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Hybrid teams - is it the new normal?

The number one topic of 2021 is hybrid teams.

I was speaking to an old friend last week who is the CEO of a Tech Start-Up, we discussed new ideas and plans for office spaces, hybrid teams and the future of the workplace. Their business is based in Melbourne and experienced the full impact of COVID like many parts of Australia. They let go of their office space in March last year, luckily having their lease up for negotiation at that time. They are only now coming back together, but instead of an office of their own, they are using a shared workspace for their team of 14, leasing 8 chairs a day.

They are currently working through how they will collaborate, connect and work in this new world. It has been a focus for them to prioritise leadership and team building to ensure they stay on track.

Man working remotely on couch in city

In this conversation with the CEO, the topic of discussion was office spaces, hybrid teams and how work happens, and how to support productive, high-performing, hybrid teams. Getting the balance right in terms of paying for office space, when it is empty, but also allowing space and time for face-to-face collaboration can be a juggle. It is about getting the balance right. On one hand, you have to consider overhead expenses for a half-empty office space and on the other, you need to provide the right space and allocate time for face-to-face collaboration.

So, how do you create a high-performing culture when not everyone is in the office?

With some team members working face to face and others set up remotely, it can be a challenge to engage the team equally and ensure that there is visibility, and everyone is productive. So, how do you get your team collaborating? We know that the benefits help people learn and grow, solve problems as well as innovate.

Can you still drive forward collectively when they don’t see each other all the time?

A recent HBR article cited that we are “seeing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reset work using a hybrid model—one that, if we can get it right, will allow us to make our work lives more purposeful, productive, agile, and flexible.” So, this sounds like a win-win, right? However, there is a bit of work to get done to get this right.

Women working remotely from cafe with coffee


As the old saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. The companies that had already focused on culture were able to adapt and fall back on their values when times get tough.

One of my clients JVAT is a great example of this, they grew 50% through COVID-19 which is a testament to their leadership and culture through challenging times. They had the opposite problem where most if not all of the team wanted to come back into the office, they had to implement a roster system to meet the sq metre restrictions imposed in Melbourne.

As a leader, you need to create the cultural norms that are acceptable to support your hybrid team's ways of working. Communicating clearly these expectations and the parameters that people can work in is important. Creating a culture of psychological safety is critical to enable team members to feel comfortable, trusted, motivated, creative and at their best – where ever they may be working.

Place and time

Where and when the work is completed is a key factor in an effective hybrid team.

How a hybrid team and flexible work arrangements are managed is key. This requires understanding and clearly articulating the expectations in an individual's role, how they will be managed in terms of workflow and deliverables. People work with other team members to deliver tasks or projects, so this needs to be factored in also.

When will you meet?

When will you have time to collaborate face to face?

When is it okay to collaborate virtually?

How and when will you connect?

In addition, each individual will have personal preferences in the way in which they want to work. Many individuals have had positive experiences and lifestyle changes through COVID-19. Some will want to work 100% remotely and come in to collaborate and see clients, others will prefer 3 days in the office and 2 days at home. And there will be every variation in between. This will be dependent on how productive the individual feels working autonomously. Then the final factor is to ensure that the decisions that are made align with the organisation’s values and that is inclusive and fair.

The workplace as a hub for collaboration

Team in office sitting at table collaborating

Make the workplace a destination for collaboration and learning. This does not replace regular conversations when you are not face to face. Most if not all organisation’s have now put technology in place, to collaborate.

People want to have a say in how this is structured rather than being forced back.

Be clear about the purpose of coming into the office is, is it to establish relationships with team members, is it to meet or host a client event, is it for social connection. The more transparent and clear you are the more likely people will want to come back. Communication is key for a hybrid team's success.

Creating the watercooler conversations

How are you keeping the watercooler conversations happening when people are not face to face? It takes a bit more effort, but bringing this to your awareness and creating a rhythm to connect can help. Each week checking in with someone in your team to see how they are doing. Be selective, there are the natural people that we gravitate to, try connecting in also with people you don’t regularly work with to see how their project is going or help with any challenges they may be having. Make it social and find out what is happening outside of work. Try for a virtual coffee for those whose days in the office don’t match yours. Be proactive in staying connected.

What does your hybrid team look like in 2021?

Thriving Leaders Program

If you'd like to build your confidence as a leader to create and implement new leadership strategies, then our Thriving Leaders Program could also be for you.

The program is focused on first-time leaders becoming more confident, by equipping them with the leadership and management skills to effectively lead a high-performing team. The program is delivered in 2-hour sessions over 8 weeks. These sessions are interactive virtual coaching sessions, with practical and focused training in small, intimate groups to allow for collaboration and sharing. In between sessions participants, complete activities, curated readings, and videos to embed learnings.

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