How to Create & Maintain Culture in Hybrid Teams

JTN Article

How to Create & Maintain Culture in Hybrid Teams

The worst of times often bring out the best in us and the seismic shift in how businesses have had to operate in the last 2 years is a case in point.

Left with no choice, the leadership rule book was ripped up and we all learned a new way of working, on the fly.

Now that the proverbial dust has settled the leadership landscape looks very different, requiring us to adapt to the ‘new normal’ which has become one of the most annoying phrases on everyone’s lips.

The truth is, whatever politicians say, things won’t ever be the same again because that ship sailed a long time ago.

We adapted our ways of working at lightning speed and rather successfully too. But as Bill Schaninger, Senior Partner of McKinsey & Co points out: "Previously, a lot of (work) culture centered on getting work done. But over the past 15 months, we focused on workers first, which stressed some cultures."

Hybrid is a solution that can give you and your employees the best of both worlds and can work extremely well if managed properly.

Some people have loved working from home and some people couldn’t wait to come back to the office which has left many leaders scratching their heads wondering how to structure their culture going forward.

Enter hybrid teams.

Hybrid teams split their time between working from home and working in the office. It’s a solution that can give you and your employees the best of both worlds and can work extremely well if managed properly.

This way of working gives employees the flexibility many have come to value but there does need to be a structure in place to maintain (even boost) productivity and ensure leaders still have clear oversight of their business operations.

Here are 4 leadership lessons to create and maintain culture in hybrid teams.

1. There are business benefits to encouraging hybrid teams

People are our number one asset and it always pays to value the individual as well as the whole.  Embracing diversity and inclusivity isn’t limited to minority backgrounds and disabilities.

Intersectionality is where individuals have more than one characteristic that can put them at a disadvantage.

Take single parents for example.  

They are overwhelmingly female and are often the main or only parent with caring responsibilities.  They are often outstanding employees too.

Hybrid working for single parents can be very attractive because it offers a balance that includes adult social contact as well time at home where they can put laundry on whilst they lead an online meeting.

When you need to ask your team for a little extra, leaders who proactively and visibly value a good work/life balance will find support in spades when they really need it.

But given everyone has a life outside of the office so don’t make the mistake of assuming everyone’s preferences.  

Offering the flexibility to split time between home and office working is a great way of acknowledging individual needs, fosters greater loyalty from employees, and encourages a willingness to go the extra mile when the business hits pain points.

When you need to ask your team for a little extra, leaders who proactively and visibly value a good work/life balance will find support in spades when they really need it.

As Jennifer Moss, award-winning workplace expert points out, "Flexibility at work increases gratitude significantly. It also increases job satisfaction and decreases stress, particularly for parents with children at home."

Those are qualities no amount of money can buy.

2. Check your trust issues

Managing hybrid teams presents particular challenges for leaders.

Despite popular theory to the contrary, a recent study by Becker Friedman Institute found that employees working from home, work hard.

"A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other."
Simon Sinek

The study showed that employees worked 30% more hours than before the pandemic with an 18% increase in working beyond regular office hours.  However, this study also showed the increase in effort was not mirrored in more output.  In fact, it fell by 20%.

Clearly, the reason for this was not laziness or being able to ‘get away’ with slacking.  In fact, the reason for this drop in productivity was an increase in meetings that reduced the time available to complete core work.

This may be due to a chicken and egg conundrum for managers:  When we’re unsure of how productive people are when they’re not in the office we schedule more meetings to check in with everyone.  However, the more meetings we schedule the less focus time our employees have.

So, the question is, do we genuinely trust our team?

Simon Sinek notes "A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other."

There will always be people who abuse the trust you give.  But as leaders we deal with that through performance management policies, we don’t assume the worst in everyone because of the behavior of one.

To hammer home the point, the same study found that time saved commuting was eclipsed by more time spent in meetings and employees with children worked around 20 minutes more a day.
And in an experiment by Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University professor, where a workforce was randomly split between the office and home found that the home workers were 13% more productive.  
So trust makes a vast difference in productivity when employees are working from home.  Are you taking up more time than you should be checking in with employees rather than trusting them?

3. Structure working from home days

Work-from-home days in a hybrid team shouldn’t be a free-for-all as that’s just a recipe for disaster that’s impossible to manage. Neither should they be so structured as inevitably that will create unfairness between individuals with different needs and preferences.

Nicholas Bloom, the professor who discovered that working from home really works, has added some caveats since the experiment was conducted. He says you shouldn’t let employees pick their days at home:

  • Home workers can feel excluded from in-office culture
  • There’s a risk to diversity with more women with children wanting to work predominantly or exclusively from home

So, even if employees choose to work from home for personal reasons, it can often put them at a professional disadvantage if leaders simply accept any and all requests.

When thinking about hybrid team structure, consider the following:

Mandate certain days as office days and be flexible with others

Almost all businesses have a rhythm and pattern to the working week. What are the crunch times when a lot of information has to be shared or transferred? Are there hard-deadline days that will be easier for you to manage with everyone in the office?

Coordinate in-office days

Having people come in on different days doesn’t harness the benefits of hybrid working. Just as there are tangible benefits to working part of the week at home, working in an office is more than presenteeism.

Some work activities are more productive in the office: collaboration, idea generation, and planning are just some of them.

So ensure in-office days bring together the right people. It doesn’t have to be a blanket policy for the whole business as different teams will have different needs.

Two-way flexibility

When you offer flexibility, you get flexibility in return.

Just as some tasks are better suited to the office, some are better suited to working from home. There will be times when it’s all-hands-on-deck and you want to be able to call in your team when they’d usually expect to be at home.

Conversely, there will be times employees have to focus for prolonged periods, perhaps for professional study or an important report and it would be better for them to spend the entire week at home to avoid the buzz and chatter of the office.

The point is that hybrid working has to work for both employer and employee and trust and flexibility should be a two-way street.

4. Standards shouldn’t slip

For hybrid working to be truly successful, there needs to be consistency in output and quality no matter where employees are working, even if tasks differ between the locations.

If working from home is seen as the easy option then you will create a them-and-us environment that breeds toxic resentment.

This could be true if working at full capacity isn’t possible at home due to the need for specialist systems or the nature of your business. Hybrid teams don’t work if employees can’t do their jobs properly when they’re not in the office because those in the office will always be picking up the slack.

On the other hand, working from home brings its pressures and difficulties.

Standards in employee well-being matter as much as work output with loneliness and burnout a real risk of working from home.

Jennifer Moss says, "People using flex or remote policies often do feel more grateful to their employers. That feeling of indebtedness can lead some remote employees to keep their foot on the gas until they run out of fuel."

As leaders, we must be careful not to misuse that gratitude, consciously or unconsciously.  Instead, encourage good work hygiene and offer regular opportunities for meaningful feedback to demonstrate our trust in those working from home.

Final thoughts

Hybrid teams can bring the best of both worlds to a business and its people but it needs thoughtful leadership to work.  When creating a new hybrid culture in your business, make transparency, fairness, and trust the cornerstones of it.

How to Create & Maintain Culture in Hybrid Teams
Kaitlyn Myers

Kaitlyn is a member of the training team at JTN Group in New York. She's a master facilitator with experience leading workshops & training programs for SMBs through to Enterprise organizations. Learn about JTN Group here.


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