When you have a hybrid team, some of your team works in the office, some work from home, and some work who-knows-where depending on the day. That can make it hard to create a cohesive team. It isn’t that the team intentionally doesn’t want to work with people who don’t share their workspace, or that managers mean to exclude certain people from team tasks. But whether or not it’s intentional, it’s easy for your hybrid team to become divided.
Cliques are naturally occurring.
We often associate the word “cliques” with behavior in school. Some are cool kids, some are jocks, and others feel left out of any of the defined groups. But if we look at the definition of clique, something stands out.
“a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them”.
The important part of that definition is, “who spend time together.” When a subset of your team constantly works in close physical proximity, there is a natural bond that occurs. This can make collaboration easier, communication clearer, and work more fun. It also sets the stage for division and exclusion of other team members.
Two things you need to know: this behavior is perfectly normal. In fact, it’s hard-wired into us. The second thing is that once we’re aware of the dynamics at work, it’s relatively easy to overcome the challenges.
The default position is the easy one
The most common subgroup on a team like this is the “home team.” These are the people who work in the office together all or most of the time. Humans are both visual and highly social creatures (even introverts). Physical proximity creates social interaction, enjoyment, and enhances trust and clear communication. Working in the same space means that all happens organically. You bump into people in the hallway and have conversations. When you have a question, it’s easier to ask the person at the next desk than to type a question in Slack and wait for an answer.
The problem is not so much with people working together, it’s doing it to the exclusion of the rest of the team. When we default to the teammates who are around us, or who we can physically see, or with whom we have the most familiar working relationship, we begin to just not both including our other teammates. That sounds like it’s intentional, but it’s just “out of sight and out of mind.” They don’t mean to exclude other people, they just don’t take steps to include them more often.
Be intentional about engaging outside your immediate circle
As a teammate, take the time to get to know the members of your team who don’t work with you all the time. Take a couple of minutes to have the same casual, personal conversations you do with the people in the office. Some offices don’t encourage people in the central location to use their webcams, although it’s expected the remote teammates will have to use them. Mirror the actions of your teammates. If they’re on webcam, you should be as well, particularly in one-on-one conversations. When getting input on a project, or seeking guidance, don’t simply turn to the people across the cubicle farm. Ask yourself: Who on the team, even if they aren’t here, would it be helpful to hear from?
Managers can bring the whole hybrid team together
As a manager, you can help by ensuring communication is equal to all parts of the team. Don’t default to telling the in-house group something then sharing it with the others… you’ll be amazed how fast gossip travels, and nobody likes to be the last to know anything. Maybe most importantly, help everyone be equally visible to each other. Encourage people who might not naturally work together to pair up on work. Take time on meetings to help the team get to know each other.
And when people do come into the office, give them time for socializing. They may get fewer tasks completed, but building relationships, networking, and discovering the strengths and work styles of their teammates can be time well spent.
When we are conscious of our biases and natural behavior, we can recognize where that’s creating division or separation from people on whose good work we depend. Don’t let cliques form that might get in the way of becoming one cohesive, productive team.
This is just one aspect where the remote leader must act intentionally to head off negative consequences. The Remote Leadership Certificate Series gives you the entire set of tools you will need to create and manage successful teams, whether they be fully remote or hybrid. Register your leadership team 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.
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.