“Can you see my screen?”
“Sorry, I have to jump off to another call.”
These refrains have become so ubiquitous that one can play daily Zoom bingo in team meetings and win every time. We’ve learned to manage the virtual workday. Now that employees are trickling back into offices, team leaders face another dilemma: How to manage hybrid teams when some employees are in the office while others are elsewhere.
Over the past two years, training efforts have been focused on managing virtual teams. Leading through purpose and vision, empowerment, empathy and psychological safety are soft skills that require a “face lift” as hybrid work becomes a reality for most organizations. Just like giving feedback remotely, giving feedback in a hybrid environment can be challenging. While some advice is the same, there are differences in how to lead a team operating across the physical and virtual settings simultaneously.
There are four main shifts when it comes to hybrid feedback: worker visibility, inconsistent informal interactions, team members operating in different contexts and scarcity of meeting time. Let’s look at each one in more detail:
1. Some Employees Are More Visible than Others
Managers may believe that the ability to observe performance is essential for feedback. How can you give feedback on something you haven’t seen? “I can’t know if my team members are working or not,” is something we hear from managers. But seeing employees in the office gives a false sense of control and potentially produces an unconscious (or is it?) bias. How do you know that they are doing great work?
Feedback on knowledge work should focus on the process, progress and outcomes versus time spent behind the desk. This requires specific processes to ensure equitable inputs to performance assessment. This could be as simple as gathering input from key stakeholders over email. An assessment of what the employee should start/stop/continue doing will help you bias-check the performance diagnostic that informs your feedback.
2. Fewer Impromptu Interactions
We hear this consistently across organizations, industries and geographies: People lament the scarcity of chances to simply “bump into” someone. And when you bump into someone, you are more likely to give them fresh feedback. A lot of feedback is exchanged when colleagues travel together or simply walk down the hall after a meeting. This will likely resume for those in the office, but what about team members working remotely?
Be more intentional about how you use your time. If a meeting ends a few minutes early, don’t just leave the meeting. Stick around to give your team members the opportunity to seek your feedback. Or offer optional office hours when people can come to your office or dial in, making yourself available in a visible and intentional way. Being more intentional and structured ensures that the scarcer interactions with remote employees are optimally leveraged.
3. Hybrid Feels Different Across the Team
To be fair, managers need to be intentional about sharing feedback and introduce practices that work equally well in-person and virtually. One of such practice, introduced by a talent expert Marc Effron, is called 2+2 feedback. In 15 minutes, managers can give feedback to each of their team members, no matter where they work — on two things that are going well and two things that need improvement.
4. Team Meetings Are More About the Work, Less About the Team
Finally, feedback in teams is a powerful way to increase performance. But hybrid meetings are more focused, shorter and often devoid of informal interactions — at least for those joining virtually. Leaders can change that by establishing routines to discuss how the team progresses toward achieving its goals. For example, leadership guru Keith Ferrazzi suggests a rapid bulletproofing exercise to critique and improve each other’s work. At Pixar, they practice “plussing,” discussing not only what went well, but also what could be added next time: good performance plus opportunities for improvement.
These major shifts related to hybrid work and their implications on feedback exchanges in teams are summarized in the table below:
|What’s Changed||Implications for Feedback Exchange||Managerial Hacks|
|Fewer opportunities to observe work.||Performance diagnosis should focus on work process, progress and outcomes.||Start/stop/continue request from stakeholders.|
|Fewer impromptu interactions.||Feedback exchanges need to be more intentional.||Virtual office hours.|
|Different work arrangements for different team members.||Maintaining fairness across the team in performance support and giving feedback.||2+2 feedback.|
|Nature and quality of team meetings.||Making space for team feedback routines.||Bulletproofing
There are many things that leaders can do to foment fair, focused and credible feedback in hybrid teams. The key is doing something. Feedback is your not-so-secret weapon to improving your team’s performance. It is also proven to provide the development and engagement that makes performance sustainable. It sets you aside from peers, growing your leadership brand. So, make your hybrid team run on feedback and be the boss that you would want to have.