As the world has shifted to embrace the hybrid work model, countless articles have sprung up with lists, tips, and strategies for how to best manage your teams in this new environment.
While none of these articles are necessarily bad, they all dance around the core issue causing our hybrid employees to feel more burned out than their in-office or fully-remote peers:
Lack of empathy.
Simply put, if we can come from a position of empathy to help our hybrid employees regain their sense of human connection in the workplace - all of the other ‘strategies’ will click into place.
What hybrid work really looks like
We all know what hybrid work looks like, right?
It just means that some employees have the flexibility to work in the office, remote, or wherever suits them best—but while it sounds simple on paper, the reality of hybrid work is much more messy and nuanced.
For example, unlike in-office and fully-remote workers, hybrid workers have to handle their entire workload while managing and switching between two entirely different setups - one at home and one in the office.
They also have to track which days are “office days” and which are “home days,” make sure they have all of their necessary supplies with them in the right locations and handle other personal items like child care, meal planning, and other household tasks at the same time.
Constantly switching between locations in this way breaks routines and requires much more mental bandwidth to manage effectively (which is likely why more hybrid workers have used the term ‘burnt out’ to describe their work in the last year (67%), vs. in office (63%) and fully-remote workers (54%)).
These logistical challenges often cause seemingly minor issues but they can also lead to much more significant problems. For example, almost half of hybrid workers (more than any other group) reported giving up on a task because they couldn’t remember a password or didn’t have access to a device where a password was saved.
The real fear plaguing hybrid workers—
…is the fear of missing out (FOMO).
A full 66% of hybrid employees are afraid they’re missing out on opportunities for collaboration and important “hallway discussions” when they’re not in the office.
It’s a level playing field if everyone is in or out of the office, but if some employees are in the office more than others, managers can unconsciously favor the employees they see more often.
This recency bias can also exacerbate existing gender inequities, as women are more likely than men to juggle paid work with childcare and caregiving responsibilities that keep them from visiting the office.
So, now that we really understand the challenges and fears our hybrid employees are facing, we can focus on a management style that addresses these fears and challenges in a meaningful way that increases our employee’s engagement and helps them feel genuinely seen.
Managing hybrid employees with empathy
A quick synopsis of the leading articles on managing hybrid workers reveals three basic themes we need to address to keep our hybrid employees happy and engaged:
- Setting clear expectations
- Treating everyone fairly
- Maintaining employee connection
Deep down, we know that each of these points is true and important. Still, with our managers’ ever-increasing workloads, these themes are becoming increasingly harder to implement.
So, how can we consistently meet our hybrid workers’ needs in these three areas while not overloading our managers?
1. Setting clear expectations
This isn’t just about accountability and outcomes but also includes everything from being crystal clear about work schedules to ensure your team members have the right tools to complete the tasks they’ve been assigned.
…and the key here is consistency.
So, instead of having each manager create their own informal resources like ‘return to office checklists’ and ‘hybrid worker equipment requests,’ make a single set of global workflows—including timely notifications and links to useful resources—that every manager can tap into and use.
Now your employees will feel more peace and consistency through all of their transitions and changes, knowing that you’ve given thought to the various situations they’re facing.
2. Treating everyone fairly
Gone are the days of time clocks determining productivity. Now we have to take a more outcomes-based approach to measure productivity.
Going one step further, we need to be conscious of the advantages and challenges of each work arrangement and ensure that tasks are being appropriately assigned and fairly—we may be quick to pile tasks on those we see more often. At the same time, fully-remote employees may fly under the radar.
For your team to work well effectively, they need to feel like each member is pulling an equal load, so be sure you’re assigning tasks equally, appropriately, and transparently.
3. Maintaining employee connection
Oh, you didn’t hear that?
Nothing makes a person feel more excluded than being kept out of the loop on communication and updates…but this is precisely where our hybrid friends are most of the time.
We’re careful to inform our fully-remote employees of any news, and our in-person employees have the water cooler to chat around. Still, we can’t rely on either of those methods for our hybrid employees because their work situation is much more fluid.
With that in mind, here are three quick ways to ensure your hybrid employees stay in the loop and feel connected to the rest of your team:
1) Set up a buddy system between employees with different work models
This way, your hybrid employee has someone to call to ‘get the scoop’ on all of the more day-to-day informal happenings in your workplace.
Be sure to send regular nudges to your buddies to help them engage more frequently and prevent a one-sided relationship.
2) Facilitate regular ‘water cooler calls’ with your teams
All news is important, even if it doesn’t get a formal org announcement.
Set up regular, unstructured calls to discuss any company/team updates and address anything else your employees are struggling with now.
3) Send regular nudges to managers, reminding them to keep their employees in the loop
It’s too easy to get distracted by the fires that are currently burning in our inboxes—that’s why we need regular, timely nudges to help us remember to check in with our hybrid employees, so they feel remembered and included.
Leading hybrid teams with heart
The tools and methods may differ, but from a human perspective, leading hybrid teams isn’t all that different from leading entirely in-person or remote teams. We all want to be seen, heard, and respected, and we don’t want to feel forgotten or overlooked.
The best way to ensure that your hybrid teams feel included and appreciated is to design your new processes with them in mind (keeping note of the three themes above) and then formalize each process so it’s not left up to the individual manager to execute ad hoc with their limited time and resources.
So, what’s the key to managing your hybrid workers?
A sprig of clarity, a dash of consistency, and a heap of compassion.