In the post-COVID-19 era, the hybrid workplace – one in which some employees work from an office while others remain remote – presents a number of challenges for software development teams. Many people have relocated, some continue to have limited or no childcare, some have healthcare challenges that prevent them from returning to in-person work, while others are excited about returning to the office and getting back to “normal”.
Balancing the needs and desires of your developers while still ensuring the work gets done well is no easy task, but the challenge of creating a healthy hybrid team is well worth it. As a leader, how do you manage these varied circumstances while ensuring everyone is treated fairly? What can you do to ensure that employees in the office remain in sync with their remote colleagues? And how do you manage everyone’s stress levels – your own included – during this transition?
Identify the challenges
Research and experience have shown that hybrid teams in software development face a few major challenges – ensuring equity between in-office and remote employees, managing seamless collaboration, and maintaining culture.
Managing remote workers and in-person workers requires different approaches and communication methods, and managers must be aware of the ways in which proximity bias can impact the way their hybrid teams work – and what they can do to keep the bias at bay.
Proximity bias is one of the biggest challenges any hybrid team leader should be aware of. People who are in the office may be perceived as being more productive because they are more visible, while remote workers who do amazing work are left to languish in the background. Those working in the office may get better projects because they’re top of mind for managers and team leaders, and junior team members working in-person may receive more hands-on support without even asking for it.
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team has traditionally been in-person, but in the hybrid world, teams must remain connected even when they are physically separate. In offices, developers often rely on overhearing conversations or swinging by each other’s desks to chat about a project and while information conveyed in this ambient manner is important, it is crucial to adopt a hybrid-friendly approach for those in the office as well as at home.
Bringing some playfulness into an otherwise monotonous workday can have very positive effects for hybrid teams. In-office employees can socialize more easily during breaks or around the water-cooler, while remote employees are left out of those conversations. Leaders will need to create, foster and nurture culture with their teams working in multiple places.
Beating back the bias
So we know that proximity bias is one of the worst parts of hybrid work, but how do you combat it within your own software development team? While every team – and thus every workable solution – is going to look a bit different, there are some solutions managers can implement to ensure the playing field remains level no matter where the work is done.
First, intentionally and consistently check in with every team member. Get a daily pulse on their work, and how they are doing, through asynchronous mechanisms – whether that’s a daily email, a team virtual standup on Slack, or using dedicated asynchronous check-in tools– and schedule recurring, real-time touchpoints through team meetings and face-to-face individual calls (even if it’s via Zoom).
Second, establish the precedent that everything must be written down. Even an FYI about an in-person conversation can go a long way to ensuring that your remote team members are kept in the loop and don’t feel isolated. Written records of all employees’ work, whether it’s done remotely or in the office, also helps diffuse unconscious bias during performance reviews.
Finally, be intentional about the culture you’re building. Office camaraderie and culture aren’t the same things, and if you rely on the former, your remote employees will feel left out and marginalized because they’re not in the “in crowd.” Use the “one remote, all remote” policy for meetings, even if several attendees are in the same room, by having everyone attend via their own video chat. It’s imperative that you make sure there is a conscious and consistent effort made to bring remote employees into the fold and to level the playing field.
Is your hybrid team healthy?
It can be challenging to suss out if your hybrid team is in good shape, but there are a few obvious tells. If you observe all members of your team feeling connected and comfortable with one another, and if you know that everyone feels like they have the information they need to do their jobs well – and the work gets done on time with no delays – there’s a good chance your team is in great shape.
And when in doubt? Ask. Use regular anonymous surveys to check the pulse of your remote and in-person team members. If there’s an issue, address it, and move forward knowing that you’ve done your part to make your hybrid team as healthy as can be.