5 Skill-sets all managers need to succeed in the hybrid workplace

5 ways to accelerate your hybrid team management skills.

9-minute read

If you’re a manager, you probably already know the good news and the bad news.

The bad news? Managers have a major impact on their team’s success (accounting for 70% of differences in employee engagement). So, bad management has very bad outcomes.

The good news? Managers have a major impact on their team’s success. So, great managers help their teams achieve great things. 

If you are leading (or are about to lead) a hybrid team -- with some employees working remotely and some on-site -- it means your work as a manager is even more challenging. But it also means that you can make an even more meaningful impact on your team’s performance, engagement, and sense of belonging.

At LifeLabs Learning, we’ve studied what differentiates great hybrid team managers and found that five skill-sets matter most. To rapidly accelerate your skills, rate yourself in each area, and at the end, we’ll ask you to pick one small action to increase your score by one point.

1) Leading distributed teams

First on the list of essential manager skill-sets is leading distributed teams. We’ve found that strong hybrid team managers aren’t just strong managers, they also have a set of tools and habits tailored to the unique ecosystem of hybrid work. To keep developing their expertise in this area, they actively check-in with their on-site and remote direct reports to ask how the hybrid setup is impacting their work experience, what they can do to make it better, and how they perceive communication, fairness, inclusion, trust, and growth opportunities on the team.

When it comes to hybrid work foundations, the following two pro-tips are at the heart of successful performance and collaboration:

  • Co-create a channel map: Aside from working on the wrong things, another common source of lost productivity among hybrid teams is clunky communication. Get ahead of this problem by co-creating a ‘channel map’ with your team, showing what channel should be used for which type of communication and which norms to follow for each. When possible, align with company-wide norms to reduce confusion. 

Sample channel map:

 

sample channel communications map

  • Create a one-person-one-camera norm: One of the simplest ways to make sure all team members can fully participate is for all people to be on their computers (one person per screen) whenever even one person joins remotely.

Pro-tip: Try the ‘Meeting Pod’ setup we’ve used for years at LifeLabs Learning! Each person signs in from a separate computer, with cameras on. For the folks in the same room, everyone pushes mute on their computer speaker and the video meeting platform except for one person (aka the Pod Master). For best results, use an external mic (like Jabra). See photo below:

employees on individual computers for video conference

Your turn! Rate your current skill-level in leading distributed teams on a scale of 1-10. Consider: Do you know the most common hybrid challenges to anticipate and resolve? Are your on-site and remote direct reports similarly engaged, included, and productive?  Pick one small action you can take this week to increase your score by one point.

2) People development

A sense of growth and learning is one of the best predictors of employee engagement and retention. And as a true win-win, managers whose team members are rapidly growing their skills can delegate more work and achieve even more spectacular results. But people development tends to suffer in hybrid settings, especially for remote employees who have less visibility into contribution opportunities and whose own work tends to be less visible.

How can you accelerate your team’s career growth and skill development? Here are two of our favorite pro-tips, based on what great managers do differently:

  • Ask at least 3 questions in each conversation: It can be tempting for busy managers to go into instant advice-mode. But telling instead of asking makes managers miss out on opportunities to develop their direct reports’ problem solving skills. Through our research at LifeLabs Learning, we’ve found that great managers ask significantly more questions than average. To up your own question game, set a reminder for yourself to ask at least 3 questions in each conversation (e.g., “What are your thoughts on how to handle it?” “How would success look?” “What did you learn from that?” “Who might be able to help?). Bonus: check out our list of 11 questions to ask remote employees.
  • Schedule quarterly development check-ins: Create a dedicated, ritualized focus on career growth to prevent these important conversations from slipping through the hybrid cracks. Use this time to ask each direct report to reflect on what they’ve learned, what skills and/or knowledge they want to develop next, and what specific steps they’ll take to achieve these development goals. Bonus: Use our Individual Development Plan template to get the conversation started. 

Your turn! Rate your current skill-level in people development on a scale of 1-10. Consider: Do your direct reports have a sense of continuous growth? Are they developing skills and knowledge at a fast enough pace to keep up with business goals? 

3) Strategic productivity


Though many companies and managers worry that remote employees might get less work done, we’ve found that the opposite is true. Remote employees actually report working longer hours. Hybrid teams can also get a massive amount of work done, but there is a catch. These teams are often extremely busy, but in the wrong ways. It’s easy for hybrid teams to lack strategic productivity -- the skill-set of spending time efficiently and effectively on the highest priority work. What’s more, it could also be easy for employees to fall victim to what psychologists call the ‘mere urgency effect’: the tendency to waste time on work that gives us the biggest sense of progress even if it’s not our most important work.

Great managers anticipate and proactively address the common productivity challenges of hybrid work. Here are two simple ways to do so with your team:

  • Create shared ‘priority language’: When work moves fast, everything starts to feel equally important, quickly resulting in overwhelm, missed deadlines, poor quality work, and/or burnout. Avoid this common hybrid problem by agreeing to a common language you and your team will use together to define what is top priority. For example:
    •  This project is a Priority Score of 5/5, so everything else can wait if it has to.
    • This task is important, but it isn’t yet urgent, so it’s okay to delay by two weeks.
    • This problem is a Code Red, so let’s have a team huddle this afternoon to figure out how to solve it and what tradeoffs we can make.
  • Define success: It’s easy to feel like your team is productive when you physically see them working. It can be harder to trust that work is getting done when folks are remote -- leading to micromanagement or more contribution and growth opportunities for in-person than remote employees. To avoid this hybrid trap, clarify what success looks like for people’s work so you can focus on deliverables and measurable metrics rather than “butts in seats.” Bonus: Here is a template to clearly articulate project goals.

Your turn! Rate your current skill-level in strategic productivity on a scale of 1-10. Consider: Does your team focus on the right things? Does work get done efficiently and effectively? 

4) Effective one-on-ones


One of the reasons managers have such a massive impact on performance and engagement is their ability to personalize the employee experience, tailoring their support to the unique needs of each unique human. This customization becomes even more critical in a hybrid environment. 

What’s the easiest way to provide this level of individualized care? Our research shows that the humble one-on-one meeting is actually a manager’s highest point of leverage. Here are two simple ways to quickly improve your one-on-ones: 

  • Make your one-one-ones consistent: In today’s workplace, change and uncertainty are all around us, especially for hybrid teams. Provide an instant boost in your team’s sense of certainty by scheduling your one-on-ones to be the same time and day of the week every day. Do everything you can to avoid cancelling.
  • Co-create an agenda template: It’s easy for one-on-ones to turn into work status updates or meandering conversations. To make sure each one-on-one is a high-impact conversation, agree to a template you’ll use together every week. Here are some of our favorite agenda points, especially for hybrid teams:
    • Wins & Frustrations 
    • MIT Alignment Check (what are the Most Important Things to do this week?) 
    • Feedback Exchange
    • Show & Tell (show a piece of work you’re proud of)

Your turn! Rate your current skill-level in one-on-one skills on a scale of 1-10. Consider: Are your one-on-ones consistent? Do they result in higher engagement and productivity? 

5) Inclusion skills


Hybrid conditions can be more inclusive -- allowing each of your team members to select the work environment that best fits their needs. But if managers aren’t careful, remote employees can quickly feel… well, remote. It’s all too easy for hybrid team members to exclude one another, miss out on hearing all voices, feel distrust, lack psychological safety, and for inequities to form in terms of access to recognition and growth opportunities.   

So, what do the best hybrid managers do differently? They incorporate deliberate inclusion skills and habits into how they lead. Here are two ways to increase your skills in this area: 

  • Make time for small talk: Research shows that small talk right before meetings leads to more effective meetings. That’s right: small talk, big impact. But hybrid teams often lack this opportunity to build social trust and connection. Deliberately build in time for ‘social chatter’ at the start of 1-1s and group meetings, and create at least 2-3 opportunities per week for your team to connect in a personal way (e.g., morning check-ins, Slack, team celebrations).
  • Start meetings with round-robins: One of the best predictors of team effectiveness is equal conversational turn-taking, which is tougher to achieve for hybrid teams. So, start your meetings with timed round-robins, where each person has the same amount of time to share (unless someone requires more time because of a speech difference). For high engagement throughout a meeting, start with round-robins! Researcher Atul Gawande found that surgical teams that do round-robins before surgery are more likely to point out potential errors in the midst of a procedure, leading complications and deaths to decline by 35%. Bonus tip: should you ever need surgery, ask your medical team to do a round-robin!

Your turn! Rate your current skill-level in hybrid inclusion skills on a scale of 1-10. Consider: Do your team members feel seen, heard, and valued? Is there equal conversational turn-taking? Does everyone have access to the same information and growth opportunities? 

Before we go our separate ways, pick your lowest scoring skill-set. Take a moment now to decide on one small action you can take this week to increase your score by one point. 

For even more hybrid management pro-tips and tools, download our free Hybrid + Remote Work Playbook!