Managing Hybrid Workers

I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Our new normal is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes…and the emergence of the hybrid workspace.”

On second thought, it might have been Winston Churchill, but the takeaway here is there are elements of our pre-pandemic ethos that are bound to persist, while others will be relegated to history. On its way out: hand shaking, open-air buffets, karaoke nights in tiny, sealed cubicles, and the traditional office space as we know it.As we cautiously enter the third and hopefully final year of the pandemic, and stay-at-home mandates are lifting globally, what does the next normal look like for office workers who’ve gotten a taste of flexible living?

In JLL’s “Reimagining Human Experience” report, which surveyed over 2,000 global office workers, 66% expect to work in a hybrid model post-pandemic. This means managing a combination of in-office and at-home workers, and a profound opportunity to re-examine what efficient, cohesive teamwork looks like. Indeed, this pandemic petri dish is a once in a lifetime chance for an organization to reimagine their identity and operations to reflect the times. Afterall, most large companies were organized for a world that’s disappearing, with COVID-19 being the latest, most radical accelerator of this change.

So, what steps should managers take to stay ahead of this paradigm shift? Here is what we believe to be imperative:


Rules, rituals, and KPI’s

Starting with the most foundational element restate office rules for the hybrid environment. It may seem like a no-brainer, but managers who forgoe this step leave the door open to feelings of uncertainty and confusion, especially for new employees. Some organisations are requesting people come into the office 2 out of 5 days per week, although we’ve seen some struggle with the differing practices, environments, and mental mode required between them. To balance the rules, make sure all deadlines and important dates are given well in advance, while expectations and best practice regarding internal communications are explicit and accessible. Since ad hoc meetings won’t be so easily thrown together, it’s important to evaluate what constitute a meeting, and what can be sent through comm channels or done one-on-one. When clearly defined rules of engagement are made transparent from the outset, it sets the stage for productivity and accountability.

Rituals are a great way to build routine and culture straight into your organization. Whether it’s your daily morning meeting, celebrating successful individuals or teams with acknowledgment and rewards, company-wide seminars, lunches, or weekly roundups, rituals encourage people to apply company values to each task. With that said, and according to Gallop, “just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day.” It isn’t enough to simply have rituals and expect both in-office and remote workers to perform them. Employees need to feel they’re making a meaningful contribution for rituals to stick and become culture. If done correctly, rituals will act as a binding agent, fostering a sense of community between co-workers – now more important than ever in a hybrid workspace.

Also, consider those rituals that people do differently between home and office working. Many treat their commute to work as more than just dead travel time: It’s a time for reading, catching up on emails, learning, listening to podcasts, planning the day, catching up on reports, correspondence and so on. This time activates and engages the brain so when they arrive at the office they are supercharged and ready to go. Those working from home might do a school run, but likely they go straight from breakfast to their desk. That ignition time of the commute is not there, so consider what you can introduce into the work practices to help kickstart their day.

One of the challenges of having hybrid workers is that they are out of sight, making it hard for the manager to know whether people are working hard enough. Managers often reach for key performance indicators (KPI’s) as a quantifiable measure to gauge performance. If establishing organizational rules are the safety measures, and rituals are the bows and arrows, KPI’s are the target everyone’s aiming for. In sales and marketing, those targets include new inbound leads, average order/sale value, closed sales, and positive earned media. Re-evaluate the KPI’s to be a combination of activity and performance outcomes. Hybrid working will be less about time at the desk and more about whether the person or team has achieved their goals outlined in their KPI’s. Not only do clearly defined KPI’s allow teams to make informed decisions at a strategic level, but they’ll also unite co-workers by keeping everyone moving in the same direction.


Be Emotionally Intelligent

Each of us have our own upbringing, culture, education, and social disposition that combine to make a unique individual. But no matter who we are or where we come from, we all fall somewhere along two key axis’ – introversion vs. extroversion and thinking vs. feeling. Being able to identify other’s personality types make us better leaders and salespeople, because we can use that knowledge to communicate, coach, and sell to them in ways congruent with how they like to receive information.

It also means that leaders can structure their hybrid teams strategically, with a collection of personalities best suited for the roll and location. Individuals who place higher in introversion thrive in roles that allow them to work on their own and perform independently, while interactive activities likely drain their energy. Contrast that with extroverted and feeling individuals who enjoy creative positions involving social interaction with diverse groups, and you can see how knowing this information will aid you in deciding who works remotely for long period of time and who doesn’t.

Understanding the individuals within the team (introverts vs extraverts) can inform the level of contact and engagement each needs, how much interaction vs independent working they need. That doesn’t mean introverts want to be left alone, far from it - everyone needs human interaction, but they do want to be left to get on with the task presented. Extroverts also need time to do the work, but consider more group and team-based work with more regular check-ins.


Ensure the Right Tools and Technology are Available to Your Teams

Hybrid working means asynchronous communication will be more important than ever, and as the technological revolution continues to boom, the plethora of tools and software to choose from is virtually endless. Future-ready managers will ask their remote workers directly what new barriers they face and explore how those hurdles can be overcome with the right equipment. While improved WIFI connections, headsets, and webcams are a great place to start, ingenuity in applying these tools can make all the difference. We recommend setting up a laptop and webcam where in-office teams meet so remote workers can participate in impromptu meetings.


Militant Meeting Facilitation

While we’re on the topic of meetings, it’s worth going over some vital facilitation tips to bridge the gap presented by hybrid workspaces. We recommend daily stand-ups to discuss daily and weekly decision making, and any known outcomes. While this transparency can keep employees informed and accountable, it can be easy for remote workers to feel lost and uncollaborative when sidebars crop up, since there’s no organic way for them to interject. It is the manager’s duty to stay on top of these breakout conversations and steer them back towards the group. In fact, it is good practice to deliberately create space for remote workers at key times, which will remind those in-office to be cognisant of their communication. Managers should summarize sidebars that do occur, as well as notable comments and final decisions on topics before moving onto the next.


Don’t Neglect Workplace Culture

Some may argue that a company is only as great as it’s culture, and we’d be inclined to agree. The clear trend in the millennial and soon-to-arrive Gen Z workforce is a focus on palpable workplace culture, one that aligns with their aspirations to be part of something bigger than themselves. After all, people long to belong, so forward-thinking organizations should ensure they have more than a ping pong table in the break room to advertise to incumbent hires.

Since Zoom/Teams meetings will only grow in frequency in hybrid workspaces, consider blocking out time to make them a moment of sociability. Monday morning ‘water cooler’ meetings give coworkers a chance to catch each other up on weekend highlights, or for something more progressive, a 5 o’clock happy hour could grease the hinges and keep your team running smoothly.

While virtual socials are a fine placeholder, nothing can substitute the real thing. Managers who organize in-person socials give their team something to look forward to, improving the mental health of their remote workers, especially those living alone. It may sound old fashioned but remember you can send things in the post. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but sometimes even receiving a card, letter, brochure, certificate, etc.. can keep them feeling connected to the office and feeling valued. An emailed PDF just doesn’t do the same!


Final Thoughts

Savvy business leaders will convert uncertainty into opportunity through the crucible of COVID-19. Those who employ a hybrid model understand that effective teamwork between employees does not have to be tied to physical geography. With this blended approach, the best person can be hired for the job, and not just the best person in a thirty-mile radius. While managing hybrid teams present new challenges, these challenges may be the very thing to liberate dated structures waterlogged with bureaucracy and break up siloed factions. The next normal is one that prioritizes employee convenience and comfort, allowing them to work in the place that suits their individual needs best, which in turn will allow them to deliver their best work.


If you’re interested to know more about developing your Emotional Intelligence or how Salecology can help increase EQ across your sales and service organisation contact us today.