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6 Tips for Managing Remote or Hybrid Teams

Takeaways from Astriata’s Executive Leadership Roundtable

6 tips for managing remote or hybrid teams
January 6, 2022

How can you build a strong work culture for your remote or hybrid team? What does it take to keep remote team members motivated and engaged? Why do you need to “lead by example”—and what does that look like?

At Astriata’s recent executive leadership roundtable, “Managing Teams in a Hybrid Work Environment,” leaders from a range of businesses and organizations came together to explore these questions as they shared tactics from the field. “Working virtually is fundamentally different from working face-to-face,” said Carrie Bumgarner, Director of Business Development at Team Management Systems (TMS) Americas, a global organization with research-based programs to help teams work effectively. How we manage and lead need to be different, too, Bumgarner cautioned.

With roughly a quarter of employees working remotely in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers spanning a range of industries face unique challenges leading and managing teams, solving complex problems, cultivating community, and retaining top talent—all through a pixelated screen. How can you, as a leader or manager, achieve what you need to achieve in today’s altered work landscape? Here, we share six takeaways from our conversation.

1. Build structure and boundaries.

In a remote or hybrid work environment, our work and home lives are intertwined, with one seeping into the other. That’s why structure and boundaries are the number one challenge people experience when they work from home, Bumgarner said, alluding to the tendency to, say, clean out the garage instead of completing the spreadsheet—or conversely, to complete the spreadsheet instead of cleaning the garage.

“I think a lot of employers don’t set boundaries and have an expectation that, hey, [their team members are] home, they’re working, they can take my call or Zoom at 6 o’clock in the evening or 7 in the morning,” said John Dinkel, who runs a Baltimore-based consulting company, Dinkel Business Development. This tendency to work around the clock, without a clear separation between on- and off-hours, contributes to problems like burnout and anxiety—and the roster of mental health problems we’re reading about in the news, Dinkel added.

What can help?

Dinkel, Bumgarner, and other roundtable participants said managers need to schedule their days in time blocks, with specific times for starting and stopping work, and for working both independently and collaboratively. They said managers need to talk openly with their team about the challenges of remote and hybrid work—and work together to problem-solve and build an infrastructure that works for everyone.

2. Make time for impromptu communication.

With calendars full of one Zoom meeting after another, finding time to talk over a quick idea or brainstorm on the spot doesn’t come easily. Remote and hybrid team members can “lose out on water cooler or hallway conversations, those drop-in conversations” that can be so critical, said Jamie Beaulieu, Senior Vice President of Executive Education and CEO Programs at the American Bankers Association. “There are technologies to fix that—Skype and Zoom, for example—but people’s calendars are wall-to-wall Zoom meetings all day long, and there’s no time to break in,” she said.

In addition to utilizing the pinging chat feature on, for instance, Microsoft Teams, and the virtual “water cooler” on Slack, managers can set virtual “office hours” for employees to drop in unannounced. “When you’re in-person, people can quickly stick their head in and ask a quick question, but that’s gone in a virtual environment,” said Aline Lin, CEO and Creative Director of Astriata. “With office hours, anyone can come to me during those hours for any reason, and the designated time slot helps me structure my day.”

3. Be intentional.

Whether fully remote, hybrid, or in-person, “I would argue that it all boils down to intentionality,” said Julie Day, Director of Marketing at Achurch Consulting in Annapolis, Maryland. “If you’ve made the decision to go hybrid, what is your intention with that? Is it because you signed a three-year lease—or because that’s the way you’ve always done things?”

Get to the root of your intention, Day advised, and then figure out how to communicate with and engage your workforce. But “don’t expect it to flow like it did in the office, because it never will,” she warned. Instead, shift your expectations and “think outside the box” for creative solutions. Also be transparent in your thought process and decisions, remembering that, for many of us, we’re learning and adapting as we go—and not expected to be expert navigators of remote and hybrid set-ups. “A lot of us are facing similar challenges in this environment,” said Elyse Summers, CEO and President of the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protections Programs, Inc. “It’s important to acknowledge the new and ever-changing nature of what we’re doing—and the need to keep experimenting, integrating new ideas,” and refining our systems.

4. Know and honor each team member’s individuality.

Picking up on work habits and personality traits might be easier in person, but it can happen, too, in remote and hybrid settings. “Younger generations communicate in different ways than older generations, who email or just pick up a phone and call,” shared Bumgarner of TMS Americas. “Figure out how people like to work, and take time to understand if they’re more creative or practical in how they think and do their job, and if they’re more introverted or extraverted.” Awareness is key to effective management, she said.

Day chimed in on the topic of introversion, saying that “introverts have really embraced virtual work—they’ve been able to use their voices in a way that makes them comfortable.”

“My colleagues joke that ‘offices are made for extraverts, and this is the introverts’ revolt,’” she added. “That’s obviously a bit extreme, but there’s some truth to it.” The point, she and others said, is to pay attention to your team’s unique styles and preferences—and create an environment in which everyone can voice their ideas, without any one personality type dominating.

5. Don’t forget about accountability.

Determining how to measure accountability is an important part of remote and hybrid work. Usually, accountability involves more than appearances. “If Jane Doe is sitting there on time from 8 to 5, she’s considered a good worker,” Day shared. “Meanwhile, Jane Doe might be shopping on Amazon all day, but she’s still perceived as a good worker.”

This way of thinking is old-fashioned—and rooted in the idea that an employee must be visible to be working. “Many CEOs have the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mindset,” said Jillian Johnson, Director of Talent Management at Philanthropy Roundtable. Day agreed, saying she urges her clients “to get beyond that misperception … [and realize that] being a good worker involves a lot more than just showing up.”

“Managers need to ask questions like: ‘How am I actually holding people accountable? How am I tracking the work? What metrics and technologies can help me track productivity?’” she said.

6. Plan for fun.

Every participant agreed that remote and hybrid work environments sometimes lead to longer and more intense work hours than in-person arrangements. For this reason, it’s important to integrate ice breakers and community-building activities—or opportunities to just have fun. This relates to the need for structure and intentionality, Day said. “With the structure and tools (like the virtual water cooler in Slack) in place, we can create that feeling of comradery.”

What games and activities work in a remote setting? “The most memorable thing we’ve done is a pet parade,” said Jessica Madrigal, Executive Director of Non-Degree Programs at Columbia University. “Our virtual escape room was fun,” said Lin. Though some employees might roll their eyes at yet another community-building exercise, “the ‘human’ and ‘get to know you’ stuff matters and can be built into the first five minutes of a meeting,” Day added.

As we enter another period of rising COVID-19 cases, and as companies and organizations in some locations move to hybrid and in-person arrangements, while others carry on fully remote, the need for new tactics and approaches continues. At Astriata, we understand the complexities of the current work world and create user-friendly solutions that work for each client’s unique needs. Find out what we can do for you.

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