The challenges of hybrid teams

The challenges of hybrid teams

Most companies embracing remote work also have dedicated headquarters. But remote-ish teams have even more communication and collaboration challenges than fully remote teams.

For example, in hybrid teams, remote employees are often left in the dark. Office workers are often heard, recognized, and promoted, while remote workers are forgotten.

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The single biggest mistake companies can make is to opt to be remote-friendly instead of remote-first. Companies often accept the idea that remote is the future of work without creating an inclusive culture to ensure it works for everyone.

  • Remote-friendly environment: Employees are allowed to work remotely, but work is not optimized for it. There is a disconnect between office and remote employees and team meetings exclusively occur in a co-located time zone. Water cooler chat is a space for key decisions and presence is correlated with meaningful work. Communication is synchronous-first. Managers must work in the office.
  • Remote-first companies: Employees are empowered to adopt remote work. Real-time meetings are kept to a minimum and recorded. Decisions are made online and performance is measured by output, not by hours worked. Communication is asynchronous-first. Managers are encouraged to work from home.

Hybrid companies function best when the entire company is optimized for remote work. Successful hybrid teams set up processes to help their remote workers thrive alongside their office teammates.

Leadership must acknowledge the various challenges remote workers face and create solutions. Create a remote work policy that keeps remote workers and contractors from feeling like second class team members. Remote workers should feel fully connected and not missing a thing.

  • Mentorship weeks and in-person onboarding. Extend new remote team members the opportunity to meet their office peers by flying them out to headquarters for onboarding. It builds personal relationships early on that ease collaboration.
  • Get office colleagues to work from home. Create work from home weeks for office colleagues to help build empathy and understanding of the pain points of remote work.
  • Offer company conference perks. Give remote and office teammates a chance to build relationships through shared learning experiences with conferences or professional development opportunities.
  • Host company-wide retreats. Whenever possible, bring the entire team together for a few days for a retreat or off-site to accelerate bonding experience.

While these opportunities are costly and require coordination, they pay ongoing dividends.

Create an explicit work-from-home policy for office employees that extends the benefits of remote work to office employees. Clearly outline the expectations of remote workers in documentation.

Ensure your guideline answers the following questions:

  • Can office employees work from home any day of the week?
  • How many consecutive days can office employees work from home?
  • What is the maximum number of days an office employee can work from home?
  • Do office employees working from home need to maintain certain working hours?
  • Can office employees work remotely while travelling?
  • Do office employees need to ask for permission to work from home?

While treating both remote and office employees fairly, they don't necessarily need to be treated the same. Consider the unique needs of each group and create policies and perks that address them.

  • Office employees only can receive public transit credits, free coffee and snacks, Friday catered lunches, and an on-site fitness facility.
  • Remote employees only can receive a home office budget, healthy snacks or coffee shop allowance, and internet subsidy, one annual trip to HQ.

Remote-ish teams should adopt asynchronous communication as the primary source of correspondence.

  • Synchronous communication, where a quick back-and-forth conversation is possible, falls short for remote-ish teams. Synchronous-first teams encourage an always-on culture, defaults to meetings, relies on time zone coordination and real-time collaboration.
  • Asynchronous communication serves hybrid teams, where participants communicate when they're available and discussion occurs intermittently. Asynchronous-first teams default to writing, choose their own productive working hours, and default to undisturbed deep work.

A few important areas where centralized and accessible documentation should exist:

  • Company policies, core values, and operating principles
  • Project management system guidelines
  • Critical service outage instructions
  • Technical implementation resources
  • Product and project roadmaps
  • Career development paths
  • Decisions should be documented and the next steps put in writing

Clear and concise documentation is crucial to empower individuals and teams with the information needed to do their work. It allows remote individuals to work more independently without having to wait for an answer.

Video calls and other forms of synchronous communication still serves a function. However, synchronous communication should be made available asynchronously:

  • For occasional synchronous meetings, find reasonable time for everyone. Ensure ideal time slots are rotated between team members.
  • Try having everyone call in from their respective desks and computers to eliminate side conversations.
  • Record video calls and make them available for viewing later in a central place for all team members.

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RELATED IDEAS

There are mainly two ways to communicate within a company: synchronous and asynchronous communication. While the second type has always been widely practiced, as face-to-face meetings or any other in-person communication, the second type is just slowly being discovered. 

In fact, asynchronous communication enables team members to respond to their colleagues whenever they can, without putting pressure on them that the answer should be provided immediately.

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A Central Management Tool

Physical presence does play a large part in moving our projects forward. Managing a project remotely requires a diligent and transparent approach to keep track and maintain the various tasks, deadlines and processes.

It's important to deploy a project management tool, assigning each different task to all the team members. Have regular check-ins and status update meetings. Having a singular place for distributing information ensures that team members do not complain that they were not updated or didn’t know where the specific file was.

Argument against remote work

The argument is that while remote employees may be more personally productive, the team creativity and innovation suffer. People really need spontaneous interactions at the water cooler or break room or at happy hours to foster serendipity that drives innovation.

People who support the Office-Serendipity Theory of Innovation like to cite Jobs' views to support the idea that "most people should work in an office." But the theory suffers from anecdotal evidence of chance office encounters.

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