Managing Hybrid Work Teams Equitably
I’m managing a hybrid work team - how can I make sure both in office and remote employees are treated equally?
Changing the Question
I infer from the question that your team is a mix of employees who mostly work remotely and those who mostly work in the office. In fact, in-office and remote employees can’t be treated “equally” because the different work environments create inequality in terms of access to physical resources as well as the psychological experience of being with colleagues in person versus through a screen or telephone. Rather, the challenge is how to create equity and fairness to mitigate the unequal elements between in-office and remote employees.
Unequal Access to Physical Resources
To maximize the performance of remote employees, they need to have the equipment to do their job well: a decent computer and relevant applications, high-speed internet connection, and a decent space in which to work. Additional equipment could be a printer and paper, and typical office supplies and any other physical resources they would normally use if they were in the office.
Of course, an important physical resource in the office is people: colleagues, business partners, customers. Do remote employees have access to folks in IT, HR, and people in other units? But access is only one part of the equation. The aspects and effects of moment-to-moment interactions between people—particularly colleagues and partners—are harder to replicate for remote employees.
Managing a Hybrid Team
Managers whose team is a mix of primarily in-office and primarily remote have a variety of steps they can take to take steps towards equity, aside for addressing physical resource needs. The suggestions below help to address the cognitive biases that can lead to inequity between remote and hybrid employees. We all have cognitive biases—they are mental shortcuts that free us up from thinking deeply to understand and interpret the multitude of stimuli we are confronted with daily. But those biases can also mislead us in various ways, and in doing so, create an unintentional disservice to others.
Managers can track the assignments they give out—who gets them and why. The act of tracking can help managers think more fairly about who gets a given assignment, and what criteria are used. It’s an opportunity to pause and think about all employees in the working group—remote and in person—and who might be the best fit and why.
Spend Time Working Remotely
Managers should spend at least some time working remotely. This will give them a sense of the advantages and challenges of what it’s like for remote employees, and ways to mitigate negative effects. It will also dampen a tendency to favor people who managers see in person.
Criteria for Productive Employees
Pre-pandemic, managers may erroneously have been vulnerable to viewing time-in-seat as a measure of an employee’s dedication and productivity. With a hybrid workforce, there may be a temptation to use that same metric—advantaging in-person employees. The reality is that productivity and dedication aren’t necessarily associated with time-in-seat. Managers need to take time to figure out how they’ll know whether employees are doing their jobs well—what the criteria are. Those criteria should be explicit and shared with employees so they know what the managers values.
Clear, Concise Communication
Clear, concise communication is always important, but for remote or hybrid teams, it’s particularly important, since we tell when someone is available for a quick tap on the shoulder to ask a quick clarifying question. Yes, we can email or text, but that is more formal. Managers can dust off their high school or college writing skills and read over their communication, putting themselves in the minds of their teammates, asking themselves if they are clear—is more information needed? Is there too much information so the important parts get lost?
Another aspect of clear and concise communication is the frequency of it—too much and it can feel like spam to the receiver. Not enough, and the team may not have enough direction. The goal is to provide enough direction for everyone to be aligned on the mission, the goal, what they each need to do, and how to get there. Check in with each team member to find the right cadence for that person.
Take-Home Message (no pun intended)
The bottom line is that hybrid workplaces will ask new and additional skills of managers. Quick actions will tend to favor the cognitive biases that we all have. Thus, part of the effort to prevent or mitigate inequity involves pausing to think through and troubleshoot possible downsides, alternative paths, and possible solutions.
Disclaimer: This question and response is provided for informational purposes only, and you should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. It is strongly recommended that you immediately seek legal or other professional advice if you believe you are experiencing a problem requiring professional assistance. Robin Rosenberg and Live in Their World, Inc. disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on Dear Robin content.