Navigating Challenges of a Hybrid-Remote Team: An Interview with Amy Sanchez

August 11th, 2023
/
7 mins to read
Navigating Challenges of a Hybrid-Remote Team: An Interview with Amy Sanchez

Check out the interview with Amy Sanchez regarding her way to navigate challenges of a hybrid-remote team.

Amy Sanchez is an industry thought leader who has worked with over 500 leaders from companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Stanford, Apple, Pinterest, and Pfizer. In this blog, Amy shares key insights and valuable lessons on managing a hybrid-remote workforce as CEO of Swim Against The Current.

“The hybrid work model creates an environment that allows employees to better balance life outside of work.  It honors the employee as a human.”

Gone were the days of a straight 9-5, 5-day work week in the office. With the hybrid model and remote options on the rise, companies are embracing flexibility and employees get to enjoy the luxury of choosing when and where they work. However, this has also introduced new challenges for companies.

In this blog, Amy Sanchez shares with Litespace her experiences of navigating a hybrid-remote team and tips for managers in the hybrid workforce.

Interview Questions

What work model are you currently using and how is it working out for your team? Would you say this is the best model for your team at Swim?

As a coach, I work with teams who are remote, hybrid, and fully in-person.  Being based in the San Francisco Bay Area, most of the teams I work with are hybrid and in-office three days a week. 

I wouldn’t say there is one best model, as it is highly dependent on the company's values and needs.  However, at a high level, the model that I’ve seen work the best to balance collaboration, flexibility, communication, creativity, and optimal for recruiting the best talent is the hybrid model.  However, there are some teams that need to be in-person, like those in research and development who conduct experiments in the lab.

As a hybrid-remote team, what are the biggest challenges you have faced thus far?

The biggest challenges for the hybrid-remote model include:

  1. Lack of connection and understanding among team members which ultimately negatively impacts results.  I liken it to a puzzle that’s missing a few essential pieces so the entirety of the picture is compromised.
  2. Gaps in training and communication as it can be hard for everyone to stay on the same page when people aren’t having casual conversations and popping by to get quick questions answered.  Meetings that used to take ten minutes now require a 30-minute video chat and there’s just not enough time in the day to recreate the thoroughness that an in-person culture breeds.
  3. Less engagement and more “multitasking” during meetings can be exemplified by dialing into a call and showing up, but then tuning out and working on other tasks. This increases the risk of people staying silent during important conversations where their opinion or input could have had a meaningful impact on the outcome.

Many companies struggle with managing communication and keeping up with team cohesion with the hybrid model. What are your thoughts regarding that?

Research has shown that communication and team cohesion are both paramount to a highly functioning team.  However, given the other advantages that the hybrid-remote model offers, for most companies, the hybrid does appear to be the best option. The key is to take intentional steps to bridge the team cohesion and communication gap.

3 ways to bridge team cohesion and communication when overseeing a hybrid team:

1. Get the team together

Ideally, you’d want to have your team meet in-person 2-4 times a year to allow for engagement and idea exchanging. Plan team-building activities like bowling as a team after work for an informal gathering, or a team-wide discussion and insights assessment for a more work-related one. 

Taking this time to bond and better understand one another will naturally create relationships that will improve communication

2. Get to know one another - personally!

In recurring team meetings, occasionally sprinkle in time to allow the team to share information about who they are outside of work. 

If you’re a manager, you may choose to rotate owners of this exercise among your team to increase participation and decrease the burden of ownership.

3. Encourage communication

Instead of creating a spoke and wheel model where all challenges first go to the leader, facilitate communication between team members. If you are the leader and you find your team is always coming to you with challenges and questions, professionally push back and ask them to reach out directly to the responsible party.  

However, when doing this, ensure that your team members have the tools and communication skills to make these conversations productive.  You may need to coach more junior members of your team (and even more senior members who lack this skill) to help develop a healthy dialogue among the team over time.

“Regardless of where your team works, developing a culture of providing and receiving productive feedback ensures that everyone grows and learns over time.”

Having certain employees work in the office whilst others work from home could present challenges related to equal opportunity and treatment. How do you prevent this from happening?

Equal opportunity and treatment should be on every leader’s radar. Senior leadership emphasizing the importance of equality and avoiding unconscious and conscious bias will bring attention to this issue. 

Having more formal measurements in place such as evaluating pay scales among genders and different ethnic groups will ensure the data highlights the reality. Leaders can also develop an escalation system for unethical workplace behavior, and take action on behavior that doesn’t support a collaborative and fair culture. This will maintain the message that equal opportunity and treatment are essential. 

Not only is this good business practice, multiple studies have proven that a diverse and equal workplace leads to better business results.  It’s good for people and it’s good for business!

How do you address potential issues related to work-life balance and burnout in a hybrid work environment?

The beauty of the hybrid work model is that balance is more feasible and the chances for burnout should reduce - because individuals have more agency over their schedule.  

However, be aware of the culture you are creating and the example leaders are setting. Having an “always on” culture that doesn’t honor needs outside of work can lead to high burnout, turnover, and increased employee tension.  

Promote a culture that honors taking a vacation, resting, and recharging balanced with a high emphasis on the “why” behind the mission of the company.  If employees know the company cares about their well-being, and they also feel connected to the purpose of the company, they should feel permission to drive hard and rest when needed to optimize performance.

With more and more companies implementing a return-to-office strategy, do you think the hybrid model is here to stay? How can managers navigate these changes?

On the heels of the pandemic, we are still experimenting with different work models and tracking data and, in parallel, have advances in AI that could drastically change the workforce in the future.  

As always, the only constant is change. There are things that have always worked throughout human history that managers can depend on to work regardless of what the future holds.  

“Clarity, connection, and honoring differences will continue to be a core tenet of driving human behavior.” 

If managers continue to stay rooted in these essentials while remaining open and flexible to the inevitable change that is coming, they can gain a significant competitive advantage versus those who don’t put thought into changing their strategy.

Litespace had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Sanchez to share her insights and experiences managing a hybrid work model at Swim Against The Current. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erica Lim
Erica Lim

Erica is a Marketing Content Analyst at Litespace with a passion to help companies foster stronger corporate culture and better employee engagement in the hybrid work environment. Specializing in marketing and communications, Erica is eager to share her knowledge and research on hybrid work. 

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