The pandemic has accelerated us towards a new style of work, where the office is likely to become a less important part of everyday business life, and a hybrid system will become the norm for many. According to a recent survey by Vistage, 57% of companies are considering taking a hybrid approach, 26% are changing to a fully remote setting, and just 17% are returning to the office.
Managing a Hybrid Team
For many leaders, managing a remote team is far more challenging than having employees sitting with you in the same building. Managing a remote team effectively requires an acceptance of the need for change, a defined — and shared — purpose, trust, clear direction, engagement, listening, collaboration, constructive feedback and outstanding communication to make it work successfully.
Getting this right will help you to become a truly agile organisation, which is better equipped to handle whatever life throws at you.
So, what are the elements you need in place to help your remote or hybrid team perform well? Here are our top tips.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from legendary management writer Peter Drucker.
Creating a business culture where all employees feel part of the company is even more important when adopting a hybrid system. It is vital that, when working remotely, employees feel strongly connected to the business they are part of.
As the classic research by John Kotter states in his book, Corporate Culture and Performance when organisational culture is effective there is a positive payoff in terms of revenue and net growth. Company culture has taken a hit for many during the pandemic, so leaders need to cultivate a culture with their employees who are now working from multiple locations. Perhaps the most important aspect of company culture to focus on is shared purpose — and we believe that the best leaders will be those that can create a shared purpose with their employers.
Strong leaders provide their followers with purpose and meaning, an understanding of where the business is heading, and how it is going to get there. Competent leaders bring their teams with them along the journey, and they allow the team members to contribute to the progress and to achieve results.
Through good communication and feedback, these team members will understand their role in the business and how this contributes to the business’ success and development. Through all this, they can become engaged with the company and its team; this emotional bond often means that they are willing to go that extra mile for you.
In cases where an individual’s sense of meaning aligns with a company’s sense of purpose, the results can be outstanding.
Having the following factors in place creates high levels of satisfaction, motivation, engagement and strong commitment:
A sense of meaning and purpose
A sense of personal achievement
Recognition of good work
The opportunity for advancement and personal growth through organisational learning and development and through quality (buddy) coaching
Establishing a Buddy System
If implementing revised processes for culture, leadership and motivation is going to stretch your management resources, consider using your line management to create a ‘buddy' or 'coach’ system. This involves pairing up one of your more experienced people with a less experienced member of the team to ensure that the less experienced person can benefit. Regular contact is a key success factor here and this is a superb way to get full team engagement, as you are giving the ‘senior’ buddy some key additional responsibility.
Where this works really well is when the ‘senior’ buddy is also open to learning from their colleague, who may be more ‘junior’ in your organisation but might still have skills and experience that the more senior buddy can benefit from. This provides an alternative criterion upon which to pair people up: buddying up on the basis of knowledge or skill gaps. For example, you have two salespeople: one is the king of long term farming and customer management; the other is excellent at generating referrals through LinkedIn.
They could make a magical combination!
Remote workers can, as we've outlined, feel isolated. They miss the social aspect of the office, and they are working in different circumstances and environments. Therefore, you must communicate with your team in a high-quality manner.
The first rule is to stay in regular contact. Given the lack of contact with each other physically, regular virtual team meetings are essential.
Make sure that everyone is included in the discussion because inclusion is important in making everyone feel valued. For those attendees who are quiet, as a leader, it is your job to engage them in the meeting and encourage them to contribute. Web meetings offer great places to hide, so make sure that you draw all of them in. Splitting into online breakout rooms for one-on-one or small group discussions makes a real difference here.
At the same time, some of our more introverted contacts say that they really value web meetings because they feel like they are more on a ‘level playing field’ with their colleagues which, in turn, makes them more inclined to share and participate.
One-to-one ‘touch-point’ meetings should follow. These are the times when you can openly discuss personal concerns with each individual. For example, you could ask them, ‘How is the working-from-home set-up going?’, or ‘How are you adapting?’. If you have taken time to understand an individual’s personal and career goals, you can focus on not only what matters to the business, but also what matters to them.
Most businesses have these tools in place now, but for some businesses that have been closed, incorporating new technologies is a steep but essential learning curve. In addition, there are likely to be more technological advances to support the hybrid working approach that will be worth keeping a close eye on.
Using technology from more remote locations means that you are also potentially exposed to a greater risk of cybercrime. It is important to reiterate to your employees your policy in do's and don't's with regard to their online behaviour. Being proactive in this space has been shown to reduce the levels of fines you receive under GDPR legislation. Also, frankly: it's good practice.
Technology is a fundamental part of making remote work function well. No doubt you will already have some of these tools in place, but it is well worth reviewing your options and how well you have implemented this technology to ensure that you are getting the results you are looking for. You can also take this opportunity to renew your cybersecurity focus.
It’s easy to assume that your staff have the basics, but assuming these things without checking can make you look bad, so it’s well worth double-checking that your staff are equipped with all the tools to allow them to do their job.
Do all staff have access to Desktops or Laptops at home, and a good internet connection?
Do they regularly use a good working space with an appropriate chair?
All remote staff need to possess a mobile phone and have access to a video meeting and conferencing facility to enable virtual chat and contact. Most businesses have some version of these tools in place, but staff need to be trained in how to use the technology.
Even if you've double-checked all of the above and are confident that you have the right level of hardware, software and team competence in place, it is worth everyone focusing on one aspect — cybersecurity. Using technology from more remote locations means that you are potentially exposed to a greater risk of cybercrime, so we are going to focus on some brutal truths and practical actions you can take.
The UK Government’s department for digital, culture, media and sport has been publishing its survey of cyber security breaches annually since 2016. The March 2021 report highlights that:
Circa 40% of businesses experienced a cyber attack in the last 12 months, and ¼ of those experience one every week.
Phishing is the top method of attack, with impersonation a distant second.
The mean average cost of recovering from a cybersecurity attack is £8.5k, and this scales up with the size of your business.
One in five attacks result in permanent financial and/or data loss.
So, if you haven’t done so already, we suggest that you look at the following five actions that can help you reduce the risk of becoming a negative cyber security statistic.
Take out some form of cyber security insurance
Undertake a cyber security risk assessment
Test staff — especially those working from home — through mock phishing exercises or other practice situations
Carry out cyber security vulnerability audits
Review cyber security risks posed by suppliers
Hybrid working situations are already the norm for many companies, but this way of working means that new leadership skills are required from all involved. The only thing we can be certain of is that the world of work is changing quickly, and those of us in business need to be ready to learn and adapt quickly
if we are to thrive.
Giles Watkins and Marcus Chipchase are Directors of Tinderbox, a business providing expert advice, support and involvement on core business disciplines. Tinderbox not only advise you on what you could be doing differently, but, if required, become part of the team delivering the answer. We can help you make better decisions, reduce costs, build a more effective organisation and develop appropriate technology strategies.
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