote work went from being a coveted perk of a small progressive company segment to an operational reality for most firms. A PwC survey of nearly 700 CEOs indicated that over three-fourths believe that remote collaboration would outlast the public health crisis.
Chances are you work for one of the thousands of companies adopting some variation of a hybrid workplace model. For example, some companies plan to allow employees to choose how much time they work from the office (including none). Managing a team with different work location arrangements will be a challenging leadership skill to master. Here are some tips for leading your colleagues brilliantly while settling into the new workplace rhythm.
Establish Rules & Boundaries
Some of your team may want to begin and end their day earlier than their colleagues. Others may have relocated to a different time zone. Establish a time range during the day when all team members must be present and available for collaboration, questions, meetings, and other non-solitary activities. Because the pandemic proved that work/life boundaries blur more easily in remote work situations, spell out clear rules about after/before hours emails, direct messages, texts, and phone calls. And be clear about response time during work hours.
FaceTime vs. Face Time
Be careful not to fall into the trap of ‘proximity bias’ – favoring team members with whom you have more frequent in-person contact. Proximity bias can also color our beliefs about productivity and performance, suggesting that the employee we see is working harder and delivering more than the employees we don’t. As a manager, your attitude and behavior shape the team culture, and your perceived bias might fuel conflict between remote and onsite employees. However, studies conducted during the pandemic revealed that employees were more productive when everyone was working from home. So this disproves the assumptions brought on by proximity bias. Keep that in mind as you manage each employee and assess their contribution.
Foster a Culture of Communication & Collaboration
One positive outcome of the great remote work experiment triggered by the pandemic is that most companies implemented the technology and tools remote employees needed to complete their jobs. Your role as a manager is to make sure all employees are using them while also asking about additional support they might need to facilitate teamwork between in-office and remote colleagues. Your role is also to set the example for open, straightforward, responsive communication – sharing information that makes doing the work easy and keeping everyone on the same page. For example, setting 1:1 meetings with each team member to keep communication channels flowing, hear concerns, provide feedback, and check in on overall well-being has never been more critical. Similarly, looking for ways to connect as a group to encourage a collegial and harmonious team culture is imperative. As a manager, you have the ability to influence your team culture and create an environment everyone wants to join.
Transparency & Trust
Employees feel most secure when they’re plugged into what’s going on and the ‘why’ behind decisions. This has become especially important during a time of crisis when many felt disconnected because of physical distance. Managers should be sensitive to this lingering need, even as employees meet up on site. Keep in mind that employees want to be prepared for what’s next, even if that means hearing troubling company news. And it’s not just organizational disclosure that employees crave. They also appreciate leaders who admit when they don’t know an answer. Or are willing to share a personal story about dealing with a mistake or facing a challenge. Managers are sometimes hesitant about transparency because they think it might tarnish their image or make others uncertain of their ability to lead. However, workplace studies continually show that transparency fosters trust, and trust inspires employee engagement.
Supervising a hybrid team is an opportunity for managers to flex their leadership muscles and develop ones they didn’t even know they had. To learn more about expectations employees have for the post-pandemic workplace and gain insights from our expert recruiters, click here.