by Wayne Turmel
When we think of remote or virtual teams, we think of groups where either everyone is scattered all over the place, or they are all co-located. Most of us, though, aren’t lucky enough to be all one or the other. Most of us have a team where you have some people working in the office full-time, and others working from home or another location (either full time or just occasionally). These are called “hybrid” teams, and they have unique challenges that can make our job just a little more complicated.
When people are often out of sight of each other, there’s a greater opportunity for misinterpreting their actions and not really know what each other are going through. Over time, that can put a stress on your team. Here are some questions leaders of hybrid teams might hear and how they can effectively deal with the challenges they present:
Where’s Bob? I need Bob. Has anyone seen Bob?
When people don’t work from the same location every day, it can be frustrating to get answers or quickly assign tasks. You and your teammates should know where people are, and the best way to reach them. Something as simple as an accurate out-of-office or status update will help reduce frustration.
What exactly does Alice do all day?
It’s not just the boss who wonders if people work as hard from home as they do in the office. (HINT: they usually do, and often work more hours) The people who risk long commutes and have to deal with constant chatter and interruptions all day sometimes grow to resent the people who “have it so easy” at home. Good Long-Distance Leaders know that the team needs visibility to what their teammates do on a regular basis.
Why do we get all the dirty work?
This is a sub-topic to the first one, and is a leading cause of resentment on the part of the office team. If I don’t know what Alice is actually working on, it’s easy to assume that the people in the office get delegated all the dirty, additional tasks while the people at home are left alone to get their “real” work done. Sadly, this is often true. When delegating tasks, make it clear to the entire team who is working on which tasks and why they were chosen. It will help reduce misunderstandings and assumptions of favoritism (unless you really are assigning all the dirty work to one group, then knock it off!).
Why do the people in the office seem like they’re having way more fun?
While working from home is great for getting things done, it can feel isolating and lonely on occasion. When you hear “there’s birthday cake in the break room,” or “we’re bringing in pizza for this meeting,” and you’re working from home, it’s only human to feel a little excluded. Leaders need to ensure that remote workers are at least acknowledged, and occasionally do something intentional to make them feel part of the team.
Why do I bother dialing into the meeting? Nobody cares what I have to say.
Hybrid team meetings are often inherently unfair to those who dial in from other locations. When everyone is in the same room, there’s eye contact, more interaction, and lots of side chatter that often excludes people straining to hear over a tinny speaker box. As well, if you’re constantly asked to contribute last (after the people in the room have had their say,) it’s often easy to assume that you’re not considered an equal part of the team. Disengagement on team meetings often stems more from frustration than a lack of caring.
Most of these problems don’t arise because managers don’t care about every member of the team equally. You don’t really “like” one group or the other better, do you? The truth is, that it’s natural to respond first to people you see. It’s easier to build good working relationships when you have frequent, rich interaction with people. If you have team members who don’t have equal access to you (and to each other) it’s the leader’s job to be mindful of those dynamics, and intentionally create bridges where there are currently gaps.
Whether you lead completely at a distance or if your team is a hybrid, you know that leading remotely requires a special set of skills. Kevin Eikenberry and I have been thought leaders in this area of leadership since there was even a thought to be had about remote teams. What’s more, we’ve got the experience to back up our research and observations. Pre-order our book, The Long Distance Leader, today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.