Many organisations have found themselves with split teams, with some people working in the office and others from home. But how do these hybrid teams work successfully? And how can L&D and HR practitioners help managers and their teams face this challenge?
Understanding how different people interact can really help managers facilitate a hybrid way of working, helping everyone stick together as a team while working to their strengths.
Here are some top tips to share with your managers to help them achieve this.
1. Find the boundaries and open the conversation
First, establish what flexible working patterns your organisation could potentially offer, in order to manage expectations. For example, are there core hours that need to be covered in a particular location? Is there enough room for everyone to be in the office, taking any social distancing into account? Then open up the conversation, without assuming what people really want.
Bear in mind people’s different strengths and working styles when starting these discussions. Some people, for example, may be missing the opportunity to make new contacts. Others may find that home-working offers fewer distractions than the office.
A recent survey by Belbin on remote working found that people who are gregarious, inquisitive and prolific networkers (defined as Resource Investigators using Belbin methodology) struggled more with working from home than people who tend to undertake more focused, in-depth work that requires less interaction with others (Completer Finishers or Specialists).
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities
The move to hybrid working is a great opportunity to clarify who is doing what within a team, and how that’s working for everyone. Job descriptions may no longer relate to reality so now is a good chance to re-evaluate. Shake things up and assign work based on strengths rather than continuing with the same routines as before.
3. Create a communication strategy
When will the team get together to share ideas and progress? Will this be virtual or in person? What happens if communication isn’t working properly and who is best placed to change the status quo? This may not always be the manager. It could be that a Co-ordinator (in Belbin terms, someone who takes a broad view and consults others) is best placed to facilitate meetings and draw out individual contributions.
4. Cultivate camaraderie
It’s essential for engagement and performance that teams find time for social interaction. According to our survey, this sense of togetherness was what people missed most when they began to work remotely. Teamworkers (supportive, caring and perceptive people) are likely to be good at bringing everyone together as a unit and alerting managers when people may be struggling.
5. Focus attention on knowledge sharing
When teams aren’t all together in the same workspace, informal knowledge sharing can become a challenge. We don’t always know when someone else will be available to offer guidance, or whether our questions merit disturbing them, making it potentially more nerve-wracking to ask questions. It’s hard to recreate informal knowledge sharing – the water cooler moments – for those working from home. Understanding everyone’s attitudes to this can prove helpful when things aren’t working.
For example, Specialists and Resource Investigators are apt to share information, whilst Monitor Evaluators (impartial and discerning individuals) may need an invitation to become involved. Implementers, who take an efficient, systematic approach to work, might be tempted to push on with existing processes rather than look up and address what needs to be changed
6. Check in regularly
Hybrid working presents both challenges and opportunities. If a team was succeeding before, don’t assume that will continue – some extra effort may be needed to maintain high performance. And if a team was struggling before then physical distance and division may exacerbate existing problems.
Hybrid teams might actually experience more challenges than those working purely from home or in the office. Our research showed that people who adopted hybrid working in 2020 generally rated remote meetings (and remote working in general) as less effective than those who were working purely remotely.
Some people may also be clamouring to get back to the office, whilst others very definitely want to stick with working from home. Hybrid working policies may try to address both camps but please neither and the ‘happy medium’ may not be right for either group.
With these kinds of stresses it’s possible for a culture of ‘presenteeism’ to emerge, with home based employees responding to phone and email after hours to demonstrate that they are pulling their weight.
It’s important to address these tensions, rather than allow undercurrents of conflict to compromise performance. Managers won’t have all the answers – this is all new for so many people. Support them to work in partnership with their teams, so they ask their staff for suggestions and together try out new strategies until everyone finds what fits.
Whatever challenges teams and managers face, keep them focused on a strengths-based approach, which is proven to boost engagement and buy-in and lower staff turnover.
About Victoria Brown
Victoria Brown is Head of Research and Development at Belbin. She works closely with Dr Meredith Belbin, applying and researching his latest insights into teams and organisations. The Belbin Team Role methodology gives teams a language to articulate and promote their behavioural strengths towards more effective working and high performance.
Talk to us at the Charity Learning Consortium to discover more about how understanding your Belbin Team Roles can help build better teams.