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How to manage a hybrid team

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 21 Jun 2021

Further lockdown easing will see employees increasingly split their time between home and office, if predictions are anything to go by. The hybrid working model offers huge potential advantages to both businesses and their staff, however it also creates management challenges, which if not addressed could cause businesses to neglect those staff less visible in the workplace.

Presenteeism, combined with a host of other stresses and strains caused by the pandemic, not only risks damaging team dynamics and causing a team divide but has already been shown to contribute to a rise in mental ill-health struggles among workers, experts warn. In particular, managers should be mindful of the risk that remote employees may be left out of conversations or decisions made in the office, and office-based staff could also have incorrect perceptions about their remote colleagues’ productivity or work-life balance.

“Sadly, many leaders still hold many unconscious, or in some cases conscious, biases towards ‘visible’ employees. The draconian view is that team members who ‘show up’ will be favoured over those who choose to work from home,” says Chris Goulding, Managing Director of specialist HR recruitment firm Wade Macdonald.

It’s a sentiment borne out by new research among 4,000 employees of a leading multinational in the thick of the COVID crisis conducted by ESCP Business School. Almost a third of respondents said they felt that physical attendance was implicitly preferred and rewarded by their organisation, to the extent that an employee working from home should not expect the same career prospects as an employee clocking in at the office every day.

But rather than force remote employees to make themselves ‘more present’, employers should instead work on eradicating any bias they may hold to ensure that all team members – whether working from home or in the office – feel as included as possible. At the same time, rethinking certain processes and

Value output over input: make management by results your new mantra, after all forty hours at a desk doesn’t necessarily mean 40 hours of work completed. “It’s time for employers to shift their focus to the success of an individual and the results they yield instead of the number of hours they put in,” Goulding urges.

Think about how your meetings will work: to begin with, gather feedback from your employees to determine how team meetings could best work for everyone. Make sure everyone in your team has an opportunity to share their insights, both personally and professionally, on how meetings attended by remote and office-based workers will work successfully, urges Lee Owen, a Director at recruiter Hays Accountancy & Finance. “Share the parameters within which you must operate, too, so that your staff are aware of the circumstances.”

Ensure every team member has a voice: during a meeting, confirm that all remote participants can hear and be heard. Allow enough time for everyone to participate. “You may like to start the meeting by mentioning that you would like everyone to contribute and you value everyone’s opinions,” Owen says. If certain individuals are repeatedly passed over or talked over, consider a round-table format, where everyone gets the chance to talk in turn.

Understand that office and remote employees have different work experiences: coming into an office where you interact with colleagues is a very different experience to working in isolation at home. Therefore, talk to your individual employees about their experience of remote working and understand what does and doesn’t work for them, Owen adds.

Create opportunities for informal conversations: unplanned informal conversations help to build team connections and improve morale, while also supporting mental health and wellbeing. So, create opportunities for informal interactions between remote and office-based employees, such as virtual Monday morning coffee chats, Friday afternoon drinks or by inviting people to stay on the line at the conclusion of a meeting for a relaxed conversation,” Owen says.

Regular communication is key: Make sure you take the time to talk to everyone, whether they’re at the office desk or home desk. And make space for virtual employees, Goulding recommends: “Allow for all meetings to take place online, even if half of your workforce are in the office with you as to avoid exclusion of those working from home. 

Send all communications out by email: It’s very tempting and human nature to share updates with those closest around you, but then forget to update the rest of the team. “Ensuring all updates are sent via email in the first instance not only reduces the risk of miscommunication or missed messages, but it allows those working from home to feel in the loop at all times,” Goulding says.