Manager's Guide to Hybrid Work

A complete guide for making hybrid work a healthy, high-performing way of work for your team.

What is Hybrid Work?

 

Hybrid Work Defined. 

Hybrid work means there is flexibility in where work gets done. The term ‘hybrid’ refers to mixing a traditional in-office work environment, where everyone is co-located in the same office everyday and a fully-remote work environment, where there is no office and workers work from wherever they choose. Essentially, hybrid work is a combination of in-office work and remote work. 

While hybrid work refers to flexibility in where work happens, employees, teams, and companies may choose to be more agile or more structured about how they create a hybrid work environment. In the agile hybrid environment, individual employees may decide where to work on a daily basis, in the office or from somewhere else, depending on their own needs for that day. In a more structured hybrid environment, an employee may be hired with the expectation that they are either in-office or remote and they’re expected to maintain that status for the duration of their employment; because the company supports both in-office and full remote employees, their work environment is considered hybrid. 

As you may have already guessed, there is not a definition for the ‘right’ way of supporting hybrid work. One thing is clear, the more flexibility and choice individual employees have about where they work, the less predictable scheduling and planning is for the company. (For instance, office space planning is made harder when workers aren’t predictably coming into the office). And, the less flexibility and choice for individual employees, the harder it is for companies to retain talent. (Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, a study of over 30,000 people in 31 countries, found that 73% of respondents desire remote or hybrid work options.) For that reason, many companies continue to evolve the way they support hybrid work and many companies have made hybrid work decisions the responsibility of team managers. That way, individual employees can negotiate the hybrid situation that works best for them and team managers can balance the needs of the individual employees with the needs of their team to maintain or improve performance. 

Making hybrid and remote work decisions the team manager’s responsibility makes sense, but in practice, it’s hard. Managers have always had to balance the needs of individual team members with the needs of the team and its performance. However, the location of team members has usually been a constant, mostly unchanging part of managing a team. Besides the fact that location of team members is another variable team managers need to manage, it’s hard to know what hybrid situation is best for individuals and most optimal for team performance. In this post, we’ll address how to find the best hybrid work environment that works best for your team and their performance. 

How to Communicate with Your Team About  Hybrid Work

Understand individual hybrid work needs, first.

 

Each person is going to have different needs and preferences for the way they work and they’ll have varying degrees of trust with you to share them. Some team members will have no problem asking for what they need and others may need help discovering the best work setup for themselves. While others may struggle to share details of their personal lives that can be made significantly better by a simple change at work for various reasons; they don’t want to appear as needing special treatment, they’ve been burned by a previous manager when they’ve asked for help, or they may think a change just isn’t possible.  

When conducting interviews for this post, we found that most managers expressed having some anxiety in conversations with their managers but mostly did not pick up on any anxiety when having these conversations with their team members. This tells us that it is a stressful conversation and everyone would do well to prepare for it. 

It’s the managers responsibility to know the needs of each individual team member and the team as a whole to set the team up for achieving their goals. The first step is to discover what the needs of each individual are and check in on them regularly. Below is a template of questions for current team members:

  • We’ve been working [remote/hybrid/current situation], how’s this setup been going for you personally? 

  • What would make it better for you?

  • How do you think this setup is working for the team?

  • What would improve team creativity and collaboration for you?

  • What aspects of hybrid work would you be willing to change for the sake of the team? What aspects are you not willing to change?

Building Hybrid Work Team Culture

Team hybrid work habits are the key.

 

 

No matter what your current situation is, fully remote, fully co-located, or some version of hybrid work that isn’t working for the team, you can approach a new remote or hybrid work team culture with a few simple principles. Below are a few practices for adopting hybrid work:

  • Work environment changes are always an exercise in trust. Finding the right hybrid situation for the team will require trust and this is why we invest time in building trust as a team.

  • Finding the best hybrid situation for each person and the team’s performance will require trying new things and flexibility from everyone. 

  • Communication is key to evolving the way we work. We’ll try new things quarterly and re-evaluate at the end of each quarter.

  • We’ll circulate the decisions we make for this quarter for how we plan to work and create a living document to be updated at the end of each quarter. 

  • No matter who you’re speaking with, remember the key is not to have the ‘right’ answers for remote and hybrid work, but to prioritize trust-building, trying new things as a team, and continuously evolving to meet your team's needs.

Negotiating Hybrid Work in Recruiting Conversations

Know the importance of Hybrid Work for candidates.

Attracting top talent requires an intentional format for remote and hybrid work. Saying, ‘we’re remote for now’ requires a candidate to place blind trust in you and the company. Instead saying ‘we’re remote until X date and we’ll be evaluating quarterly after that. We don’t have plans to go fully remote so some in-office time will be required in the future’ shows that things may change, but that you’ll be thoughtful about it. Some questions to uncover a potential candidates needs:

  • What aspects of hybrid/remote work have worked well for you in the past?

  • What aspects of hybrid/remote work haven't worked well for you in the past?

  • Now that you’ve met with the team, what aspects of our hybrid environment do you expect to work well for you? Won’t work well for you?

  • What are your non-negotiables for remote and hybrid work? What would you be willing to change for the sake of the team?

Understand that work location can be the most important factor for a candidate or not matter much to others. Like any recruiting conversation, you want to understand the hierarchy of needs for each candidate so that you can determine if you and the work environment can support them longterm. 

Building Trust on a Remote or Hybrid Team

The biggest hurdle to making remote and hybrid work a reality (and a competitive advantage) is that it can feel harder to build trust when you don’t see team members in-person every day. (As managers, we may ask ourselves, how do I know if people on my team are working?) However, it is possible to build trust on remote and hybrid teams, and in many cases, it can be better for teams than being always in-person (or co-located). 

Trust is so important because it’s the foundation of healthy, high performing teams. Consider the following as a pyramid of needs, with trust and psychological safety as the base of a healthy, high-performing team:

  • Trust and Psychological Safety: Within an environment of genuine care for each other, team members feel free to be vulnerable, share their opinions, and not fear making and admitting mistakes.

  • Productive Conflict: Significant problems/conflicts/divergent opinions are addressed promptly with team members focused on finding the best solution/outcome as opposed to achieving personal victories.

  • Commitment to the Team: Team members consider what is best for the team over their individual wants, even when they don't personally agree with specific decisions or directions.

  • Active Accountability: Team members feel a strong sense of responsibility for both their personal and the team's behaviors and outcomes and hold their teammates, including their leader, to this same high standard.

  • Focus on Achieving Team Goals: Team members clearly understand the goals, values, and roles of the team and continuously concentrate on accomplishing exceptional team (not individual) results.

  • Positive Impact: This team has a clear understanding of how its efforts provide value to the organization or its customers, either internal or external, and this value is recognized by its stakeholders.

  • Personal Purpose and Meaning: On this team, I find a great deal of purpose and meaning in my work or its outputs. I feel engaged with a sense of fulfillment through my work and experiences.

Now that we can see how trust is the foundation of all teams -- remote, hybrid, or co-located -- it’s important to know what can erode remote or hybrid team trust:

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is real and exacerbated on remote or hybrid teams. FOMO can happen to anyone about anything that happens without them. To combat this, it’s important to always include the appropriate people in meetings, chats, outings, etc. Be intentional about it. If you’re feeling excluded or under attack for who was or wasn’t invited to your last meeting, seek to understand why before reacting.

Isolation. It’s hard to trust team members you don’t know and isolation is a major cause of people not getting to know one another. If you’re feeling isolated from the team, speak up to your manager and ask for help. (If you’re not sure how to bring this up, chat us. We’ll be glad to come up with a few options that are comfortable for you.) If you’re a manager, be sure to ask team members in one-on-ones about how connected they feel to the team. (And, also feel free to chat with us if you’re unsure how to bring this up or identify team members that may be feeling isolated or withdrawn.)

 

Unhealthy meeting habits. Creating meeting norms for all teams is important, but especially hybrid teams. Creating agendas, circulating meeting notes and action items, starting and ending on time, etc. These are always important, but you’ll need to add a few more to the list for remote and hybrid meetings. Cameras on, limit pre- and post- meeting chatter so that remote team members hear the same things as in-person attendees, and invite remote team members to talk as they can’t always pick up on social queues of when to speak up. 

An un-level playing field. You'll want to pay special attention to 'leveling the playing field' in a hybrid environment. In many ways, co-located and full remote teams are by definition 'level' but hybrid teams require group norms for making sure everyone has equal opportunity to communicate in meetings, learn the same things (where ever they are) and performance is held to the same standard.

Now, here’s a few things you, the manager, can do to build trust on your hybrid team:

Lead with empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others as if we were having them ourselves. (Not to be confused with sympathy which refers to the ability to take part in someone else's feelings, mostly by feeling sorrowful about their misfortune.) Honing this skill is the single most important thing you can do to build trust on your team. Encourage and invest in your team members learning and honing the skill of empathy too. 


Get to know each other. This may sound too simple, but many team members forget to take time to get to know each other and to check in with each other personally over time. The value of doing this cannot be understated for building trust. Knowing each other makes it a lot easier to be empathetic too. (Pro tip: If you’re in a rut, use ice breaker questions to help spice things up with the team. You’ll learn something you didn’t know before.)


Be vulnerable. One of the best ways to build trust with your team is to be vulnerable first. Show them that it’s okay to make mistakes if you own them and it's okay to say, ‘I don’t know’. 

Show them that you care. This may also sound too simple, but remembering to check in with people and taking actions to show you care go a long way. Your team will like to hear what you say about the importance of trust on the team, but until you act and practice it, they won’t truly believe how important it is.

Show them respect. Always respect team members' time and their feelings. Don’t expect others to treat you differently than you treat them. Be and set the standard for respect on the team. 

Now that you’ve got the keys for building trust on your team -- remote, hybrid or otherwise -- what are you planning to do differently?


Someone on My Hybrid Team isn’t Performing. What should I do?

 

Performance standards for hybrid work are the key.


As workers, we all thrive on performance conversations because they help us understand where we need to improve and in many cases, they also help us understand what our performance strengths are too.  The outcome from these conversations can be learning new skills, having a greater impact, or discovering more purpose and meaning in our work. Even though these conversations can be so helpful, they require a lot of preparation for managers and they can be hard, particularly when a team member is struggling to perform.

Before having a conversation with your team member, there’s a few things you need to ask yourself that will significantly improve the quality of your conversation. 

  • Have you set clear expectations and goals for your team members?

  • Have you both agreed upon what success looks like in the role?

 

If you’ve answered no to one or more of these questions, rather than having a performance conversation, it’s time to set clear expectations, measurable goals. and verbally communicate what success looks like in the role. 

If you answered yes to both of these questions, it’s time to prepare for a performance conversation. Here’s the things to know as you prepare:

It’s important to jointly observe where expectations and goals aren’t being met. One way to do this would be to ask the team member how they're doing in the role. What to listen for:


Is something blocking them from being successful? If so, what is it? Is it something they can maneuver themselves or something you should help them move out of the way? Make an action plan for unblocking your team member in the meeting. Hold yourself and the team member accountable for getting unblocked.

Was an expectation or goal unclear to them? If an expectation was unclear, what was the expectation? Verbalize it in the meeting. If a goal was unclear, was it measurable, visualized, and progress regularly checked together? If not, those things are a great place to start with getting back on track. 

Do they have the same impression of their own performance as you do? If so, there’s no need to restate it. Gracefully agree and move onto an action plan for improvement together. Ask them to verbally commit to the plan.

If goals, expectations are clear and there are no blockers, and you’re still not aligned on performance (where the team member believes they’re doing a good job and you do not) it’s time to dig in. Start with each goal and work backwards with the team member. Ask them to articulate why performance is where it is. Keep asking why as you listen for these clues -- are they unable to ask for help? Not collaborating with other team members when they need to? Do they not understand how achieving these goals impacts the larger business and potentially that this work doesn't matter? Are they doing everything they need to and the chips just aren’t falling in their favor? Listening for answers to these questions will help you know where to take the conversation and how to coach this team member to improve. You'll have the answers you need to understand if there's a skills gap too.