The Lessons These Managers Learned From Leading Hybrid Remote Teams

VPs from Neighborhoods.com and NielsenIQ explain how they’ve made hybrid models work at their companies for years.
Written by Colin Hanner
June 29, 2021Updated: June 29, 2021

Now that vaccines have been distributed to virtually all who want one in the United States, a new topic has entered into our daily conversations.  

When are you heading back into the office? 

For some, the answer is "as soon as possible." The past 15 months have been a case study in patience and perseverance at home, and many are eagerly awaiting the day they can enter their offices safely and get back to the way things were. 

For others, especially remote workers, the question is moot. Virtually nothing is changing for them. 

But there is a smaller subsection of workers that’s growing larger by the day: the hybrid workforce. During the pandemic, many employees were unexpectedly given a glimpse of what work looks like beyond the office walls. 
 

In a study by Steelhouse, 80 percent of respondents in the U.S. said they expect to go into their workplaces three days or less going forward.”


And the shift has seemed to change worker attitudes permanently: Based on responses from 32,000 cumulative participants in a study by Steelhouse, 80 percent of respondents in the U.S. said they expect to go into their workplaces three days or less going forward. 

Yet, the idea of a hybrid workforce isn’t new. Sales organizations, often characterized by territories or regions throughout the country, regularly balance being in and out of an office. And companies with a global presence and distributed workforce have had to practice tenets of hybrid work for at least a decade.  

Below, Built In Chicago spoke with companies that fall into both categories — Neighborhoods.com and NielsenIQ — to learn how they’ve navigated hybrid work and the advice they have for those who are making the pivot.

 

Todd Warshauer
Vice President of Sales

What they do: Neighborhoods.com is an online real estate resource that puts the neighborhood at the heart of the home search. 

First, tell us about your hybrid remote team. How long has your team been set up this way, and why did you decide a hybrid remote model was right for your team? 

As vice president of sales, I oversee the entire sales department. My team consists of four remote sales directors, one sales operations manager and two — soon to be four! — sales coordinators. The sales directors are based in California, Arizona, New Jersey and Florida, while the sales operations team is based out of Chicago, as am I. The team has been set up this way for nearly six years due to the fact that we work with and support hundreds of real estate agents around the country, which makes regional travel and the transfer of local knowledge easier.
 

Applying consistent weekly updates for all team members will build trust and purpose in the team’s strategic initiatives.”


What’s the most important lesson you've learned from managing a team that’s part remote and part in-office? And how do you continue to apply that lesson in your role as a leader?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is to keep everyone informed. It’s easy to fall into the trap of working in a silo or in a small group with in-person team members, which can lead to remote team members feeling left out, ultimately hurting collaboration in the long run. Applying consistent weekly updates for all team members will build trust and purpose in the team’s strategic initiatives.

What advice do you have for managers who are new to leading a hybrid remote team?

Spend time getting to know team members equally, as it can be easier to connect in person vs. over video in team meetings. Look for opportunities to get team members together in person.

It's important to respect others’ time zones and calendars. Check in often, but also set expectations on work hours. Encourage calendar time blocking to balance individual work time with team member needs and meetings. Give as much flexibility to the office team as you would the remote team, and allow people the option to flex more into the office or flex more into remote.

Embrace all mediums of communication and know that everything doesn’t need to be a Zoom video call; texting and phone calls are a great way to counter Zoom fatigue. Utilize tools like Slack for conversations or quick ad-hoc questions. Use email for detailed requests that are related to projects for additional clarity.

 

Subramanyam Kumarapuram
VP, Technology

What they do: NielsenIQ offers data, solutions and insights to help organizations better understand consumers and more easily navigate the marketplace. 

First, tell us about your hybrid remote team. How long has your team been set up this way, and why did you decide a hybrid remote model was right for your team? 

I lead a global team through a “follow the sun” model with resources in several countries in North America, Asia, Europe and Latin America. For more than a decade, we have successfully led teams both in office and remote to be highly productive. Our experience of operating in this model and working with our own captive hubs helped us carry on through the pandemic seamlessly.

With the technology enablement that is available today, it is much easier to manage teams than it was a few years ago, and this is only going to get better as technology evolves and adoption of 5G improves around the world. We support mission-critical functions globally, and being hybrid remote helps both team members and NielsenIQ to be responsive to our needs.

 

THE SUN’S ALWAYS SHINING

If you’re a part of a global company, you know the sun never sets. The “follow the sun” model, which Kumarapuram referred to above, ensures that the baton — that is, any pertinent communication, issues, updates, etc. — is passed to teams just starting their days from teams that are ending theirs. 

 

What’s the most important lesson you've learned from managing a team that’s part remote and part in-office? And how do you continue to apply that lesson in your role as a leader?

Being sensitive to the needs of team members in the respective country is vital. Knowing the culture and being there to help and support teams when necessary, doing frequent check-ins and making sure they are represented and voices are heard enables them to have what they need to be able to perform. 

As a leader, I am very sensitive to simple things like making sure we are not keeping teams on the other side of the globe awake. That includes making sure we have meetings during overlap periods when both sides are at work and knowing when there are important festivals and events to ensure teams get time in the office. Additionally, we provide what is necessary to function remotely, keeping team members informed at all times and giving them opportunities to join in person where possibilities exist. We provide opportunities and celebrate key events and milestones along with remote teams. We really don’t talk about it in terms of two teams and promote the concept of one team.

What advice do you have for managers who are new to leading a hybrid remote team?

Deal with empathy, communicate openly, promote the spirit of one team, facilitate healthy conversation and ensure every team member is taken care of.  It is important to recognize changing demographics in terms of more millennials and younger workers joining the workforce. Keeping them engaged and helping them grow by providing them learning opportunities and challenges is key. Leaders should be able to adapt and break silos and hierarchies where appropriate to be successful. I also suggest leading by example and supporting other people managers by guiding and mentoring them to be successful.

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