Hybrid work: 7 best practices to manage teams

Managing teams in a hybrid work environment requires careful planning and clear communication. Consider these tips from IT and business leaders
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Hybrid work models present an opportunity to mix the best of both remote and on-site work.

This model, fueled by the pandemic, appears to have widespread and long-term appeal: In a March 2021 Accenture survey of more than 9,300 professionals worldwide, 83 percent of the respondents said they’d prefer a hybrid work model going forward.

Hybrid work has a growing number of proponents among business and technology leaders, too, like Sagi Gidali, co-founder and CPO of Perimeter 81. Gidali recently told us that he and his co-founder, Amit Bareket, see “the flexible, hybrid work model as the inevitable way of the future.”

[ Want a primer on hybrid work? Read What is a hybrid work model? and Hybrid work: 4 best practices for fairness. ]

At Perimeter 81, this means people typically work three days in the office and two remotely. Other companies define hybrid work differently – for some, it means people work on-site some of the time and elsewhere some of the time. For others, it refers to a structure where some teams are entirely on-site and others (within the same organization) are entirely remote. Some companies are trialing or implementing the practice of “hoteling,” in which assigned desks are replaced by shared, reservable workstations and people come into the central HQ only when necessary or preferred.

Hybrid work model success requires well-defined structures and strong management.

All hybrid work models share a common denominator: Flexibility for both individuals and the organization as a whole.

But “flexible” should not be misconstrued as “improvised.” Talk with any leader who’s building or running a hybrid workplace, and they pretty much universally agree: Hybrid success requires well-defined structures and strong management. Consistency and cohesion are key; without both, you run the risk of essentially having two (or more) separate organizations – one that works on-site, and one that works somewhere else.

People who managed in-person teams pre-pandemic and then pivoted to entirely remote operations in 2020 will have to rethink and revise some of their previous assumptions and practices for the hybrid workplace.

7 best practices: How to manage hybrid teams

There’s already some universal wisdom on this front. Clear communication is mandatory in the hybrid workplace, managers say, for example. We dug a little deeper and asked a range of IT and business leaders for their emerging advice on hybrid team management. They shared seven essentials for managing hybrid work.

1. Create a common structure for how work gets done

Given that the hybrid workplace is a new paradigm for many organizations and people, you’re likely going to need to come up with new ways of getting things done. There need to be consistent processes and workflows across work modes and locations.

“Managing a remote workforce requires IT leaders to think ahead, break work down into units that enable team members to be self-sufficient and be confident working at home,” says Chris Fielding, CIO of Sungard AS.

While creativity and experimentation are eminently valuable, entirely ad hoc operations is not usually advisable.

You can define your own best practices for getting things done, provided they click with your team.

“Have a structure for completing tasks,” Fielding says. “Hybrid teams should have a kickoff call when starting new activities to ensure all participants have the same level of understanding of the tasks at hand. Everyone must be aware of the overall priorities, as well as the mechanisms to identify any issues that need to be addressed.”

This is part of the appeal of hybrid models: You can define your own best practices for getting things done, provided they click with your team.

Perimeter 81, for example, works in two-week sprints with sprint boards that “create a level of uniformity across the teams but are also customized to each team’s needs,” according to Gidali.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

2. Make that work visible

Visibility is the antidote to mistrust.

This doesn’t mean managers suddenly need to man the panopticon and hover over people virtually. Nor do managers need to become micromanagers in hybrid settings. Rather, you need to ensure your team is aware of roles and responsibilities and has a way to see big-picture progress without feeling paranoid or generating toxicity.

“Make work visible,” says Molly Brown, VP of engineering at Qumulo. “This can be through work tracking tools, writing, or regular team updates. With hybrid work, people are more likely to be working asynchronously, so having an effective way for teammates to check the status of shared work is very valuable.”

Katrina Bekessy, VP of technology at R/GA, emphasizes the importance of your internal IT portfolio to this visibility. (Bekessy shares more on the importance of technology tools to hybrid teams below in #5.) It’s a major factor in how Bekessy and teams select and implement the digital tools that the entire company relies on to get work done.

“One of the most important factors of these tools is providing full visibility – a glass house – for everyone to see what is happening and participate and not miss opportunities to add value to the work,” Bekessy says.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

3. Adapt your onboarding processes

Whereas many organizations abruptly shifted to remote operations in 2020 out of necessity, hybrid models are usually intentional long-term strategies. You have to consider not just the people you have on your team today, but the people who may join your team tomorrow.

[ Learn more hybrid work success strategies: Hybrid work: 5 tips to build a vibrant culture. ]

Brown emphasizes the need for managers to build well-structured onboarding processes that reflect the hybrid paradigm. You can no longer assume that people will quickly pick up on all of the “institutional IQ” that often goes undocumented in many companies, for example, especially if they will primarily work off-site.

“Bringing on new team members in a hybrid team requires that you think through all the parts of your workplace culture and workflow that may have been conveyed without thought if people were working next to each other in an office,” Brown says. “If there is a lot of unwritten information needed to be successful, the new team member will at best ramp more slowly or not find the new role satisfying while the rest of the team members will not reap the benefits of a great new person to help them get the work done.”

A general principle: New hires should have largely consistent onboarding experiences regardless of their primary work location.

4. Stay organized and focused on details

“Lots of unwritten information needed to be successful” is in general a long-term caution flag in hybrid workplaces, even for people who’ve been there for years. It may reflect a lack of organization and planning.

Depending on your particular iteration of the hybrid workplace and the size of your organization, you might go to the other end of the spectrum and document everything. This is a different way of saying: Communication is paramount when people are spread across different locations or rotating between on-site and remote work.

“When managing remote teams, everything must be documented – including project plans, notes, decisions, action items, and meeting minutes – to sustain productivity and keep projects on track,” says Hemant Elhence, president of Excellarate. “This acts as a living reference for the entire duration of the project, and, with exact details codified, also holds each team member accountable for their responsibilities.”

In the same way that functional silos are anathema in DevOps culture, communication silos should be rooted out in the hybrid workplace. If someone feels “out of the loop” just because they’re not in the office, something is wrong.

“One of the most important takeaways for IT leaders is that hybrid teams can and will deliver [results] in a phase of radical change – so long as communication and collaboration are top priorities,” Elhence says.

The details matter, especially in the earlier phases of a hybrid model as people adapt and get used to a(nother) new way of working. Consider scheduling, for example: It may be more complicated in hybrid mode, especially if you’re experimenting with hoteling or other shared workspaces or granting people maximum flexibility in terms of choosing when and where to get their jobs done.

“Managing and coordinating schedules is very important to make the hybrid teams work,” says Nayan Naidu, head of DevOps and cloud engineering capability center at Altimetrik.

Naidu points out that this requires an understanding of how many people the on-site workplace can safely accommodate at a given time, and cross-department collaboration and planning to prevent scheduling snafus.

Let's explore three additional tips for success:

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.