Ways of working

Are you making these common hybrid‑team management mistakes?

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From ignoring asynchronous working to falling back on micromanaging – if you’re doing any of these, it’s time to stop

Before the pandemic, working from home was seen as a perk of the job. Now it’s a requirement for millions of employees around the world. But with the Covid-19 vaccine offering hope of a return to ‘normality’ for many this year, companies are considering what role remote working will play in the future.

There’s certainly little appetite for things to go back to the way they were pre-pandemic. A survey last summer showed that 86% of employees want to work remotely at least once a week. In the UK, employers expect the proportion of regular home workers to double, from 18% pre-pandemic to 37% post-pandemic. And with 74% of firms now planning on maintaining the increase in home working, there’s no going back to the way it was before.

With many employers likely to adopt a hybrid model in the future (with staff splitting their time between working from home and in the office), a challenge is presented to the people responsible for managing these new types of team. Below, we’ve identified five of the most common mistakes leaders can make when faced with this new situation – and how to avoid them.

Team members feeling left out

It’s easy for remote workers to feel left out or alone when collaborating with an office-based team. Hive in San Francisco has tried to overcome the feeling of isolation many home working team members feel by having an open Google Hangout on all workers’ desktops during the day, mimicking the experience of having office colleagues around. Finding a common cause to rally the whole team around can also help with cohesion – for example, charity campaigns such as Movember.

Managers should also take care not to create a “them and us” culture, where office-based and remote teams form negative assumptions about each other – for example, believing their work experience is more difficult or less valued.

Not enough use of platforms for asynchronous working

One of the common complaints about working remotely is the lack of face-to-face communication. But an over-reliance on video conferencing tools for team meetings and collaboration can be an impediment to productivity – particularly for staff who are fitting work around other commitments such as family.

Communication tools, such as email and text, and project management platforms like Trello and Todoist are just as sufficient, and perhaps even better, because they allow time for individuals to process information and compose responses after some reflection and thought.

Speaking to The Economist, Alex Hirst, Co-founder of remote working experts Hoxby, says successful ‘async’ working requires a cultural change. He says companies need to unlearn corporate behaviours such as the assumption that everything requires an immediate response or a meeting.

Instead encourage or require employees to communicate when and how they work, by sharing calendars and broadcasting working hours on profile pages, in email signatures or Slack status messages.

Falling back on micromanaging

Employers have long correlated workers’ efficiency with their visibility, so it’s no surprise there’s been a surge in paranoia over remote workers’ productivity. Companies that offer remote monitoring software have reported a surge of interest in their products. It recently transpired that managers were using Microsoft 365 to zero in on individuals, seeing how much they participate in group chats, and how much they contribute to shared documents.

Micromanagement of remote teams usually stems from a lack of trust, but it is the enemy for a successful hybrid team. Research conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 found that workers who were micromanaged while based at home felt an increase in anxiety and experienced more disruption to family life. The researchers concluded that the more a worker feels mistrusted, the lower their perception that they are performing their core tasks well, which ultimately impacts on their productivity.

While managers do need to check in with remote team members during the day and week, a fine line must be struck when doing so. The first step is trust, of course. Part of doing that is building a personal relationship with the worker – for example, asking how they are or what they did at the weekend, before talking shop. Then create clear boundaries between work and personal lives – discouraging an ‘always on’ culture and making a point that you, as manager, are signing off for the day too.

Recruiting the wrong people

Not everyone is cut out for remote or home working. Writing in Forbes, tech entrepreneur Neha Goel claims “the right candidates should be self-sufficient, comfortable working without much direction or constant support, and excellent communicators”.

Hays US CEO David Brown recently wrote about some of the traits you should be looking for in a remote worker, including the ability to “self-start”, punctuality, responsiveness and – ideally – prior experience of remote work.

Above all, regardless of where your people are based, it’s clear that adaptability will be a key in-demand soft skill going forward, post-crisis.

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