How to Manage a Team That’s Half Remote, Half On-Site

As companies phase back to on-site work, managers have to figure out how to keep productivity and morale high.

Published: Nov 3, 2020

Starting in January, Leila’s company will bring some employees back into the physical office. When the team of eight direct reports transitions from fully remote to half remote, half on-site, she worries that their sense of unity will break down.

According to a recent Korn Ferry survey, 41% of employees say that when their office reopens, it will be mandatory for them to go back, though not every day. While the fully remote work environment of 2020 challenged managers in specific ways, they at least had consistency regarding their teams’ work location. “It’s easier to manage a company that is 100 percent remote than one where employees are 50 percent remote and 50 percent in the office,” said Robby Kwok, Slack’s senior vice president of people, to the New York Times.  

Because each company will transition back to the physical workplace differently, managers may struggle to communicate with their teams and provide a sense of stability. Middle managers have the unique challenge of executing on directives from higher leadership while keeping up their teams’ productivity and morale.

Middle managers have to execute on strategies that come from higher leadership while keeping up their teams’ productivity and morale.

The following are some tips for unifying your team when they’re split between on- and off-site.

Keep dialing in to group meetings individually.

Though it may seem to make more sense for your on-site group to call in from one conference room while the remote members each dial in from their location, Korn Ferry Advance coach Jen Zamora cautions against that strategy. “Having one camera on the whole office group makes the team feel disjointed,” Zamora says. Put everyone on an equal playing field by having all participants dial in to the meeting individually from their desks—like you did when you all worked from home.

Carve out time for team building.

For groups connecting online, experts recommend planning exercises that deliberately help the team build trust, get to know one another, and take a break. Encourage people to connect on a personal level by splitting them into small groups for discussions during a portion of the meeting. Make sure to rotate group members each time you get together so that everyone gets a chance to talk with everyone else.

Prioritize the virtual watercooler.

Relationships are formed around the office watercooler, and remote team members miss out on those moments. Career coaches suggest keeping the communication tool alive virtually, whether through Microsoft Teams, Slack, or some other platform.

Encourage teams to post on the message board to get work done, and to share things that reflect who they are and what they care about. “It’s a way to capture different perspectives from a team with diversity of thought and experience,” Zamora says.

Adjust to the group’s needs in real time.

Each time you meet, get a read on the group’s energy, stress levels, and focus. Allow some flexibility in your planned agenda to meet their needs. Sometimes the best move will be a discussion among the whole team, sometimes you’ll opt for small breakout groups, and sometimes you’ll choose to give the gift of time back. High trust and agility matters,” Zamora says. “When you have those, the team will share and collaborate more effectively.”

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