Managing Remote & Hybrid Teams

The unprecedented Covid lockdowns changed a lot of things (and people), not the least of which is the way we work.

Even in my most distributed teams, pre-Covid, the local reps generally were in-person for team meetings and those out of state, came into the Corporate HQ several times a year. I can already see some of that in-person interaction coming back, but not nearly at the frequency it once was.

The downside to this new precedent is the lack of that in-person social bonding that cannot occur in the 2D world of video. One of the upsides to this is that we have all become infinitely more productive as we have reduced or eliminated our travel time. The other upside is that we no longer have to hire under the same geographical constraints we once placed ourselves under.

The challenge of course, is how to manage and lead remote or hybrid teams. I saw many companies just apply their typical in-person meeting cadence to the remote work environment. Meaning, that if they had once-a-month meetings in person, they kept once-a-month meetings virtually. If they did once-a-quarter planning sessions in person, they kept once-a-quarter planning sessions virtually. While understandable, is that the right answer? I’d argue no.

The rules have changed, and we need to change with them.

For the teams I led throughout this transition, I found the need for more frequent, but shorter, check-ins. We forget that while employers were trying to implement business continuation strategies, we also had employees out there with a lot of fear about their futures and that of their families. I found having more frequent discussions, about varying topics, provided some foundation and footing to continue performing their job, albeit quite differently.

As a result, our days and weeks together looked a little different.

  • I moved monthly meetings to weekly, and quarterly meetings to monthly.
  • I added in OTF (on-the-fly) meetings that anyone could schedule for any reason.
  • I added weekly and bi-weekly scheduled check-ins. Less formal than the 1:1 planning sessions and generally centered on what they needed from me and for me to pass along best practices that I learned from others.
  • For one of my teams, we started doing Tuesday night cocktail hours. This was received very well and we had a blast just kicking back, telling stories and updating each other on our families and work happenings.

Yes, my schedule is far more packed than it used to be, but also much more rewarding and impactful. We are dealing with issues and opportunities in real-time and as a result, the energy that was sucked from everyone while in lockdown, actually spiked and is more sustainable over the longer term.

Sometimes things happen beyond our control. That’s life. How we react to those things and how we focus on the needs of our people, is what separates leaders and managers.