If you have a hybrid team—one where some of your folks work in a central location and some are teleworking or off-site—you have probably heard your share of whining that you’re treating one part of the team differently than the other. It might sound something like this:
“The people who work from home, have it made. They don’t have to commute, can wear what they want, and don’t get all the dirty jobs like we do when you work with the boss.”
“The people in home office have it so good. They get all the good promotions, they have easy access to the manager, and they have doughnuts at the meetings.”
These perceptions are often inaccurate and unfair to managers, but we know that how people perceive your leadership is as important as what’s actually happening. Paradoxically, one of the causes of these perceived differences is trying to treat everyone the same, rather than equally.
Here’s an example. Say that each member of your team has a weekly scheduled one on one call with you, regardless of where they work. That makes perfect sense, but the people in the office also can see when you’re at your desk and might pop their head in with a question. Or they run into you in the parking lot, or just ask, “do you have a minute?” Yes, they have the same scheduled hour your tleworkers have, but they have an unequal level of access to you.
The way to combat this might be to have more frequent, perhaps shorter, intentional, contact with the remote team members. On Instant Message asking “how’s it going?” is the equivalent of a smile and a nod in the break room.
What creates feelings of inequity?
Poor delegation of tasks
The people in the office are well aware that when you need a task done, or want to delegate something, all you have to do is step out of your office and grab somebody. The perception is that the people who work from other locations are left alone to do their work. This can cause some resentment—especially if it’s true. The best way to combat this is to be mindful of assigning tasks fairly. It’s also important that when you delegate a task, you let the rest of the team know that you’ve done so, and why you chose that person.
Poor hybrid meeting set-up
Hybrid meetings, where part of the team is in the conference room with a speakerphone in the middle and some people are dialing in from elsewhere, are common causes of resentment. The people in the room often get to talk first, talk over each other (which means the remote folks don’t always hear what’s going on) and generally dominate the discussion. As a leader, it’s important that you create opportunities for the remote team members to contribute equally and get a chance to contribute. Sometimes that means stopping the discussion in the room and calling on those from elsewhere. You might even consider holding the meeting entirely online on occasion, so that there’s a level playing field.
Missing out on celebrations
Celebrations such as work anniversaries, birthdays, and project completion are easier to conduct when everyone’s in the office and can get a slice of cake, and those at home might feel left out. Make sure you’re including remote members in your celebrations. Send a Starbucks card, or have the birthday girl dial in by webcam so everyone can offer their good wishes.
Delays in communicating important team news
When making announcements about people leaving or joining the team, or changes in company policy, it often feels logical to get everyone onsite together, then send the news out to the field. Unfortunately, the jungle telegraph works faster than you do. When the remote members are “always the last to know,” it creates resentment and a feeling that you are taking care of the office team first.
Again, we are going to assume you aren’t intentionally creating these awkward situations. They are the logical result of one group being right there, right now, and another requiring more work and thought to contact. But ignoring these dynamics can cause more disengagement in the remote team than the folks you actually see all the time, causing low morale, lower productivity, and higher turnover.
Remember, treating people equally doesn’t necessarily mean treating them exactly the same.
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.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.