Managing remote and hybrid teams doesn’t have to be a challenge! If you equip yourself with the right strategies, it can lead to great team culture, company culture and strong relationships among colleagues.
This article is designed to help you better understand the differences between remote leadership and hybrid leadership, along with two lists of 10 key competencies of great leaders in both settings.
These lists are designed to support self-reflection, but can also be a great tool for leaders that want to solicit feedback from their team members by simply asking: How does our team stack up against these 10 key competencies?
But, first, let’s define what we mean by “remote” vs. “hybrid” teams.
A remote work team is a group of employees who work independently of each other, often in different geographic locations, yet remain connected and collaborate with one another virtually. They typically communicate using technology such as video conferencing, email, messaging platforms, and more.
A hybrid work team is a type of remote work team that follows a more traditional approach to collaboration. This means that some members are physically present in the same office or location, while others are remote. Hybrid teams communicate with each other through a combination of face-to-face meetings, digital communication methods such as video conferencing and messaging, email and phone calls.
What is the One Main Difference Between Remote and Hybrid Teams?
There are quite a few differences between operating a remote and hybrid team, but most all those differences can be summed up in one essential concept. Fully remote teams are designed to function in a remote-first way. This is a big distinction, and one that is easy for someone used to working for an on-site employer to overlook or underestimate.
Building a remote-first culture means that all the company’s technology, systems, processes, and information channels are designed with remote workers and remote teams in mind. There are no physical locations where important things happen. All-important company systems and functions happen digitally. Employees have equal access to those resources from wherever in the world they may be.
A remote-first culture requires organizations to host all systems, processes, and information digitally (even the proverbial water cooler chat). For a deeper dive into remote-first cultures, check out this great article by Pumble.
Hybrid teams, on the other hand, tend to be teams that operate one evolutionary step from a wholly-in-person team, holding some percentage of in-person work requirements, but allowing workers the flexibility of remote work with their remaining time.
Because remote and hybrid teams are fundamentally different, we’ll take them one at a time in providing advice for managers on how to manage each type of team effectively.
10 Keys to Managing a Hybrid Team
Here are 10 keys for successfully leading a hybrid team.
- Clear communication strategy. Establishing clear and consistent guidelines on how team members communicate with each other is essential for effective collaboration across hybrid teams. Communication norms for when to use email, versus when to text, versus when to call a colleague can help team members (especially less experienced team members) feel confident they are communicating in the right way with their team members. Additionally, supervisors providing standing “Office Hours” to their direct reports can also help hybrid teams stay in-sync, even when everyone isn’t in-office.
- Manage physical and virtual interactions. In a hybrid team, some team members may be in the same office while others are remote, making it important for managers to balance physical and virtual interactions and ensure equal engagement. For some hybrid teams this might include having set days where in-person meetings will be scheduled, versus days where a team member has the flexibility to work remotely.
- Flexibility. On hybrid teams, managers must be able to accommodate the different working styles of their remote and physical teams, allowing for flexible time schedules and other changes when needed.
- Individualized approach. Taking time to understand the individual needs of each team member so that they can collaborate effectively in their own ways and roles. Periodically asking your team members about their work preferences and experiences with your organization can go a long way toward making sure you don’t lose a talented team member due to something preventable (and you’ll probably earn some points just by asking your employees how they are doing).
- Trust. Trust between a manager and each individual team member is necessary for collaboration to occur, especially with members who are not physically present. Leaders can build trust in their teams by having a genuine interest in the success of their individual employees and the team as a whole, and by following through on their commitments to employees.
- Accountability. Each team member should have clear objectives and goals that they are held accountable for achieving and that align to the entire team’s success. For hybrid teams, periodic performance reviews are a must – but just make sure there is reflection/discussion about the performance of both parties: what are the goals, achievements, and challenges the employee is facing – and how well is the company/supervisor positioning them to be successful in those endeavors?
- Technology. Using tools such as video conferencing, messaging apps, cloud sharing programs, and internal task tracking systems can help ensure consistent collaboration between remote and physical members of a hybrid team. Periodically ask your team members how your technology stack works – and any ideas they have for improvements.
- Address disparities in resources. Some hybrid team members may have better resources, such as technology and office space, than others. Managers must address these disparities to ensure a level playing field.
- Mastering schedules. Leaders of hybrid teams must establish time-sensitive schedules for both physical and remote members of the team to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. Having standing meeting times every week can help ensure that schedules mostly remain flexible, but that there are also clear deadlines for work that needs done. As a manager, get in the habit of saying: “Before we get together next week, let’s list out the priorities…”
- Strong relationships. Encourage high levels of collaboration, efficiency, creativity, and morale by helping the team stay in constant communication. Managers must go out of their way to keep all team members included and visible and to maintain both strong personal and professional relationships. As long as they don’t feel forced, well-designed, periodic team-building activities can help with this – but also be sure to take time periodically for team members to recognize the contributions of other team members.
10 Keys to Managing a Remote Team
Is your team 100% virtual? If so, here is a great list of management tips for you to master.
- Fostering a positive team culture. Remote teams can sometimes feel isolated and disconnected, so it’s important for managers to create a positive and inclusive team culture that promotes collaboration and open communication. And remember that team-bonding experiences don’t need to be limited to in-person gatherings. Test out different team building activities, or schedule a standing “Progress Party” where your team can recognize their team members, and share their progress and “wins” from the week.
- Technology. This item makes both of our lists, and for good reason: establishing solid technology tools such as video conferencing, messaging apps, cloud sharing programs, and task tracking systems is essential for good collaboration across remote teams. Survey your team periodically to get a sense of how things are working, and to gather ideas for improvements.
- Trust. Yes…this is also a staple on both of our lists: Trust between a manager and each individual team member is an essential element of success, and it is especially critical with team members who are not physically interacting every day. As with a hybrid team, build trust in your remote teams by having a genuine interest in the success of your individual employees and the team as a whole, and by following through on your commitments to employees.
- Personal check-ins. Establishing expectations and setting up effective channels of communication are essential for a remote team to be successful – and regular check-ins are a great way for managers to keep remote teams connected and engaged. In addition to project and task-related updates, managers should ask how team members are feeling, what they need, and what support they require to be happy and productive.
- Foster team connections. Remote team managers should spend time helping team members get to know one another. This requires additional effort on all-virtual teams when team members don’t have the luxury of laying relationship foundations over handshakes, actual eye contact, and physical proximity. This could include regular virtual coffee breaks or informal chats, or team-building activities that allow team members to get to know one another.
- Documentation. Remote teams must have clear processes and guidelines established so that everyone knows where to find important resources, what tasks should be done, and where to go to for support. Having a central administrative assistant to play quarterback on this can also help ensure things remain organized and accessible.
- Structure. Remote teams work best when clear structures and workflows are established so team members always know exactly where their work fits into timelines, goals and strategic objectives. A helpful protocol for many teams is to periodically “zoom out” and conduct a “R.A.C.I.” analysis of all active projects – that is, who on your team is Responsible for a project; which other team members are also Accountable (so they need to sign-off on major decisions); which team members are merely available to be Consulted on the project; and which team members simply need to be Informed. On a remote team – when emails start flying around on any given project – it can be a breath of fresh air to know things you need to help quarterback, versus things you’re just being informed about.
- Flexibility. While structure is essential, remote teams are unique in that managers should also strive to allow maximum flexibility for each individual team member. Remote employees often expect a large amount of control of their schedules. Many organizations adopt an “earned-autonomy” approach, where employees start their employment with less flexibility, and earn their way to more autonomy through their performance. As long as the flexibility you provide is balanced with clear performance targets and systems for accountability, it can make your job even more appealing to high-performing employees, and it can be a recipe for great success.
- Provide support and resources. Managers should provide the necessary tools, technology, and resources that remote teams need to be effective, but also be available to provide support and guidance as needed. This support (especially for new employees) is a key to building a productive, inclusive, and empowering work environment. Without it, employees can become frustrated or disengaged simply because they don’t understand your systems.
- Promote work-life balance. Remote work can blur the lines between personal and professional life. Managers should be mindful of the potential stressors of remote work and take steps to support their team members’ well-being. This may include encouraging them to take breaks, focusing conversations on personal life goals, promoting physical and mental health, and encouraging a healthy work-life balance. It’s no longer enough for a manager to make sure their employees are successful at work – the best leaders are also striving to ensure their employees are successful at life.
A successful team leader must be able to adapt to the different working styles and circumstances of their employees – and in many organizations this means leveraging the advantages of both remote and virtual interactions with employees.
By emphasizing relationships, clear communication, trust, technology, structure, and flexibility, team leaders can ensure that collaboration is effective, and any team remains productive. With the right combination of skill and dedication, managers will make their hybrid or remote team a success.