Of the many changes to the working world that emerged after the COVID-19 pandemic, few seem poised to have a greater lasting influence than the rise of hybrid teams. With the number of freelancers in the United States estimated to exceed 90 million by 2028, more and more businesses are now using a mix of in-office, full-time employees and remote contingent workers.
While a hybrid team can make it easier to find top talent, keeping your hybrid team members fully engaged is sometimes easier said than done. To achieve this, leaders must actively seek to strengthen the ties between their remote and in-office staff, as doing so can have a very real impact on the bottom line.
You shouldn’t subject remote workers to extra-strict accountability practices just because they are working remotely.
Most of our remote-work interactions have been with our immediate colleagues and focused largely on the tasks at hand—research from Microsoft suggests that cross-functional collaboration went down by 25 percent as interactions within groups increased during the pandemic.
But fragmentation isn’t a byproduct of remote work. It results from a lack of intentional bridgebuilding to link discrete groups and regions. Silos were certainly prevalent before the pandemic—hybrid work has simply created new requirements for effectively connecting teams that must work together to achieve shared outcomes. Here’s how you can begin.
It All Starts With Onboarding
If you truly wish to strengthen ties between your hybrid workers and the rest of your staff, you must begin during the onboarding process.
“Technology can go a long way in streamlining the onboarding of remote employees,” Adam Rusak, managing director of adrytech, explained in a recent email conversation. “Video presentations can provide an overview of how your team operates. Get-to-know-you chats or video calls can help introduce the hybrid worker to the rest of the team. Think of these as the digital versions of what you would do when onboarding a new employee who would be spending all their time in the office. If it’s something you do face-to-face, you need to consider how to provide an equivalent experience to someone working remotely so everyone can start off on equal footing.”
In addition, you should account for challenges unique to remote employees, such as setting up equipment or tech accounts. Employers may need to dedicate extra time and communications for such steps, as hybrid workers won’t have someone in the office at their side to help them.
Those onboarding efforts can pay big dividends. According to Glassdoor, strong onboarding processes improve retention of new hires by 82 percent, while also boosting productivity by over 70 percent.
Virtual communication—or a lack thereof—is another major concern with hybrid teams. It is all too easy for remote workers to feel isolated and cut off from the rest of the team due to a lack of communication. After all, they don’t have the option of stopping you in the hall or going into your office when they have questions.
“Project management and digital communication tools are essential for keeping hybrid workers in the loop,” Rusak said. “Your office should have a clear communication hierarchy—such as using a specific Slack channel for urgent requests, email for routine updates, and so on. You should also specify situations that warrant a Zoom call or phone conversation for more in-depth discussions. A clearly established communication plan that includes regular updates helps keep everyone on the same page so nothing slips through the cracks.”
Ensuring that regular check-ins are scheduled with each hybrid worker for projects they are involved with can go a long way in helping to combat the sense of isolation that is common among remote employees. This can also prevent miscommunications that disrupt progress on key projects. Don’t forget to allow time for non-work related conversations, either.
Adding a company Slack channel for small talk or asking get to know you questions at the start of a meeting can help hybrid workers form connections with their colleagues and feel more like part of the group. Such actions can help build organizational solidarity and a shared sense of purpose as they come to know and trust one another.
One person I interviewed said it well: “My default position with other departments has been to assume the worst. But when they show up with that level of commitment to me, I knew I had to trust them.” These results are further evidence of what my own 15-year longitudinal study revealed: Stronger cross-functional relationships are six times more likely to produce trustworthy behavior.
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Focus on Fairness
Accountability from hybrid workers is a major concern for many organizational leaders—and understandably so. Leaders can easily see whether someone in the office is doing their work and focused on their responsibilities. This isn’t possible with someone who is working from home.
Unfortunately, many leaders take this as a reason to go overboard on accountability for remote workers. Employee-monitoring software can go beyond monitoring communications—even tracking every click or moment that someone steps away from their desk.
The problem, however, is that this creates an overwhelming “Big Brother” situation for hybrid workers. They don’t feel like leadership trusts them to complete their work, and when they see that in-office employees aren’t micromanaged in this way, they can become resentful.
Leaders should always be upfront about their accountability standards, and strive to treat in-office and remote employees fairly. You shouldn’t subject remote workers to extra-strict accountability practices just because they are working remotely.
Fairness in accountability should be focused on results above else. When team members feel trusted and respected, they will deliver higher-quality work because they can focus on the task at hand rather than worry about who is literally or digitally watching over their shoulder.
Helping Hybrid Workers Thrive
While hybrid work environments certainly introduce their fair share of challenges, a strong leadership approach will ensure that both in-office and remote workers can thrive.
By treating all workers with the respect and dignity they deserve and aiming to provide a consistent experience for all, you can foster greater unity among your team and enable them to reach their full potential.
Ron Carucci is an Advisory Board member of Ethical Systems as well as cofounder and managing partner at Navalent. He is the bestselling author of eight books, and his work has been featured in Fortune, CEO Magazine, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider, MSNBC, BusinessWeek, and Smart Business.
Reprinted with permission from Forbes.