COVID changed the way we work forever, writes Jacqui Hogan FCMI FBCS CITP. Because it happened suddenly, we had little time to modify processes, build trust, or understand the resulting fundamental changes in behaviour.

Many of us find ourselves floundering as we try to retain control over work being done by ‘absent’ workers. As the pandemic eases, we are facing a working environment where people can work anywhere. This creates the problem of how we keep team cohesion and stop people feeling (and working) like it’s ‘them and us’.

Challenges facing hybrid teams

Managing a hybrid team is just like one where everyone is in the office all the time. Isn’t it? Well, no, it isn’t.

Risks are different

We often do a workplace assessment and offer appropriate guidance to those in the office. We rarely do this for home workers. Workplace safety needs to incorporate all locations. You will also need to put additional security measures in place, if only to keep little Alex from playing on Daddy or Mummy’s work laptop and accidentally downloading their company database to the Dark Web.

Support is different

People in the office are likely to need different support to those at home. Support is easier when there are other people around to ask. Even for IT people.

Hybrid teams require a more flexible working environment

We need to feel that we have a level of personal control over our time, wherever we work. This is easy when we all work in the same place, but when we do not, it is easy for those of us in the office to feel we have less flexibility if, for example, we have to work 9-5pm, while those of us working at home do not. Alternatively, if we work at home, we can’t chat to colleagues in quite the same way, where we might chat around the coffee machine in the office.

Put more emphasis on relationships

It takes more effort to maintain good working relationships when people are not all in the same place. Many managers are already lazy about this, so a move to greater emphasis on managing people is beneficial for everyone. Increasing procedures or surveillance is not the answer.

Solutions for keeping everything (and everyone) together

Commit to fairness and transparency

Without a clear commitment to a clear set of actions designed to integrate remote and office based teams, build a hybrid work culture, or treat hybrid and in-office workers inclusively, it is unlikely that this will be a healthy, equitable place to work for anyone. If you don’t have a strong management approach, now is a good time to get one. Moreover, make sure everyone knows and understands it.

Conduct a thorough risk assessment

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Many organisations are very conscious of the risks of workplace injury in the office, but less so about the risks of those working from home.

For example, eyestrain, repetitive strain injury and back pain can be caused from using computers for extended periods. Home workers can become isolated and prone to mental health problems.

The other risk is cybersecurity. There is no easy answer to this, as it very much depends on the sensitivity of your data and systems. Any solution is likely to include a balance between accessibility and openness, together with culture and training. Don’t assume your in-office security will be enough – get an expert.

Make sure information is accessible equally

If information is not shared on a digital platform for everyone to access, there is a good chance people could be out of the loop about something important.

A company that is doing hybrid work well will share information equitably. This could be through an internal email newsletter, a company intranet, a company shared drive or some other digital platform.

Give ALL workers the appropriate equipment and tools

With a hybrid workplace, organisations need to consider what office equipment and tools to provide ALL employees, regardless of where they are working. A successful hybrid-working environment is one where employees everywhere have equitable access to the technology, tools and resources they need to do their jobs successfully.

Establish regular communication habits

Effective communication between in-office and home working team members. Implement tools for use by all beyond formal meetings and encourage frequent informal communications. Communication is key to maintaining the mental health of both in-office and home workers. Keeping them connected through these tools is a great way to ensure they do not miss the social glue of your organisation.

While it might seem easier to do everything important in the office, this will only emphasise that you consider office working to be more important. Consider running meetings and workshops with everybody joining remotely. If you can’t do this, have in-room buddies for each remote participant to keep them updated, answer their questions, and advocate for them in the meeting.

Think remote-first and always ask remote participants for their input before those in the room. Use collaboration tools to share praise and encouragement for the whole organisation to see, and hold celebration meetings online and offsite.

Accept that the 40-hour workweek is over

Put the emphasis now on productivity, where productivity = quantity AND quality of result. You can’t rely on accurate measurement of time worked, so don’t even try!

About the author

Jacqui Hogan has nearly 30 years’ experience in managing face to face and remote IT teams and co-wrote Together Works – the Ultimate guide to eCollaboration. For more on Remote and Hybrid working, watch out for Jacqui’s forthcoming book, Managing Remotely and how to keep your eTeam.