Blog post written for Liquid, a female-led tech startup empowering entrepreneurs and facilitating international payments between clients and vendors.
Product development teams are no stranger to the technical hybrid team model. Independent contractors have always played key roles in contributing to the completion of special projects and tough deadlines.
But the new hybrid team model goes one step further: The physical workplace has also been reimagined for traditional employees. This new paradigm offers numerous benefits but also new challenges for managers and team members alike. Now that full-time employees are also operating remotely, what happens to creative brainstorming around a physical table? What about the strokes of genius that come from casual hallway conversations?
Regardless if you are a first-time manager or veteran, bringing the best out of your entire team requires a fresh approach. Here are three tips to productivity and team cohesion.
1. Establish New Rules of Engagement
Set Core Hours
Talk to your team to set the hours in which team members are expected to be available and accessible. These hours would apply also to members of your contingent workforce working collaboratively with employees on special projects. These core hours are broken down to those designated for virtual team meetings and discussions and those for focused work.
Designate Focused Work Hours
Focused work hours are part of your team’s core hours. Just as constant visits by team members could become a distraction when we were all working at the office, so can questions from team members via messaging app. Work with your team to establish focused hours and the indicators that members can use to signal that they are working asynchronously. As an extension of this concept, consider empowering team members to set their designated “asynchronous hours” during the week.
Have Clear Communications Norms
On a related note, it is also helpful to establish guidelines around the types of communications and the channels team members prefer to use. For example, how would team members decide between email and a messaging app such as Slack or Microsoft Teams when sending a written communication? When to use the video conferencing app and when to select your messaging app’s audio messaging feature?
With a hybrid team model, members often have little to no physical separation between work mode and non-work mode, and the danger of burnout is real. This is especially so if your team spans international time zones. It is an easy thing for employees collaborating closely with contractors four or five time zones away to keep working the core hours and respond to emails and messages outside of those from their contractor teammates.
As a manager, encourage your team to fully disconnect and recharge. Consider reminding employees that they do not have to respond to non-urgent communications outside of core hours.
2. Prioritize efficient communication and integration
In the hybrid team model, the degree with which your contingent workforce is incorporated into the cadence of company-wide activities such as virtual town hall meetings is a topic of debate. Inviting contractors to the company all-hands meeting is not feasible for most companies and especially if the contractors are from abroad. Inviting them to team meetings, however, is a little less clear-cut.
Managers are constantly weighing the pros and cons of just how much information to provide to contractors. While your independent contractors may not need to be looped into the day-to-day communication you have with your team, providing them with information in the right context at the right time can be the difference between making or missing the release date.
Suppose the timeline shifted because the volume of bugs uncovered by QA was not anticipated. Bring everyone, including your contractors, into the loop for a team briefing and collective problem-solving. This is not only efficient, it is empowering and fosters teamwork between both groups within the team.
3. Create Moments to Connect Authentically
It turns out laughter is the best medicine and there is new science that backs this. Working remotely can be isolating. Team members working from home not only miss out on the social aspects of “going to work” but also are in danger of suffering from burnout. Consider hosting team virtual socials. Traditional games like “Name, Place, Animal, Thing,” Scattergories and 20 Questions translate well online. If your team is global, these social activities have the additional benefit of helping everyone experience the different cultural perspectives of the entire team.
Your company’s victories are your team’s victories
Companies are responsible for creating a supportive environment for all team members. Regardless of where you and your team are on the journey, it is imperative that you adopt an approach that incorporates transparency, communications and clear expectations. By positively communicating what’s expected and communally sharing your wins, you’re developing a hybrid technical team that’s invested in your vision and each other. By fostering great relationships with your full-time and contingent workforce, you’re preparing yourself and your organization for success.