Six Tips to Assemble and Manage a Hybrid Team

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A hybrid team, consisting of full time resources combined with freelance expertise, might be a fairly new development, but the concept has been in the works for quite a while. Changes, especially within a business environment, are a constant, and companies have to be dynamic enough to keep up with continuous changes in order to survive. The coronavirus pandemic completely shifted the way we carry out businesses, and countries were left with no choice but to announce a complete lockdown. In such a precarious situation, the only solution left for various sectors was to put advanced technology to use and create a virtual workplace. 

A hybrid team is two fold. First, it allows employees the flexibility to operate from the office, as well as their homes or any other location of their choice. Second, it enables the company to bring in expert freelancers for specific projects, alongside these full time employees. Although it started out as a way to circumvent issues caused by the pandemic, the gig economy and subsequent ‘work from home’ scenarios have made working in a hybrid team the new norm, with companies starting to realize how efficient and cost-effective it can be. Thus, it is no wonder that, even though we are witnessing disease gradually fading, we aren’t ready to say our goodbyes to the changes it has brought with it just yet. 

Depending on the type of business and industry the company operates under, the respective managements have taken a call in terms of the extent to which they can resume  pre-pandemic ways of carrying out business activity. Most firms are predominantly bringing the best of both pre and post-pandemic worlds together, i.e., a hybrid team/workforce model. This  is a model under which the company utilizes both freelancers and full time resources, with the employees working partly from home and partly from the office for a week or a month. 

A hybrid team is particularly relevant in the current scenario where remote working has broken down geographical barriers, enabling organizations to widen their resource pool by tapping into the best talent for a particular job, irrespective of factors like location and duration. The increasing number of freelancers, even in esoteric domains like academia and science, has made it easier for these companies to test ideas and work on cutting edge projects without having to go through the hassle of complicated hiring processes. 

It also offers a chance for companies to build for the future, by assembling teams that combine the best of in-house talent with external, flexible resources that can supplement the company’s existing expertise and contribute to high-impact projects. Whilst assembling a hybrid team, it’s important to acknowledge that certain measures are needed in order to facilitate a streamlined organizational culture. The following tips will help companies do just that,

Hybrid Team interaction, engagement, and communication

Working from home can help employees engage in the more complex aspects of their tasks without any distractions. Co-workers spontaneously engaging in gossip with you, water cooler chats, going for long lunches, taking tea breaks, etc., are some of the shortcomings of working in the office. However, on the flip side, its absence can cause a drastic fall in human interaction altogether and burnout of workers. It can lead to social isolation, which can lead to mental health issues. In fact, the pandemic has been found to increase the stress levels of most people. As per Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy research organization, 24% of adults in the UK felt isolated during the pandemic. 

What is the solution to keep your employees from feeling alone whilst working in a hybrid team? 

Employers should make it a point to increase interaction amongst team members. Taking a sneak peek into your workers’ lives, and colleagues staying engaged in each other’s lives can aid the team in working more coherently. As a result, work gets done more efficiently than ever. Keeping in constant touch with your employees and team will also help to set goals, expectations, and timelines more realistically and clearly.,’ Constant interactions and communication play a vital role in your requirements being catered to correctly, especially if you’re working with freelancers. Facilitating effective engagement and communication will help the team and freelancers obtain  a standard view of the tasks and project at hand.

However, personal interactions should be separated from daily or weekly catch ups on shared progress regarding work. 

When it comes to your freelancers, forming a personal relationship within the framework of professionalism is essential for the smooth functioning of the business. Group or one-to-one sessions for simply catching up and checking up on one another can help employees feel like they belong to the firm. This way, employees and freelancers willingly and happily get work done. 

Since hybrid work mode is a relatively new concept, it is bound to face some challenges. These challenges can show up in an employee feeling left behind and disconnected. Hence, regular interaction, engagement, and communication can ensure that no employee feels adrift and misses out on critical information. 

Developing back to work policy in a hybrid team

With COVID cases significantly decreasing and the world returning to normalcy with each passing day, some companies are partially opening their offices while others are continuing with the work-from-home policy. In these uncertain times, clarity on a virtual work plan or how a hybrid team operates plays a significant role in being on the same page concerning fulfilling the objective and vision of the company. 

According to a recent study carried out by McKinsey, 40% of the companies did not have a hybrid work policy and back-to-work strategy, while 28% of companies were vague about it. This uncertainty of the hybrid work strategy of the firm has caused a lot of stress to its employees. 

Having a policy in place can bring transparency and help in a smooth transition to the post-pandemic world. Creating a policy for a hybrid team or remote work will lay down the rules on breaks, attendance, provision of equipment, cybersecurity, and the ratio of home-to-office hours, which is relevant if employees are given the option of splitting working from home and office. The employee handbook should also be updated with a hybrid work policy. It is vital that the same is shared through the company’s intra-web, emails, digital workspace, or a cloud-based HR management tool.  

A hybrid workplace policy will allow the employee to make informed decisions to strike a work-life balance, commute, collaborate with colleagues, conduct client meetings, etc. A policy helps outline an employer’s expectations properly and allows employees to understand them better. 

The first aspect to keep in mind while formulating the policy is to define various metrics that are important for the successful operation of the firm. These metrics can be developed after careful filtration of crucial performance indicators, which would help in the growth of the firm. Here is where the Pareto Principle can also be applied – Management should ascertain 20% of the most vital tasks contributing to 80% of the company’s growth. 

After these metrics have been determined, the days worked from home and hours worked from the office have to be optimally balanced to make the most out of every metric. This is particularly important in hybrid models involving a healthy mix of full time resources, contractors and on-demand freelancers sourced through expert networks or talent platforms.

Some days, the hybrid team needs to meet in person for brainstorming, creativity, and collaboration. On other days, they can simply update one another on their progress. The schedule of office days and work-from-home days would be devised depending on tasks and deliverables. Finally, discuss the framework with your team and make iterations if needed. Clarify any doubts and share them with the entire team.  

Open door policy within a hybrid team

A management style where the employer is accessible, available, and approachable for clarification and queries can help employees deliver better results. In the case of freelancers, it would enable them to have a better understanding of expectations and provide the same with at most precision. If managers make their employees and freelancers feel comfortable enough to approach them, then it will reduce the repetition of tasks and the time taken to finalize and close projects. The time and effort saved can be directed into newer challenges and tasks. 

But having an open-door policy can come with its costs if not adopted with prudence. For every tiny detail, trivial matter, or review, if a manager is involved, then it could prove to be counterproductive. Additionally, since technology makes all of us available in just a few clicks, management can get overwhelmed. Here, an open-door policy will enable employees to participate in goal setting, which will help them understand their roles. 

This will also raise their commitment and satisfaction with the job, and clearly define when managers need to be involved as employees would have a better understanding of tasks and expectations. Reviews and constant interactions between managers and employees will aid in a better relationship and enhance coordination. 

If the virtual connections, reviews, and meetings are planned and executed by involving all parties, i.e., managers, employees, and freelancers, then it will help set boundaries and reduce burnout. This also offers an opportunity for on-demand freelancers to be an active part of the cohort, and add greater value to the roles they are executing. This will also ensure that managers, employees, and freelancers respect the privacy of one another and enable achieving work-life balance.

Tweak assessment parameters

With the onset of the pandemic, businesses faced some initial hiccups, but soon continued with the “the show must go on” attitude by introducing work from home culture. The modern-day understanding that results speak volumes over the number of hours clocked in helped make ‘work from home’ a success. 

The availability of freelancers who are accessible from across the globe to get the job done as part of a hybrid team, tailored to your needs on an ad-hoc basis, further helped in keeping the economy running. With this new change in how things get done, there needs to be a change in assessment style by employers to manage their employees and freelancers. The management style needs to be tailored to their needs to get the best out of the team and freelancers. 

Some workers require detailed instructions and frequent one-on-one video meetings to perform well. At the same time, only a simple clarity on objectives and deadlines may be needed by others. Some workers would need a constant push and supervision but micromanaging or monitoring them all day will only put unnecessary strain on your energies and would prove to be a waste of time. Some time must be set aside to train and guide such workers to reduce the level of supervision needed eventually. 

At times there might be freelancers  within a hybrid team who might not be able deliver on time or meet the quality standards. In such a scenario, an assessment needs to be done. It could be that there is no rapport between the freelancer and the manager/ point of contact at the firm. This issue can easily be avoided by having introductory calls between freelancers and members of the team/firm in order to break the ice and establish good relations between the two parties. 

Another reason could be miscommunication and lack of understanding of requirements. This problem would never surface if regular calls scheduled with freelancer to check on progress and check if  work done so far aligns with expectations of the project. This way members of the firm can provide more clarity, reduce micromanagement and allow freelancers to produce best results at their own pace. 

An important factor for managers to keep in mind is that it could demotivate their remote staff if they put a premium on the number of hours clocked in rather than the results delivered. Therefore, management styles will require minor tweaking every now and then to suitably evaluate, guide, and interact with your remote staff and freelancers 

Flexibility

The hybrid team model is all about flexibility. Bringing emphasis to this flexibility will enable workers to plan out their day and work well. They will easily be able to decide if they can work early in the morning, during the day, or during the night. 

Making your hybrid work model a flexible one will also give employees many options. Teams and employees will be able to choose if they want to work from the office, remotely, or partly from the office and home. Such flexibility provided by the company makes the working environment and culture very conducive for employees to perform. This will increase productivity, efficiency, and the quality of results produced by them.

This new working structure undoubtedly brings flexibility but also has to undergo changes if and when required. Managers and organizations might have to experiment with different types of hybrid work models to see which one fits the best for them and their employees. For example, working out of the office can be fixed on a periodic basis, like twice in a week or thrice in a month. Or it can be decided on the basis of tasks teams and employees have that would require the use of office space. It can also be kept open to teams, departments, and employees to use it whenever they need it without any rigid rules showing to the office on fixed days. 

A hybrid work model can be devised depending upon the working model, business model, and tasks to be performed. At times certain types of tasks and projects are ad-hoc in nature, in which case it would be prudent to hire freelancers rather than fixing the working model around employees and the new task/project. This will help employees give deep work focus on the task at hand and also reduce the burden on managers to change the hybrid work model again to fit into a new task. Freelancers bring their expertise and high-resolution perspective to the specific field, making them a lucrative option to hire for time-bound and need-basis projects and tasks. This will put ease to management and employees to put in additional work and to shake up a well laid out system of hybrid work and simple experiments unnecessarily due to an ad-hoc task cropping up. 

 Change in Hiring Strategy 

The first wave of the pandemic has set a wave of change to remote working, hybrid team models, and work from home, becoming the new norms of the way industries would function here onwards. Thus, the hiring policy also needs a change. The hybrid work model reduces supervision and time dedicated to the training and development of new hires. One way to resolve this issue is for employers to adopt strategies and recruitment policies to hire candidates who are motivated, goal-oriented, and/or ideally have experience with remote working. 

The roles should be well defined, and the recruitment team should have a clear understanding of them. This will help the recruitment team to filter out irrelevant applicants. With a virtual workplace, new hires would find it difficult to orient themselves to the culture and expectations of the firm. Thus, it is also crucial for the hiring team to clearly communicate role descriptions to the candidates, which would ensure that potential hires have clarity on expectations from the job. 

This also guarantees that only candidates who have the desired skill sets are considered for remote positions. The hiring policy should also add a provision to hire freelancers. At times, firms would require experts for specific projects or tasks on a limited-time basis. In such a situation, it would be prudent for the firm to hire freelancers to get the work done. Freelancers bring quality and their expertise in a cost-effective manner. Having a standard set of terms and conditions included in a contract dedicated to hiring freelancers can prove to be very convenient and cost-effective. Therefore, tweaking the hiring style to suit the remote working style can continue to ensure that the objectives and vision of the firm are not affected. 

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