Managing Hybrid Teams

Since the start of the pandemic, two years ago this month, management skills have been firmly put under the spotlight. Often, these skills have been found wanting, which is not surprising given that managers are regularly promoted from roles that require one set of skills into management positions that require another set entirely. Managers are often given little or no training, coaching, or support, and they tend to manage by observing and micromanaging. This meant that when everyone started to work from home in 2020, under completely unfamiliar conditions, many managers were ill-equipped to deal with the challenges posed by this new working reality.

Over time, it’s become clear that people aren’t prepared to return to their old ways of operating any time soon. They’ve tasted the freedom and autonomy associated with having more control over where and how they work, as well as a number of other improvements to their personal and private lives, and they don’t want to go back. What’s also become clear is that models of hybrid working come with a number of challenges and that one of the best defences against these challenges is effective management.

Managing in a post-Covid world

Managers have undoubtedly learnt a lot about what it takes to manage under different conditions over the last 18 months. While face-to-face interactions bring benefits, working away from others does too – ensuring that each person has the right blend of opportunities, in the overall context of the team’s needs, is the ultimate balancing act. This is something that managers will have to think through with each member of their team, as well as with their teams as a whole.

The role of managers in a hybrid world (as with any other world, frankly!) is to care about and support their team, to provide the right “psychological climate” in which their team can do its best work, and to facilitate the development of their team members, enabling them to thrive.

Overcoming Biases: An Evidence-Based Approach

Managers that make decisions about whether to embrace a hybrid working model must do more than just rely on their own personal opinions and experiences. When we hear “I think people work best when they’re together” that is an opinion, not a fact.

People are comfortable making decisions based on their own opinions and gut instincts – many pride themselves on that ability – but research shows that decisions based on personal opinions lead to poor outcomes. This is because humans are prone to a plethora of biases – we all have them hard wired into our brains to save time and energy – and these biases can cause us to make ineffective decisions.

What to do?

To avoid falling prey to our biases, we can take a more evidence-based approach – looking for multiple sources to guide decision making and management practices. Here are the key sources of evidence to think about:

  • Stakeholders – discuss options and strategies with team members, wider organizational colleagues, and customers/partners to provide a variety of inputs and perspectives
  • Data – collect information from within the organization to help understand how well the team works under different circumstances, in terms of performance and outputs
  • Experts – find out what other managers are doing – ones that are like you and ones that are different (particularly them!) – to get a range of perspectives
  • Research – look for sources of good quality research, not articles that are simply based on one person’s experience and that confirm your opinion

Final Thoughts

Finding the right blend for your team is vital to keep people productive and feeling supported. Together you can identify the rules for managing hybrid working that work for your team based on evidence, not one person’s view or experience.

A manager’s role is to support their team members so that they can develop, grow, and perform to the best of their ability, but to do this, managers themselves are also going to need support that enables them to adapt to this changing world of work.

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