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Employees and employers alike adjusted to working remotely during the pandemic, proving that essential work can be accomplished and customer needs met. Now that in-person work is again an option, many companies are implementing hybrid work environments to meet employees’ new expectations for flexibility, creating new challenges for team managers.
The demand for flexibility is real: job postings that advertise hybrid environments get five times the response than those that don’t, and some professional recruiters won’t even take on positions that don’t offer flexibility, according to Jeannie Clinkenbeard, Director and Senior Leadership Consultant in the FCCS Consulting Network.
“There is a new expectation for flexibility in both work location and work schedule that needs to be accommodated at the individual level,” says Jeannie. “This naturally leads to teams that have members working in different places at different times, creating a new management situation that requires new solutions.”
The first step, says Jeannie, is recognizing that flexibility means something different for each employee. The goal should be fairness rather than equality, and open conversations are essential for all team members to understand when and how they’ll work together while ensuring that customers are being well served.
But while the work itself can be accomplished from home, there is a very real proximity bias that managers need to overcome in the interest of fairness.
“There is a perception that people who are working in the office are working harder than those who are remote,” says Jeannie. “They’re also asked for input more often, and are, rightly or wrongly, promoted more often.”
To overcome this bias, Jeannie suggests that managers track how many casual interactions they have and how much face-to-face time they spend with team members in the office, and then take proactive steps to equalize that time with remote employees. Another approach is to conduct some team meetings virtually
for all members, including those in the office. This levels the playing field, overcoming the almost unavoidable in-room chatter that leaves remote employees out of the conversation.
Jeannie also points out that it’s reasonable for an organization to expect every employee to come into the office at least occasionally – employees themselves say they’re most productive when in the office two days a week, according to an April 2022 Wall Street Journal article. The trick is to treat the office as a strategic tool rather than a destination, using in-person time for more complex interactions like negotiations, problem resolution and brainstorming.
Regardless, it’s easy for employees working remotely to feel isolated, even when the choice to work from home is their own. Weekly one-on-one meetings play an essential role in this environment, ensuring that managers stay involved real-time with their team members’ projects, priorities and resource needs. Establishing mentoring relationships, whether in pairs or groups, can also help reinforce interpersonal connections that build team cohesion and productivity. Including remote employees in recognition and celebration activities is also essential, despite the extra effort it may entail. And finally, making full use of technology that supports remote work is also key, and Jeannie challenges managers to learn and employ new tools and functionality to enhance these interactions.
“Staying updated on the essential tools to manage remote work has become part of the manager’s job,” says Jeannie. “Something as simple as using the whiteboard feature to take notes so people know their ideas are being captured can make a big difference to remote employees feeling connected to the process.”
For more information about improving your hybrid team management, contact Jeannie Clinkenbeard at 404.617.6917.