Managing a hybrid team (WFH and on-site)
April 28, 2021 4:03 PM   Subscribe

The team I manage has been working from home exclusively for over a year during the pandemic. My workplace will soon allow employees the ability to work on-site in a limited capacity. Long term, most of my team hopes to work a hybrid schedule (some days WFH, some days work on-site). How can I be the best manager of a hybrid team?

What do I need to keep in mind regarding communication, team dynamics, technology and everything else a manager does? What should I think about that might not be immediately obvious? Do you have any recommended reading for me?
posted by christa to Work & Money (7 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
We're in the same boat. Some challenges:

When everyone is remote, communication is forced over things like slack/email/intranet which can be easier to keep everyone in the loop. In a hybrid situation, there will be face to face conversations that the remote people are not part of. How do you ensure others don't miss out?

If most people are in the office, boardroom meetings where you're the remote person calling in are not great, especially if you're doing any kind of workshop involving whiteboards or physical space.

I think most people have gotten used to just doing videoconferencing from their desk. This doesn't work so well in an office with more and more people coming in, especially with open office plans.

Are most managers working from the office? This might send a signal that upward mobility will be restricted to those that are able to attend in-person.
posted by kaefer at 5:04 PM on April 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Gitlab is all-remote, so they have a different perspective than most organizations, but they have a lot to say about hybrid-remote operations.
posted by wnissen at 5:24 PM on April 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

How many people will be coming into the office part time? Are they all happy about it, or are some of them already unhappy just thinking about it? Have any team members relocated outside commuting distance over the past year? How you answer these questions will affect the sorts of managing you can do.

If nobody has moved away, and everybody plans to come in at least X days a week (for some value of X) then you can just make sure that you optimize team time for the days everyone is there. Book a conference room if you have to, or maybe your office can be organized in such a way you can do team things in your part of the floor without disturbing other employees. (I used to sit near a bunch of people who all called into the same conference calls from their desks, on speakerphone, and it drove me insane).

If you can't map out at least one team day (because of non-overlapping schedules, or because of fully remote team members) then you need to make sure that whoever is remote on a given day isn't just sidelined. Avoid the tendency to listen only to the people in the room with you. Ensure remote team members have access to opportunities. Open a backchannel to remote team members so you can check in with them privately, in case they have concerns they can't or won't get across in the meeting. Talk to your bosses to make sure they're not only counting the heads present in the office.

One thing I might consider if you've never got all hands at once: make sure at least one additional team member joins meetings "remote" instead of being in the same room, and rotate that around so every team member cycles through the "remote" experience. You may find out about some in-room dynamics you wouldn't notice otherwise, like if Alice can never say anything when Bob's in the room, but when Bob's remote then Alice can actually get her points across. Then you can work on making your meetings more equitable to everyone and not just the loudmouths in the room.
posted by fedward at 6:15 PM on April 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

How do you communicate now? How do you expect that to change?

Before ~all of this~ I was mostly WFH and in the office two days a week & it was the same for other members of our team. We still did our daily meeting but it was a conference call (mostly over the phone -- Teams/Zoom/etc. may make that different now). We all saw a few of each other two times a week but I don't think we felt less connected.

Sometimes we'd have meetings where we all needed to be there. Sometimes one or two people would still have to call in. We managed just fine.

(I also remember one weird meeting where my team was supposed to meet with our customer so we all came into the office. But then ... we still met with the customer over Skype. We could have done that from home!)

I would say consistency is good -- I hated when my schedule would be changed without much prior knowledge, or when it was different from week to week. Also, depending on your management structure, having one person "in charge" in the office every day is good.

We would sometimes have all-hands meetings or happy hour-ish things so we could at least all be together. But those were only one a quarter or so.

I don't think this is hard as you think, especially now. Just keep communicating the way you have been.
posted by edencosmic at 6:21 PM on April 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Make a schedule of who will be working from home and who will be on site every day of the week and do your best to adhere to it. I had a recent brief tenure at a workplace that was hybrid and there was absolutely no rhyme or reason as to who was in on any day and who was WFH, no consistency week to week, and it was impossible to schedule meetings or get anything done. Then, they made a schedule, but no one enforced it. I had a time-sensitive issue one day requiring me to communicate with a department head and no one knew if he was working from home or at lunch. Calls to desk phone and cell phone went unanswered. I was one of the few essential staff who was required to come in every single day and the lack of schedule and then lack of schedule enforcement was frustrating and eventually led to a lot of resentment. (The job sucked in many other ways, but this was one of my biggest frustrations, especially since one of these hybrid people was supposed to be training me but was only in the office three days a week, which dwindled to two days a week, and never the same days, this making training kind of impossible.)

I'm all for flexibility, and I know that's the appeal of a hybrid work situation, but there needs to be a little bit of structure to keep things running smoothly.
posted by nayantara at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I found this HBR article a while back -- the focus was on ensuring equal access to info.

Previously, working in a mixed environment -- even with the best meeting room conferencing systems, it can be really tough to have an effective meeting with three in a conf room and three on video. I'm not sure how we'll handle this when we can be back in the office.
posted by elmay at 7:13 PM on April 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

In pre-covid times, one team I know "managed" this by having all team members be in the office on Tuesdays.
posted by oceano at 8:31 PM on April 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

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