How To Effectively Manage Remote Employees - Create a Hybrid Team
by YOSS Community Writer, on July 12, 2019 at 10:40 AM
Not long ago, freelancing was pretty niche. Most employees wouldn’t choose to shrug off their 9-to-5 jobs for a less structured career. Most companies wouldn’t choose temporary employees over permanent ones unless absolutely necessary. Today, the landscape is much different, and the attitudes toward freelancing have changed dramatically.
Thanks to technological advances and a growing acceptance of new work alternatives, companies are now seeing the value in integrating freelancers to address business challenges, support their core teams, and gain a critical edge. Hybrid teams of freelancers and fixed employees are becoming more of a norm in virtually every industry. Companies of all sizes now take advantage of highly skilled and experienced talent when they need it — without paying an expert’s salary when they don’t. This way, they can get things done faster and strategically add high-level expertise to every project.
How Freelancers Can Augment Your Core Team
Say you’ve finally gotten an attractive, intuitive website up for your brand, but you learn that most of your traffic is coming in through mobile devices. You need an app to take full advantage of that traffic, but without a developer on your team, building one could take months. Trends will have changed dramatically by the time you finish the project.
On the other hand, you could hire a freelance app developer who has years of experience doing exactly what you need. You can have your app up and running in half the time, and you won’t have to keep an app developer on your payroll afterward. The ability to cherry-pick experts just for specific projects has opened up myriad doors for most companies.
A 2018 Gallup poll shows that 36% of the U.S. workforce is now part of the gig economy. Managing hybrid teams of flexible freelancers and regular employees has become a critical corporate skill. It’s common practice, and not just for smaller companies looking to control staffing costs.
How Fortune 500 Companies Use Freelancers
One of the biggest indicators that flexible work is on the rise is that entire companies have been built — and have thrived — solely on the freelancing model. But most companies, especially established ones, can’t realistically transform into completely flexible workforces.
Instead, they learn to incorporate flexible talent where it makes the most sense to build up productivity and efficiency among their in-house teams. When managed correctly, hybrid teams can give regular companies the edge they need to compete with larger corporations or give larger corporations the edge they need to stay on top.
Among the most recently listed Fortune 500 companies, many have integrated some sort of hybrid team to enhance their products, services, marketing efforts, and more. For example, Dell Technologies has dozens of U.S.-based offices but also employs a large remote workforce that helps bolster its success.
Amazon, the world’s leading online retailer, offers flexible positions in everything from advertising and public relations to shipping and sales management. Even in healthcare, organizations such as UnitedHealth Group benefit from remote business analysts, case managers, lab technicians, and nurse practitioners.
There are countless examples just on the Fortune 500 list, but hybrid teams aren’t a privilege reserved only for super corporations. Whether it’s to build an app, break into a new market, add unique features to products and services, or virtually any other task, building up your in-house team with flexible talent could be the key to scaling any business.
How to Create Your Own Hybrid Team
Building and managing your own hybrid team doesn’t mean simply finding a few freelance experts and tacking them onto your team’s roster. Without proper guidance and a thorough plan, you might be doing more to hold your team back than push it forward.
In order to pilot a hybrid team that can work well together and create success for everyone involved, start with the following six strategies:
1. Find Your Hybrid Team Captain
Hybrid teams won’t work without the right resources, talent, and technology, but foremost, they won’t work without the right leader. In many ways, the ideal captain of your hybrid team will have the same hallmarks of most great leaders. They’ll be able to identify individual skills and strengths and to empower team members to do their best without having to pull rank or micromanage. However, leading a hybrid team also requires a few other specific qualities.
A relevant study on managing hybrid teams found that managers who integrated opposing ideas to create harmony and balance trade-offs over time were able to more successfully overcome the challenges of managing hybrid teams. For example, managers who were able to support remote working and create opportunities for closeness among workers in different geographic locations could positively shape perspectives on hybrid teams and the relationships among their members.
Your hybrid team simply won’t work without the right project manager at its helm. The team leader has to have an accepting mindset and willingness to adopt, pilot, and test agile, nontraditional solutions. He or she also has to recognize internal biases regarding freelancers and flexible employees, as well as fixed employees, and learn to empathize with the unique challenges these workers face on a regular basis.
This takes less of a dogmatic management mindset and more of a leadership framework, where the manager accepts multiple approaches as long as they adhere to the same shared goal and deliver. In other words, find a project manager who adopts a results-oriented approach and guides team members based on the quality of their work, rather than focuses on where and how they get the work done.
2. Make Onboarding a Team Effort
A good project manager is essential, but so is emphasizing collaboration. The team will consist of not only people from different departments, but also from different locations. Everyone will have diverse experiences, personalities, agendas, and goals — and all of these differences could become conflicts if the team can’t effectively collaborate.
Define the collaborative approach you want the team to take, explain the rationale behind decisions, and most importantly, share the plan. Don’t just communicate goals (a problem-oriented approach), but also strategies to achieve them (solution-oriented approach). Highlight the benefits of having a team that can deliver across every spectrum.
As you do so, make each player an expert in his or her own right by clearly defining roles, skills, and member contributions. Be transparent with core members about the strategic value in bringing in freelancers so they don’t feel defensive. Invite them to co-pilot the approach by providing input into how to build a project management framework that will work best.
During the transition period, place your full-time team members in positions to help, advise, and guide freelancers. This will help both parties learn from each other and understand that they’re working toward the same goal: to help the company complete tasks and move forward successfully.
3. Create Ways to Integrate the Team
Establishing a culture of collaboration means sharing knowledge and resources as your team members work toward a shared goal. Because of the dispersed nature of your hybrid team, this will take a little more time. However, it’s time well spent if it helps everyone form the connections that they need in order to be an effective team.
People want to know who they’re working with, so take time to introduce new flexible team members in a group session. Identify each team member’s specific roles and skills to create a fuller picture of the team and provide a vision of how all the pieces fit into the whole. It also makes it easier for members with different backgrounds and in different locations to collaborate on specific points.
You can facilitate that collaboration by creating opportunities for core members to be gracious. Have them help orient freelancers, teach them how to use platforms, backends, and other infrastructures. Give freelancers time to learn these systems before giving them the responsibility of using them on their own.
4. Clearly Map the Project for Iteration
One challenge that a hybrid team leader will face is creating a clear road map for success that doesn’t stand in the way of innovation. It’s critical to provide team members with a clearly defined, time-bound project plan that’s broken up into phases with related tasks, targets, and benchmarks — this helps ensure your team members understand their shared goals. But the plan should be flexible enough to allow team members to iterate.
Translate the project’s goals into activities focused on results rather than the process workers use to get there. Additionally, identify each team member’s skills and the ways they will each contribute to the project. Establish deliverables, noting how parts of the project might intersect, and allow for collaboration and support between team members.
As the team sets out to accomplish each goal, members should also have room to contribute their input on alternative ways to accomplish certain tasks. They should be free to create their own iterations and revisions, to learn what works and what doesn’t, and to adapt better strategies as long as they stay on track to meet goals and benchmarks along the way.
5. Level the Playing Field
Equalizing communication between in-office and remote team members is another significant challenge to promoting collaboration. Having some folks in a room together who are bantering on the side while others are calling in remotely creates a sense of exclusion. The unequal footing can also have a polarizing effect.
Avoid this by equalizing communication methods. If there’s a voice or video conference, have everyone check in using the same platform. If you can, offer local employees the opportunity to work remotely as well. In one productivity study, nearly 60% of employees said this flexibility makes them more productive and engaged in their work.
Create a shared perspective by using collaborative technologies such as boards, lists, works-in-progress, and task management solutions. Give all members equal access and make sure everyone is properly onboarded to the platform. For a greater sense of community, set up a Facebook page or Slack channel as a proverbial watercooler for everyone to socialize around.
6. Leverage the Experience to Learn
For your hybrid team to be cohesive, you have to address issues early and often. Letting them fester will only breed resentment. Open up channels for feedback and give the team space to air their concerns, issues, or ideas. If some members of the team resist certain approaches, these channels give them the chance to voice their concerns and work out new methods before the train derails.
This requires an agile approach to designing, launching, piloting, testing, learning, and iterating new solutions. When something isn’t working, learn why, collaborate on fixes, and test out new solutions as soon as possible. Rather than rejecting a suggestion outright, consider ways you can adjust it to work.
With every new challenge and innovative solution, emphasize learning and sharing those lessons. For example, you could ask each member to anonymously write down two or three things they learned about the approach. For future reference, mark down the elements that people found difficult and beneficial.
Information from these sessions will help team members adapt to different problem-solving methods and reflect on the successes and challenges throughout the process. It will also likely increase everyone’s openness to suggestions from their peers, whether they’re freelancers or full-time employees.
As freelancers and remote employees gain more stake in the workforce, companies and their employees will benefit greatly from learning how to integrate them into their teams. Doing so can be challenging, but the level of expertise the right freelancers can add to your organization is worth it.
For more information on how to successfully build, manage, and lead a hybrid team of regular and remote employees, contact the experts at YOSS, your trusted source for qualified, on-demand talent.