11 Tips for Promoting Teamwork in a Hybrid Environment

The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.
—Phil Jackson

Even though the end of the pandemic is (finally!) within sight, that doesn’t mean remote work is going away any time soon. Many employees are reluctant to return to long commutes, rigid work schedules, noisy workspaces, and other less-than-optimal features of onsite work. At the same time, many companies have realized that remote workers are often more productive, more engaged, and generally happier than their in-office counterparts. And of course there are the bottom-line savings associated with decreasing the size of a company’s centralized physical workspace—or even eliminating it completely.

Although some companies have shifted to being completely remote, most seem to be aiming for a hybrid workplace: depending on company needs, employee preferences, and a whole host of other factors, some employees will be in the office, some will be remote, and some will move between both work environments. With much of the business world throwing in for some version of remote work for the long haul, managers need to figure out how to manage two groups of employees—in-office and remote—who have different needs, expectations, and responsibilities. 

A key element of managing any workplace is making sure that workers are able to communicate with each other and work together effectively. This can be particularly tricky when employees aren’t all in the same physical location. Fortunately, implementing certain best practices can help you navigate the challenges of promoting teamwork in a hybrid environment.


The Basics of Teamwork in a Hybrid Environment

The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.

—Babe Ruth

As a manager, you need to keep a close eye on team dynamics, “the unconscious, psychological forces that influence the direction of a team’s behavior and performance.” If your team dynamics are a mess, the team can’t work well together. And if a team can’t work well together, it can’t accomplish its goals and eventually ceases to actually be a team

Communicating with your hybrid team

In a hybrid workplace, many factors can damage team dynamics, but one of the biggest obstacles you need to overcome is the phenomenon of “out of sight, out of mind.” When you don’t see someone every day (or at least pretty frequently), you might not think of them as often as you should. That means they aren’t getting all of the support, oversight, encouragement, and accountability they need to do their jobs. For this reason, most strategies to improve teamwork in a hybrid environment focus on facilitating positive, high-quality, interpersonal interactions.

Pay extra attention to communication. Communicate regularly with all employees. Make sure you know what they’re doing and what support they need from you. Remember that when people aren’t face to face in the same room, certain communication cues (such as body language and tone of voice) are greatly diminished. Therefore, be especially mindful of what you say—and how you say it—in video conferences, phone calls, and (especially) e-mail. 

Make it possible for your people to work anywhere—whether that’s in the office or remotely. Give them the tools, training, and other resources they need to do their jobs. Technology is definitely your friend here: recent years have seen a boom in video conferencing software, virtual whiteboards, and other productivity and communication tools that make it easier than ever for people to do their jobs and connect with their colleagues and bosses.

Schedule interactions. Many people prefer remote work because it allows for flexible scheduling. For example, one person might want to plan their work hours around their kids’ school drop offs and pick ups. Or maybe someone isn’t a morning person and their brain doesn’t really get going until around midday, so they’re more productive if they can start and end their days a few hours later than the usual 9-to-5 schedule. 

As long as people get their work done, flexible hours are great—but watch out for any barriers they might create. In order to make sure that the remote workers aren’t totally cut off from their in-office counterparts, require some overlap of hours. This could take the form of a one-hour window every day (or a two-hour window three days a week, or something else) when everyone is “on the clock” at the same time. By providing shared time for meetings, collaboration, and even just friendly social chats, this overlap facilitates synchronous, real-time interactions that help keep everyone connected to each other.

Leverage your virtual tools. If you’re having a team meeting with your onsite employees, send all team members a Zoom link for it so that your remote employees, too, can join the meeting and stay in the loop. Remote employees don’t get to do the in-person watercooler talk, lunch outings, and happy hours that help officemates connect with each other. So come up with virtual social events that give them similar socializing and networking opportunities (has anyone done a virtual escape room? I hear they are quite fun and interactive!)

Trust your team. Use feedback and coaching both to check in with them and to help them develop. Ensure that they have the training and resources they need. Hire good people and people who have potential, put them in roles for which they are prepared (or offer training to get them to that point), then get out of their way. No one likes micromanagers, and that management style is especially irritating to remote workers, who have a reasonable expectation of being able to do their jobs without someone looking over their shoulders.


Walk the Talk – Lead by Example

Remember: being a leader includes leading by example. You can’t just tell your people, “I want you to do X and Y so everyone can get along better.” You also need to be doing those things yourself. By modeling a few key behaviors, you can inspire your team to adopt those behaviors for themselves. 

Be a better listener. Don’t try to multitask while someone’s trying to share information with you. Give them your full attention and don’t start formulating responses in your head while they’re talking—just listen

Be welcoming. Create a communication-friendly environment by actively greeting others—including people you don’t already know—when you see them (“Good morning!”). Keep your door open to project friendliness and invite drop-by interactions (though if you’re up against a deadline and need to get work done, closing your door for a bit is fine).  

Share information. In times of uncertainty, your employees need more communication, not less. Hold regular meetings with your staff. (And if you or your boss—or both of you—are working remotely, be sure to send your boss weekly updates. This not only lets them know what you’re doing but also reminds them that you’re getting stuff done.)

Solicit feedback. Do regular check-ins with your team to find out what’s working (and what isn’t). For example, at each weekly meeting I used to ask my project teams for a “one thumb up, one thumb down”—a quick assessment of one thing that’s going well and one thing that needs improvement. Treating the “thumb down” points not as harsh criticism but as recommendations that can help everyone will make this kind of feedback easier both to give and to receive. 

Help your colleagues. Be the mentor you wish you had. Even if your boss isn’t a great mentor, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a great leader or mentor to others in the department.

Be trustworthy. Do your best to exhibit tact, diplomacy, empathy, and sincerity. Deliver on your promises, and admit your mistakes when you make them.


Final Thoughts

Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.

—Steve Jobs

The way an organization works as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the organization won’t succeed. What are you doing to help your organization? 

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