The future is hybrid, or so everyone says. Hybrid teams, which are teams where some members work remotely while some work in-person, have become a huge topic of discussion recently, and with good reason. The pandemic is still around, and so as we slowly begin to come out of heavy restrictions and lockdowns, hybridization seems like a safe bet for managing a still-risky situation.
But there may be more benefits to hybrid teams outside of dealing with continuing pandemics. Hybrid teams combine the “best of both worlds” from both remote and in-person teams. They allow for face-to-face collaboration and brainstorming, as well as focused and independent work alone. They give team members more choice, which makes them more happy and productive, while also giving team leaders greater choice in attracting talent from farther away.
As some have pointed out, hybrid teams may just be all-around better, and more capable of dealing with crises (a topic we’ve talked about a lot here). So it’s not unlikely that we’ll see a major shift to hybrid teams, even after the pandemic ends.
However, despite all the benefits that hybridization offers, it doesn’t come without its hardships and difficulties. We talked a little about some of these issues, specifically those surrounding the office and what de-emphasizing it will mean, in a blog post from a little while ago. Here, though, we want to talk more deeply about what it means to transition to becoming a hybrid team.
What that means will obviously be different for every team. And even hybridization itself, by nature, is so open to differentiation and experimentation, that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for transitioning.
We can offer a guide to some of the biggest issues and themes that hybrid teams need to think about, though. So we hope the following can help you become more aware of potential problems before you transition, and help you shape the contours of your hybrid team so that it can be as productive and resilient as possible.
Distributed development and collaboration
This will probably be at the top of most team’s minds when they think about transitioning to a hybrid work model. How can you collaborate effectively as a team when team members are dispersed? And if hybrid teams utilize both office and online spaces, what should the balance be?
These are crucial questions. The first will also be familiar to anyone working on a remote team. While the issue of collaborating remotely is far from being conclusively solved, many teams have found ways to collaborate while dispersed.
This has a lot to do with finding the right tools and the right technology. Video conferencing apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, online white boards like Miro, messaging apps like Slack, and many others allow teams to collaborate in different ways online.
The shift to hybrid will require that teams find the tools that work for them, and that they create the right spaces to use them in, both for those in the office and those working remotely. That could mean providing a stipend to improve team members’ home offices, or redesigning the main office to fit the new needs of the team.
It’s important to keep in mind that hybrid expands the options available to teams when it comes to ways of collaborating. This can potentially lead to confusion, but it also leads to innovation and greater flexibility.
A blog from Gartner has an interesting breakdown of the four “modes of collaboration” that hybrid teams have at their disposal.
As you can see, hybrid teams can take advantage of all of these methods of collaboration. The point is that by democratizing these different modes (that is, allowing team members to freely explore all these options), hybrid teams can actually increase their overall collaboration and productivity.
What teams need to do first though, is really interrogate what activities and spaces require which levels of collaboration. Do meetings need to be held online or in-person? What about brainstorming sessions? What purpose do you want the office as a space to fill on your team (a place to get together to socialize, a home-base, a place for collaboration, etc.)? Then, teams can more easily decide what activities can be done where.
Along with collaboration, issues with team development may be of concern when shifting to hybrid work, since team members will no longer be developing in the same way. But like with collaboration, with the right investment and awareness, this challenge can be seen as an opportunity.
What we mean by team development is any type of learning or skill-training that teams are given. It also includes mentorship opportunities, receiving feedback from superiors and colleagues, and team building opportunities (what we at Invite Japan love to talk about).
Again, hybrid teams need to assess individual and team development holistically. Because hybrid teams have access to multiple spaces and technologies, this can open them up to a variety of methods of team development across multiple platforms.
The use of online tools for skill learning and team building can be effective at filling in the gaps that a lack of office time can sometimes create. In particular, attention needs to be focused on younger and newer team members, who are often more in need of mentoring, feedback, and hands-on skill development. Achieving this will be crucial for hybrid work models to succeed going forward.
Equity and inclusivity
Equity is a word that’s been gaining a lot of traction lately, especially in the US. Equity is about addressing discrepancies between team members and ensuring that they all have what they need to succeed. In order to create an inclusive team of diverse people, equity needs to be assured so that no one feels left out.
In the case of hybrid teams, equity can be important in ensuring access to resources for both in-person and remote workers. This includes things like access to tools and technology, as well as time for meetings or personal one-on-ones. Also, teams should be aware of equity when it comes to allowing for flexible scheduling and time off for emergencies or burn out (see below).
Especially during the pandemic, we’ve seen that individuals and team members sometimes have different needs. Some people were comfortable returning to the office even while the pandemic was occurring, while others weren’t. Some people liked working at home, while others didn’t. Thinking in terms of equity can help bridge these divides and allow for individual team members to flourish and feel more included.
Inclusivity is also slightly more important now since it’s easier for some team members to fall through cracks so to speak, especially when they work remotely. To counter this, more attention will need to be paid to interpersonal relationships and team building. Building strong relationships and promoting more collaboration (see above) through fun activities, events and even trips will help to counteract some of the atomizing impulses of hybrid teams.
Burnout is another issue that has come to the fore recently, and there has been a lot of discussion about it in connection to the rise of remote work. Burnout is an emotional/psychological state of exhaustion or apathy, and while it certainly isn’t new, it might be connected to the growth of online work.
According to some, burnout is caused by unrealistic deadlines and problems with workflow. Specifically, multitasking has been identified as a leading cause of burnout. With multitasking, it’s easy for team members to feel overwhelmed and to not be able to concentrate on important tasks, which can lead to burnout. Team members can also easily get caught up in unnecessary or meaningless tasks.
When transitioning to hybrid, teams will need to reassess their team’s work policies and organization and the tools they use to accomplish this. There are many online project management tasks, but many of these can sometimes increase workloads or multitasking, so attention and care needs to be paid to team members’ own work styles and whether they are compatible with these online tools.
Since burnout is connected to mental health, hybrid teams need to also pay great attention to mental health issues and create a psychologically safe environment for both in-person and remote members. Again, a strong emphasis on team building and fostering inclusivity will have a significant impact on raising motivation, which can prevent burnout.
Thinking consciously about the issues above can help your team transition smoothly and effectively to hybrid work. Remember that even though hybrid work is new, the essential elements of strong relationships and teams are not. An inclusive, collaborative team where everyone feels open to share their ideas will always be a more cohesive team, whether they are working remotely, hybrid, or in the office.
What is new are the methods available. Hopefully what we’ve demonstrated above is that hybrid work models allow teams to take advantage of a wide range of tools and methods, and can remain more flexible and adaptable as a result. It might take some getting used to, but in the end, the transition to hybrid will probably be beneficial all around.
Invite Japan is committed to making your transition to hybrid work as smooth as possible. We have a number of team building activities, both online and in-person, that help build trust, communication, and psychological safety–essential ingredients in any hybrid team.