Despite high-profile examples of organizations requiring employees to return to the office, the reality is that plenty of leaders continue to find themselves in the position of managing employees who don’t routinely share the same working space. Many organizations have made the commitment to continue to tap a wider talent pool, to allow for the autonomy and work-life balance that employees desire, and to take advantage of the agility that a distributed workforce is uniquely positioned to deliver.
And yet, despite advances in technology and several years of experience and experimentation, challenges related to equity, engagement, corporate culture, and human connection persist. Virtual and hybrid team leaders have learned that distance can breed ambivalence, assumptions, and misunderstandings that can be addressed more naturally and quickly by people who consistently share a workspace. And not working together in the same space day in and day out can easily compromise the sense of cohesion, identity and community that flows naturally when a team is co-located.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Leaders who have cracked the code have developed practices that address the challenges. This results in even more cohesive and high-quality results than are possible from traditional co-located teams. Here are four things they do… that you can too.
Level the playing field.
Virtual and hybrid work introduces a new bias that leaders must be attuned to: proximity bias. This inadvertent ‘out of sight, out of mind’ tendency can easily contribute to inequity around assignments, development, and promotions. But leaders who’ve become sensitive to this possibility have created systems to balance the visibility of all employees, consciously elevate inclusivity, and ensure clear and measurable expectations and standards for everyone (and use them to make data-driven people decisions).
Tune into trust.
Trust – a cornerstone of positive relationships – is built over time and based upon the experiences that people have with one another. Unfortunately, there are fewer opportunities for this to happen in a virtual or hybrid setting. For a team to operate optimally, members must trust each other’s motives as well as their fundamental competency. Leaders can help make this happen by finding ways for each person to ‘shine’ and making strategic assignments to ensure that trust builds through the shared experience of work and accomplishment.
Eschew ‘all or nothing’ thinking.
Leaders who are driving exemplary hybrid results are flexible thinkers who welcome unique, mix-and-match solutions for meeting the needs of their employees and the business. For instance, is having the whole team in the office at the same time the best model? Not for everyone. In fact, one non-profit organization encourages people to switch their schedules up so they have the benefit of building individual relationships and enjoying quality one-on-one face time.
Make the most of meetings.
Meetings are a primary vehicle for bringing virtual teams together and facilitating connections among members. While important in any setting, meetings take on greater significance for virtual teams. Regularly scheduled meetings create a cadence and predictable opportunities for people to connect. And impromptu meetings address evolving business needs and approximate the more casual way people might come together in co-located settings. Whatever the form, good in-person practices must be elevated to the next level when operating virtually with a clear purpose, outcomes, agenda, and roles as well as exemplary facilitation skills.
The arguments rage on about the future of work – and the future of the workplace. But even those high-profile organizations that are making news with their return-to-work requirements are for the most part not forcing 100% onsite presence. Remote and hybrid work, in some form and at some level, is here to stay. And the sooner that leaders master new ways to optimize these flexible working relationships, the sooner they’ll be able to see the powerful business – and human – results that these evolving configurations can offer.
Looking for more ways to elevate your virtual or hybrid team’s performance? Download this tool: Cultivating Connections With Virtual and Hybrid Teams: 26 Tips from A to Z.