Managers Share How They Support Hybrid Teams

When leading both in-person and virtual teams, innovative methods of communication keep stakeholders aligned.

Written by Remy Merritt
Published on Jun. 28, 2021
Managers Share How They Support Hybrid Teams
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In a 2020 study, Growmotely found that 97% of respondents preferred some degree of flexibility between working remotely and working in an office. The sweeping response is not surprising — after more than a year of experience with working remotely, whether partially in-office or entirely virtual, employees have reconfigured their working styles around a new norm.

For Caroline Guo, Senior Director of Growth Marketing at HashiCorp, managing the pros and cons of hybrid remote work requires a balancing act. “In remote settings, I have found myself and my team to be more productive, with fewer distractions and more flexibility for focus-time. But remote work has a tendency to create siloed work if we are not frequently communicating,” she said.

To benefit from increased productivity without sacrificing communication, Guo incorporated new channels for team members to collaborate, as well as an increased emphasis on peer-to-peer recognition to drive achievements and morale. 

Remote work is undoubtedly here to stay, and with it comes new requirements — and solutions. Below, she and local Director of Performance Engineering and Site Operations Srikant Vaithilingam share what they’ve learned to guide their hybrid remote teams to success.

 

Caroline Guo
Senior Director, Growth Marketing • HashiCorp

With expertise in carrying companies from aged data centers to modern, tailored architectures, HashiCorp is well-versed in adapting to unique needs. In moving the growth marketing team to a hybrid remote work environment, senior director Caroline Guo found that increased channels for communication helped integrate virtual teams.

 

Tell us about your hybrid remote team. How many people do you manage and where does everyone sit? 

The HashiCorp Growth Marketing team transitioned to hybrid-remote in 2020. We are a distributed team of 10 (and growing — we’re hiring!), with a few individuals based out of our San Francisco headquarters and the remainder of the team members across the U.S., in varying time zones. COVID-19 had an impact on many team member’s lifestyles and as a result, many individuals relocated out of the Bay Area. I have found that a flexible work environment for both in-office or remote allows us to expand the pool of candidates we hire into our team, and provides accommodating setups for individuals to do their best work.

 

What’s the most important lesson you've learned from managing a team that’s part remote and part in-office? 

With remote and in-person workforces, it is always best to over-communicate when possible.

In remote settings, I have found myself and my team to be more productive, with fewer distractions and more flexibility for focus time. But remote work has a tendency to create siloed work if we are not frequently communicating. Marketing teams are highly collaborative, and require managing and working with multiple stakeholders across sales, operations, product and engineering. Promoting a culture of over-communication via Slack, Zoom and email is integral to helping break down silos. Since going remote, I’ve come across scenarios where different teams have duplicated efforts, working on identical projects to solve the same business problem.

Some of the ways I’ve incorporated over-communication into our team culture is through weekly Zoom huddles, where we review a standard set of metrics and KPIs, or chat through any project crossovers and do round-robins showcasing each individual’s highest-impact projects. I have also found that sharing updates in Slack channels celebrating specific employees’ wins has been effective.

 

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

Take time to understand everyone’s working styles. Be cognizant that your perception of individuals in person versus remote may be skewed depending on where you’re sitting. If you are in person, do you find yourself gravitating toward assigning in-person individuals the higher visibility, more complex projects? If you are remote, do you find yourself more inclined to ping remote individuals more frequently to hop on Zoom because they are by their computers, instead of in the office?


 

Srikant Vaithilingam
Director of Performance Engineering & Site Operations • Vicarious

While Vicarious is developing sophisticated, predictable, AI-powered robots, they also understand the value of human idiosyncrasies. As a leader in the company’s transition to a hybrid remote model, Srikant Vaithilingam experimented with various communication modalities to find the right match for each employee’s style.

 

Tell us about your hybrid remote team. How many people do you manage and where does everyone sit? 

I currently manage a team of 17 people with 10 direct reports. A third of the team is based out of our Bay Area headquarters with the rest located in Kentucky, North Carolina, New Jersey and Southern California. The pandemic has supercharged the trend of employees working remotely — we’ve found that a remote model with a large geographic spread allows us to better service our customers, who are also scattered throughout the U.S. in multiple time zones. 

 

What’s the most important lesson you've learned from managing a team that’s part remote and part in-office?

Good communication between team members is always important, but is harder to achieve when the team is geographically dispersed. As a team, we use a number of tools for both synchronous (Zoom, Slack) and asynchronous communication (email, Jira).

However, what I’ve found to be the most useful is to have reserved, dedicated, weekly time slots on the calendar to video chat with team members, both individually and as a group. This helps prime the pump for conversations that might have normally occurred if we met in person. Getting into a weekly cadence also reduces the barrier to conversation, and helps overcome any reticence between teammates who might have never met in person.

 

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

It can be challenging at first, and I encourage the manager to experiment with different communication modalities and processes to figure out what works for their team. It will also take some time before a high level of camaraderie develops within the team. In general, I would initially err on the side of over-communication until everyone feels comfortable with their roles and their teammates.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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