Hybrid Teams: Finding Your Cadence

Is It Finally the New Normal?  Assessing Your Current State

After three years of change and learning in the pandemic, many organizations, managers and employees are cautiously asking whether we truly have reached some type of “new normal.”  While no one can be sure what happens next, it is a good time to check in with how you and your organization are doing with respect to hybrid teams.

First, reflect on your team’s and organization’s current state with respect to the distribution of in-office workers, telework employees (mix of in-office and at-home work) and remote workers.  This can be a useful exercise regardless of whether you are a manager or team member.

I work in or lead:

  • A primarily remote team – Most employees work at home, with some teleworkers, staff and leaders in the office either occasionally or frequently to meet needs that require a physical presence. For hybrid meetings, there are generally more people online than in the office.
  • A mixed team – A mix of telework and in-office staff, with some remote workers; these types of offices generally are considered “full-time hybrid,” meaning there are always some people in the office and online for meetings.
  • A primarily in-office team – While there may be some isolated telework or some remote workers, most of the team is in the office on a regular basis. For hybrid meetings, there are generally more people in the room than online.

These categories fall along a continuum, of course, with many variations.  Some businesses have abandoned office space entirely and come together periodically in rented space. Others are fully in-office or on-site, with occasional telework by administrative staff.

Further, within each of these groups, there may be some nuances that impact engagement, depending on whether the people online are teleworkers or remote workers. Let’s look at the difference.


Telework Versus Remote

During the height of the pandemic, many organizations allowed people to engage in remote work where possible – with little expectation of being in the office.  In the new normal, however, there is a growing and meaningful distinction between remote workers and teleworkers – and it makes a difference in how we manage and participate in hybrid teams.

In this context, we consider remote employees to be those who generally work at home full-time and come into the office only rarely when there is a targeted need to do so. Telework employees are those who come into the office on a regular, generally scheduled basis (1-4 times a week) and telework the rest of the time.  We make this distinction because in the new normal, it is becoming clear that remote and telework employees may have different engagement and social needs.

Assessing Needs for Primarily Remote Teams

Primarily remote teams generally need structures and processes that facilitate online connection – both with respect to work content and relationship building.  When the team comes together in person, it should be planned and purposeful, providing the group with experiences that they cannot get online together.  In general, this means more time for teambuilding and relationship deepening, with content-focused interactions centering on strategic planning, interpersonal skills training or complex content that is not as effectively handled online.

Remote workers may need:

  • Ongoing online social events to stay connected with peers.
  • More interpersonal engagement during content-based online meetings to stay connected with peers (more time up front to connect before content begins).
  • A local social or community structure to provide in-person connection opportunities.
  • A dedicated workspace that enables long-term focus.
  • For teams spanning multiple time zones, clear ground rules about expected work hours.
  • When coming to an office or an event space, a set of structured activities, networking opportunities and other meetings to make the trip purposeful and worthwhile. These workers do not want to come to the office and then just sit in online meetings all day.

For these teams, there may be minimal in-office administrative staff providing support, including physical mail and package handling, equipment management or a leadership presence that connects the group with other teams.  Some of these teams may have no office at all, with all physical needs being managed remotely.

Assessing Needs for Mixed Teams

At their most complex, these teams have a mix of remote workers, perhaps with specialized expertise or roles; teleworkers, who split their time between home and office; and in-office staff.  For mixed teams, it’s all about balance: meeting the needs of people working offsite more often, and the needs of those in the office.  These teams may need:

  • Both on-line and in-office tooling and equipment for active hybrid interactions.
  • Effective ground rules for balancing in-room and online interactions during meetings.
  • Clear roles, ground rules and dedicated administrative support for servicing the physical needs of remote or telework workers – so that the onsite staff is not unfairly burdened with random, “oh, since you are in the office today anyway, could you….” tasks and requests.
  • Clear telework policies with associated office space planning, to ensure that workspaces are available when people arrive without excessive space costs, and to be sure that there is fairness in work schedules and in-office responsibilities.
  • In-office social structures that build connections between staff and that acknowledge the extra work and time it takes for teleworkers and full-time office staff to come into the office – this could include in-office only social hours and informal networking opportunities with leadership.
  • Periodic “come together” events for everyone, with a focus on social interactions, relationship-building and content work, to help avoid an “us-them” divide between remote and frequent teleworkers and regular in-office staff.

Assessing Needs for Primarily In-Office Teams

This is the most “traditional” pre-pandemic set-up – people primarily come to an office or work site every day to serve customer needs. Yes, they still exist in a lot of places and industries!  These teams may need:

  • A clear articulation of why in-person work is needed, and the value it provides to the organizations’ customers and mission. This is needed for retention and to encourage an active reflection about what the organization genuinely needs in terms of in-person interactions and the value it provides.
  • Pragmatic and targeted retention strategies acknowledge the attractiveness of remote work for today’s workforce and compensate the added effort needed to come into a workplace each day.
  • Office space that reflects the in-person nature of work, but also reflects the growing awareness of how health concerns can impact close-working teams.
  • Contingency plan for if a health and safety or weather event closes the physical office, forcing other options.

Assessment Questions

Here are some questions for assessing how you are doing considering the needs above.

If you have remote workers, or are a remote worker, here are five sets of questions to ask about working from home:

  • How is your engagement level with others? How do you interact with others socially?  Are your current actions meeting your needs?  Do you feel left out of discussions and decisions?  How could you better engage?
  • How do you find out what is going on in the workplace? Who do you reach out to for informal and formal information?  Are you involved in decisions where appropriate?
  • How are hybrid team meetings going? Do remote workers have opportunities to contribute, or is participation weighted to in-person staff? Or is the opposite true, where in-person staff are not able to fully engage because of the office set-up?
  • Do you periodically or regularly reach out to remote staff to connect and build bridges to them? If not, would there be value in doing so?
  • When was the last physical engagement with team members? Is the periodicity of contact working?  If more in-person contact would be useful, how could that be achieved within budget limits, through in-office visits, local conferences, regional meetups or training?

If you have or are in-person staff, or are a teleworker, here are five sets of questions to ask about being in the office:

  • Is the value of being in office clear? Does the commute feel worth it?  If not, what could be changed to build that value proposition?
  • Do you periodically or regularly reach out to remote staff to connect and build bridges to them? If not, would there be value in doing so?
  • Do you interact with the same people over time, or is it consistently a different group each day due to different telework schedules? Is that working?  Do you need more continuity or diversity in your contacts?  How could you address any needs in that area?
  • Is it clear what is expected of remote staff, teleworkers and in-person staff and are responsibilities effectively balanced given appropriate roles? Are there coverage or administrative gaps that need to be addressed for either in-person or remote staff?
  • How much office time is spent online working in hybrid team meetings? Does the physical office space support in-person teamwork? What is missing? Where is there extra capacity?

To help you assess your workplace in these areas and identify ways to maximize the effectiveness of your hybrid teams, consider these Pryor learning opportunities!

  • Managing a Hybrid Team Series – Four modules address managing a hybrid team, building culture, teambuilding and tools.
  • Hybrid Work Environment Series – Five modules address collaborating, communicating, and time management in hybrid environments, as well as setting up workspaces and being a great hybrid work employee.

Today’s workplaces are increasingly diverse with respect to the remote-office mix – engaging purposefully to build engagement can support both the relationship and mission needs of all involved.