Work is changing. Your management approach needs to change, too. Here’s how.

Stephanie Andel, PhD
Team Humu

Hybrid work is the new normal: Gartner surveys show that 90% of HR leaders plan to offer at least some remote work options to their employees. And while hybrid presents opportunities--our own research at Humu shows that employee productivity and happiness peak at 1-2 work-from-home days--it also comes with a unique set of challenges. 

In November 2021, we surveyed over 200 managers to better understand how they were navigating the shift to hybrid work. The vast majority told us that knowing when team members need more support and offering useful feedback are the most important aspects of their jobs. But those same issues were the ones they struggled with the most in a hybrid model: managers reported having a hard time balancing team member workloads and helping their people combat burnout. Another top concern was building a strong team culture. 

These pain points highlight a key issue: the management approaches that worked pre-pandemic are not the same approaches that will work in hybrid. In order for your team to adapt and thrive in this new world of work, your management style needs to adapt, too. Here are four science-backed tips to help you get started.

Consider everyone, every time

In a hybrid environment, managers run the risk that remote team members feel more out of the loop compared to those who regularly come into the office. Additionally, research suggests that leaders are prone to on-site favoritism by providing more opportunities to those who tend to work at the office. 

To ensure you’re building an inclusive, fair hybrid culture:

  • Make a list, and check it twice. Avoid on-site favoritism by consciously making sure you consider all team members for advancement opportunities - not just those who are physically in the office. When delegating tasks or offering growth opportunities, write  down each employee’s name  and then review your list to ensure that you consider everyone, every time.
  • Leave room for others to jump in. Promote equal participation opportunities in team meetings by waiting 5 extra seconds before moving on to the next topic. This will make it easier for those tuning in remotely to chime in. You might also make it a habit to check in with remote participants halfway through the meeting to create space for them to flag any audio or other issues that might be getting in the way of collaboration. 
  • Start with support. During 1:1s, take a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting to check-in and make sure that each employee feels heard, included, and supported. Kick off with a simple question like: “What can I do to better support you this week?”

Encourage “just for fun” time

Team bonding is also more difficult when people aren’t together in-person as much - think fewer  water cooler chats, spontaneous coworker lunches, and hallway banter about the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. Without these natural opportunities for social connection, it’s easy for employees to feel removed from their coworkers. This means that it’s critical for managers to keep team members connected, no matter where they work.

Some simple ways to build team cohesion and connection include creating a few “just for fun” meetings, email threads, or messaging channels (some of our favorite Slack channels at Humu are #fun, #music, and #cheersforpeers) and taking time during  team meetings to celebrate small wins and accomplishments. 

It’s also important that you are actively connecting with your employees. For example, set aside time in 1:1s to check-in with your employees. Try questions like:

  • What aspects of your work do you most enjoy? 
  • What do you find meaningful? 
  • What are the things outside of work that bring you joy?

Proactively building connections with your employees will not only make work more fun, but will also help create an authentic and inclusive work environment.

Don’t micromanage

When you don’t have direct visibility into someone’s work, it can be tempting to micromanage. In fact, the use of employee surveillance software increased over 50% since early 2020. Although the desire to keep a close eye on employees may not be ill-intentioned, it will feel suffocating for your direct reports--and can destroy trust. Research shows that micromanagement is a key contributor to lower empowerment, motivation, and creativity and greater burnout among team members. 

Instead of tracking your employees’ every move, promote accountability. For example, consider implementing the regular use of a project management system such as Asana or Trello to keep all team members on the same page, or ask your employees to send you a brief, weekly summary of their work achievements from the past week. These strategies will ensure that you are up-to-date and informed about your team’s progress without the need to be overbearing. 

Send the message that wellbeing matters

Finally, keep in mind that a transition--especially to an entirely new way of working--is stressful and that it will take a while before your team has fully gotten the hang of things. This puts you and your team at a heightened risk for exhaustion. In 2021, almost 50% of hybrid employees already reported feeling signs of burnout. To protect your team’s wellbeing, emphasize the importance of balance. 

To reduce the risk of burnout (both for you and your employees):

  • Encourage frequent breaks throughout the day and discourage overwork. 
  • Consider scheduling one “meeting free” day or afternoon a week for your entire team, which will help reduce Zoom fatigue and give everyone some precious focus time. 
  • Be a work-life balance role model. Take vacation, and don’t constantly respond to emails while you’re out of the office. 

Looking to learn more about managing hybrid teams in this new world of work? Check out our eBook on the secrets of successful hybrid teams.

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