Our work environments changed drastically during the pandemic, and are continuouslyevolving still. At the end of April 2022, Airbnb shared its new work-from-anywhere culture that allows employees to live and work wherever they please. In the email sent out to Airbnb’s staff, co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky shared the list of wins accomplished by the company throughout the pandemic that reported record earnings while working remotely. He also spoke on the limitations of returning to an office-only ecosystem, which requires companies to hire from concentrated areas and ultimately puts them at a disadvantage. This was a transformative stance, primarily because of the large number of corporate companies pushing employees to go back to the office. Airbnb’s leadership didn’t deny their challenges, they just demonstrated a willingness to overcome them for the company's good, and that’s how you successfully lead a hybrid or remote team. This article will discuss common obstacles with remote and hybrid teams and seven principles to successfully lead a hybrid or remote team.
Hybrid and remote teams are susceptible to obstacles that can negatively impact daily operations, culture, and productivity. Failure to identify and adapt to these challenges is likely to result in higher rates of turnover and burnout and have serious repercussions for any business. Here are a few primary obstacles with remote and hybrid teams:
“For leadership, effectiveness is measured by results produced, whereas, for employees, effectiveness is measured by team culture and collaboration.”
Remote and hybrid work environments rely heavily on written communication, making it easier to miscommunicate due to the lack of face-to-face communication. Siloed departments and low collaboration roles are more likely to experience miscommunication and misinterpret the lack of body language and tone through messaging. Miscommunication is also common when people do not communicate enough. Failure to follow up or ask clarifying questions could lead to a misunderstanding between remote team members.
Isolation and loneliness are common obstacles of hybrid and remote teams, especially with employees who work remotely 100% of the time. One way to combat this is by tackling one of the five elements people need to thrive in their lives: social wellbeing. Social wellbeing indicates meaningful relationships and engagement as it relates to the workplace. Workplaces with poor employee wellbeing often lead to higher rates of isolation and issues related to poor health conditions, higher turnover, disengagement, and cynicism.
Teams that are 100% remote might struggle with efficiency and productivity, which can lead to high rates of burnout, turnover, and dissatisfied clients. Google’s research from Project Aristotle showed that teams must define effectiveness early on. While this seems easy enough, the project’s findings showed that a big pitfall is a misalignment with the definition of effectiveness between managers and employees. For leadership, effectiveness is measured by results produced, whereas, for employees, effectiveness is measured by team culture and collaboration.
Burnout was deemed a public health crisis by the World Health Organization in 2019. It is work-related stress resulting in physical and emotional exhaustion that decreases productivity. Studies have shown that persistent burnout, or employees working more than 55 hours each week, strongly correlates to ischemic heart disease, stroke, and premature death. Burnout can happen at any job, but remote work can exacerbate the problem because of the following issues:
Not unplugging after work
Not getting regular days off to reset
Working more than 55 hours/week
Being constantly on call
Leading a remote team is challenging but it is worth it. Not only do remote teams have access to an endless pool of talent worldwide, but they also offer work-life flexibility and a decrease in time, transportation, and labor invested at work. Remote leadership may not be able to fix its problems overnight, but some principles can help lead a remote or hybrid team more effectively. Here are seven principles to successfully leading a hybrid team:
“People are a central piece to the success of a company and team spirit is the glue that holds it all together.”
Clear expectations make it easy for team members to set goals and measure progress without micromanagement. When expectations are established early, progress monitoring is not just the leadership’s responsibility but also for individuals. Setting expectations before might look like ritual building for meetings, assessing monthly goals, and showing, not telling, employees how to complete a task so that best practices are demonstrated for them to follow.
Investing in tools like timers, cloud drives, design, and collaboration platforms is critical to successfully leading a hybrid or remote team. To complete tasks without hiccups, team members must have what they need to succeed without using their resources to get work done. This looks like making sure subscriptions are covered and having enough storage space to allot for data.
By leaning into team strengths, a hybrid or remote team is more likely to adjust to the unique needs and personalities of the group. Leaning into team strengths helps individuals feel recognized and valued for their contributions to the organization. Once this is achieved, it’s much easier to understand working styles, share wins, and align employees with the company’s mission, goals, and values.
Over-communication is a critical piece of a successful hybrid or remote team. Different time zones, isolation, and a lack of face-to-face discussions make it much easier for distributed teammates to miscommunicate so it’s essential to offer updates regularly, uphold routine meetings, and ask clarifying questions. Over-communicating might look like providing context to an update, being transparent about work-life balance, and reaching out to team members about work-related things.
An agile mindset is a must to lead a hybrid or remote team. An agile approach relies on small deliverables in incremental chunks instead of large, finalized projects with a rigid deadline. When an agile mindset is normalized, teams can better respond to change, use setbacks as learning opportunities, and iterate as necessary. Operating with an agile mindset looks like setting clear goals and outlining a roadmap, then checking in often with your team to review progress and adjust as needed.
The prioritization of work-life balance is an important principle to lead a hybrid or remote team for many reasons successfully. For one, it directly impacts burnout and overwork. When work-life balance is valued, it encourages employees to unplug. Another reason the work-life balance is so important to the success of a hybrid or remote team is that it shows respect for people’s time and gives others the freedom to take off for things outside of emergencies or sick days. The best way to prioritize work-life balance is with a results-only work environment (ROWE) methodology where employees are measured based on their output rather than their input.
Building team spirit is the last and final principle of a successful hybrid or remote team. Encouraging communication between team members, highlighting team wins, and having conversations about interests outside of work are all authentic ways to build team spirit. People are a central piece to the success of a company and team spirit is the glue that holds it all together. Ultimately, team spirit is important to any work environment whether it’s hybrid, remote, or on-site, but it is more difficult to establish with distributed teams that are juggling different time zones, languages, and personalities.
Every remote and hybrid team has its challenges, and as the distributed workforce continues to grow, remote leadership will find ways to adapt to the unique challenges of leading employees located in different places. While these issues can’t be solved overnight, they can be tackled with adaptability, an agile mindset, and a commitment to making the work-from-home ecosystem as inclusive and successful as possible.