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Navigating the New Normal: Managing Remote and Hybrid Teams

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern business, the shift towards remote and hybrid work models has become more than just a trend—it's now a necessity. Companies offering these flexible work models are gaining an edge in the current job market. A Q4 2023 survey by Scoop of over 4,500 companies worldwide found that organizations with hybrid or fully-flexible work models (including fully remote and employee choice models) were adding headcount at nearly twice the rate of fully in-person companies over the last year. Fully remote companies saw the fastest growth at 6.9%, compared to 5% for employee choice, 4.1% for hybrid, and 2.6% for fully in-office.

As small business leaders, adapting to this new normal can be both challenging and rewarding. At Midwest BankCentre, 65% of our 280-person team works a hybrid model mixing in-office and remote work, which has been proven to be successful for both employee satisfaction and productivity. In fact, the Bank won a St. Louis Top Workplace award for Remote Workspaces. In this article, I will share our learnings and best practices in managing and motivating remote and hybrid teams.

Establish clear policies. First and foremost, clarity is paramount. Establishing and clearly communicating policies that outline expectations, communication channels, working hours, and so on sets the stage for a smooth operation. Create a remote work agreement, and be sure to include protocols on the basics: How do I ask for time off? What if I’m going to be late today? How should I look on video calls?

Set specific goals. Clearly communicate individual and team goals and the metrics by which they will be measured. When employees know exactly what is expected of them, they are more likely to stay motivated and focused on achieving those objectives. Regularly revisit and revise goals as needed.

Hold regular one-on-ones. In a virtual environment, the importance of regular and meaningful check-ins cannot be overstated. Schedule one-on-one meetings with each team member to provide feedback, address concerns, and offer support. Talk to them like they’re right down the hall. These sessions are invaluable for fostering a sense of connection and ensuring that everyone feels heard and valued.

Build trust. Trust is the bedrock of any successful remote or hybrid team. Look for opportunities to learn about your team, who they are, and what motivates them. Share about yourself and make yourself accessible. Encourage open communication, empower autonomy, and demonstrate accountability at all levels of the organization.

Focus on performance, not the color of their Teams dot. Resist the temptation to equate the color of a dot on Microsoft Teams with employee productivity or engagement. Focusing on superficial indictors, like a yellow “inactive” dot, detracts from the more meaningful pursuit of outcomes and results. Trust in the professionalism and dedication of your employees.

Reinforce company culture through engagement. It’s a common misperception that companies lose their culture when they go remote. Your culture does change, but change can be good. Maintaining a strong company culture in a remote or hybrid setting requires intentional effort. Have a robust onboarding program that acclimates new employees to the culture. Find creative ways to foster camaraderie and connection among team members, whether it's through virtual team-building activities, informal chat channels, virtual coffee breaks, or in-person happy hours.

Create opportunities for virtual professional development. Make space in your mentoring and training programs for remote employees to grow and thrive. Facilitate team members or senior leadership to share their expertise and lessons learned with their colleagues through peer-to-peer teaching sessions. Organize virtual workshops, webinars, or lunch-and-learn sessions, and provide access to online educational resources for employees to explore at their own pace.

According to the Wall Street Journal, around a quarter of total American workdays happened off-site in 2023. If you want to win the war on talent, it’s essential that you stay agile, adaptable, and allow your team to optimize their professional and personal lives. Managing and motivating remote and hybrid employees requires a proactive and strategic approach. By implementing these best practices, small business owners can create a supportive and inclusive work culture where every team member feels empowered to do their best work, regardless of where they are located.

Originally published in  Small Business Monthly's May issue of 2024 by Julie Tuggle-Nguyen, EVP of Human Resources