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Making Hybrid Work More Permanent? Set Some Ground Rules

May 21, 2021

Contributor: Matt Cain

Use these common-sense approaches to combat anxiety and boost unity and efficiency for hybrid and remote teams.

By 2022, 25% of the global knowledge workforce will choose their home as the primary workplace, and 45% of the workforce will be working from home two to three days per week. Some employees are thrilled at the prospect. Others, not so much. 

For many employees, the novelty of working from home has already worn off, and they’re anxious about the possibility of a permanent move to a hybrid work environment. You can help reduce their anxiety with some simple ground rules for virtual interactions and other work challenges that are unique to remote and hybrid work teams. 

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Three ways to improve life for hybrid and remote teams

You’ll need to customize your guidelines to ensure a good fit for each team and for your corporate culture, but it helps to focus ground rules on improving three aspects of remote and hybrid team work.

No. 1: Team unity and health

Encourage your teams’ interpersonal unity — which can be especially difficult to maintain in a remote environment but is critical to collective team engagement and inclusion. Managers need to be empathetic and approachable; it can make the difference between a great employee experience and a not-so-great one. 

Team members often get their primary work cues from manager behavior, so make sure that managers model productive behavior. For example, explicitly call out and illustrate the ability to time-shift — to accommodate a doctor visit, consult with a carpenter or care for a sick child — to reinforce the idea that we are all in this together.

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No. 2: Time management and team coordination

Promote transparency around how teams use their time and be flexible in coordinating how work gets done, focusing on outcomes more than inputs. For example, agree on work outcomes and outputs but be flexible over how, where and when the team delivers those objectives. 

This strategy reinforces that team member participation is judged by their contribution, not their location. The idea of “collaboration equity” is critical to remove concerns — now and going forward — that in-office participants may be favored due to their physical presence in a company-supplied workspace.

No. 3: Tools and equipment

Provide clear guidance on what technology and tools are available, and when to use them for what. Ensure that all equipment works properly, and provide opportunities for team members to improve their digital dexterity — but also make clear that employees must take ownership of their own digital proficiency as an essential ingredient in effective remote and hybrid work. 

Virtual meetings are a good example. The IT organization is in charge of seamless provisioning of equipment and providing effective support services, but your ground rules should place responsibility on team members to know how to use all the relevant features and observe meeting best practices. 

Seven guidelines for happier hybrid and remote teams

The team dialogue around ground rules can help your team feel more invested and in control over their remote and hybrid work conditions. 

Here are seven examples of the kinds of common-sense guidelines you can set to make remote and hybrid team members more comfortable.

  1. Encourage team members to determine their own work/life harmony, creatively blending personal, family and work obligations as long as desired outcomes are met. Allow team members to negotiate the sharing of work obligations as needed.
  2. Be flexible on virtual dress codes and appearance. For example, allow individual preference to dictate each team member’s choice of video background — as long as those preferences are appropriate to the meeting objective and mood.
  3. Prioritize empathetic communication and listening. This applies to both team managers and executive leadership. Keep team members well-informed about matters that affect them. Actively look for signs that someone is struggling or suffering from remote work fatigue.
  4. Allow team members to set their own work hours and workplace — as long as they fully participate in team activities and maintain appropriate work outputs. For example, team members can specify specific times for collaboration vs. individual work, but may need to prioritize overlapping time zones for collaborative work. 
  5. Let the team collectively determine response times with various collaboration modalities. For example, agree to respond within two hours to voice or chat but up to one business day for nonurgent emails. Agree that team members need not respond to nonemergency work matters outside of published working hours.
  6. Set limits on meetings. Team members should agree on the need for, timing, duration and location of team meetings. Meetings that include both remote and in-office team members should strive for equal-opportunity participation.
  7. Agree on remote collaboration standards. Make sure everyone has access to, and utilizes, endpoint devices, internet connectivity, and adequate sound, lighting and video capabilities to participate productively in virtual collaboration. Agree on the use of common features such as hashtags and @mentions.

The pivot to hybrid work environments is just beginning, and most organizations are figuring it out as they go along. These rules of the road are part of this journey, and enable individuals and teams to set their own paths while adhering to organizational guidelines. 

Not only do the guidelines enable co-creation and grass-roots innovation of hybrid work, they also help new team members quickly ascertain and embrace team cultural norms.


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