Managing Hybrid Teams

16th January, 2022

You might find it useful to read this article alongside our resources on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – here is a good place to start!

Contrary to the beliefs of most organisational leaders and managers, improved productivity comes when you let staff do things their way rather than forcing them to do things your way.


Typical twentieth-century working patterns – the commute, followed by a 9 to 5 job in the office – have been eroding for years. The Covid 19 pandemic has vastly accelerated this process and has shown the full range of work that is adaptable to flexible hours and remote working.

The pandemic experience of remote and hybrid working is not necessarily an accurate guide to what will happen in future: although the format is here to stay, the power to shape it is in your hands.

About this blog

This article is based on a talk first given in May 2021 by Andrew Evans (Director, Think Philanthropy & Director, Diversify Your Talent), on behalf of Creative United, as part of the Rebuilding Heritage training programme. It offers a guide to the advantages and pitfalls of managing hybrid teams, dispels myths, and provides a framework to help you decide what will work for your heritage organisation. You can watch the whole webinar here.

Happy People are More Productive

For almost all organisations, staff are the most important asset. Evidence shows that the most productive workers are those who are happiest, and happy workers are those who feel they have autonomy and are trusted.

This vital sense of control may come from a whole range of working patterns: the important part seems to be having a choice, rather than what is chosen. Therefore, when beginning to think about hybrid working, avoid assuming that your own preferences are the default best option.

Contrary to the beliefs of most organisational leaders and managers, improved productivity comes when you let staff do things their way rather than by forcing them to do things your way. You may have to intervene, tweak, or address conflicts of interest – but listening to your staff is the foundation of finding the right model for your organisation

“No-one comes to work wanting to do a bad job”

Especially in the heritage sector, only a tiny number of people come in to work not caring, and your team will know all sorts of things that you don’t know about the day-to-day experience of doing their job. You need to have the big picture first, then you can sort out any contradictions – and get different people within the team to listen to each other.

Which Work Models are Currently Available?

This diagram shows the range of working patterns…

We can see the old fashioned twentieth-century work patterns in the bottom left of this picture – rigid on time, rigid on location.

By contrast, in the top right are the ‘digital nomads’, whose employers don’t mind if they are in the office or elsewhere in a remote time zone, as long as the work gets done. Tech start-ups have been working in this way for some years.

Many have worked in the ‘rigid on time, flexible on location’ model during the pandemic, including heritage sites adapting to more extensive homeworking for the first time.

Finally the ‘rigid on location, flexible on time model’ hasn’t been advanced by the pandemic, but has become gradually more common as part of a slower societal shift away from 9 – 5. Where does your organisation sit on the matrix?

Ask yourself where your organisation sat in this picture pre-Covid, now – and where you would like to be in the future.

A diagram of four boxes showing the 'range of models available'. Top left reads 'rigid on location, flexible on time. Top right reads 'flexible on time and location. Bottom left reads, 'rigid on time and location'. Bottom right reads 'rigid on time and flexible on location'. Which one does your organisation fall into?

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Hybrid Working

-There is no “going back to “normal”!-


High trust saves administration costs. Do you have complicated systems for measuring hours worked and holidays? Often the costs of administering these far exceed the marginal gains from tracking. If you trust your staff to deliver on all sorts of other consequential issues, trust them to keep track of hours worked too.

Wellbeing benefits. Choice creates a happier workforce – with some demographics seeing this flexibility as more desirable than a higher salary. On-site, there are potential advantages in creating a more pleasant, spread out working environment, with break-out spaces and easy chairs.

Environmental benefits. Most heritage organisations have fixed sites and won’t save much in heating or working space if fewer staff are office-based all week. However, if your organisation is one of many now calculating its carbon footprint, decreased commutes may be one factor to consider.

Have the meetings you really need. Meetings are easy if everyone is in the office, or if everyone is working remotely. But can be more difficult if some are present in person and some via screen; if this happens often, consider investing in bigger screens and better equipment so that those present virtually do not get overlooked. But before looking at ways to enable meetings, ask how many you really need, and what value they deliver to make the best use of everyone’s time. A shift to hybrid working can be an ideal time to re-evaluate.


Jealousy. Hybrid working risks increased tensions between team members and teams about who is gaining the most benefit. See more about ‘envy of homeworking’, and how to address it, below.

Spotting mental health issues. You will need greater management skills to manage the good mental health of your staff. Those spending hours alone, even if it’s just for some days each week, may find it easier to fall into a dark place.

Space at home. Homeworking can look very attractive for those with a spare room for an office and a lovely garden – not so much for the younger and less well-paid staff in a bedsit or noisy houseshare. It is important to be aware of everyone’s circumstances and avoid layering privilege upon privilege.

Equipment costs. There may also be concrete costs as you double up on IT equipment, and need to develop greater technical awareness among managers and teams.

Unfounded fears?

Will work get done? Here again, we see that although some managers fear home-working will make people underproductive, in reality, overwork is a greater risk.

Preserving organisational culture. Another fear is that organisations will lose their culture – in reality, that culture will be about more than proximity. However, do remember to factor in some face-to-face meetings and protocols around emails and phone calls.

Public opinion. Public expectations are still evolving. If you need to change your opening hours or archive access, make use of available data on the effects and consider a survey. People are generally sympathetic, especially if you mention that a new format is a pilot or trial. Be careful not to treat a small number of people with a very strong opinion as indicative of everyone’s view.

Andrew comments: “the benefits significantly outweigh the challenges, and a large majority of employers are planning to introduce or expand the use of home working once the crisis is over”. The next step for many organisations lies in taking the best of what we experienced during the pandemic to create new models. Meanwhile, employers who return to exactly the same patterns as before may lose valuable staff who prefer more flexible options.

Evaluating your Current Culture

These are not exhaustive but helpful in unpacking your current situation. You may want to use these questions to ask your staff what they think of the workplace culture – try to keep the positive elements in any future model.

How well do teams work together?

How well do we handle conflict?

Where do people raise issues – are they able to speak up in management meetings or are they (only) complaining in the pub after work?

Are people rewarded for good performance and how?

How and When to Meet and Collaborate?

These areas may need some particular thought to work in a hybrid model:

Team meetings (work based)

Team meetings (informal, social)

Away-days (which may occasionally include closing the site, even if your organisation is quite a large one)

Collaboration (informal and formal)

How to communicate with people working at different times – including knowing when not to demand an answer straight away.

Take a look at our Internal Communications webinar for some ideas on how to effectively correspond within your team.

Keeping teams connected (what the problem isn’t)

There is no shortage of methods of communication – from Zoom to Skype to email, phone, WhatsApp or instant messenger. The challenge is having a culture that uses these in an appropriate way. Don’t assume that all communication is helpful – does everyone need to be included in an email or invited to a meeting?

Meeting with staff with whom you closely

With the caveat that every organisation is different, here are some suggestions about baselines for meeting frequency when you are working closely with people:

At least a monthly 121 if you are line managing someone, ideally in person.

Once a week if you are driving through a major or capital project.

Once a month if you work together strategically.

The more infrequent the meeting the more it matters that it happens in person. For everything else – map out which meetings and communications are helpful.

Ask your team:

How did they communicate before the pandemic? (this might not be as you envisaged)

How did they operate during lockdowns?

And how would they like to communicate now? Try to avoid e.g. setting up a Slack group if everyone is happy on WhatsApp, unless there is a strong case for change.

Practices to adapt:

Introduce new tools where they are a good fit for the job, even if not everyone has used them before. For example, would shared documents work for you better than multiple versions of a draft?

Have clear protocols for how to use various communication methods. These might cover always answering the phone during working hours unless in a meeting or ‘deep work’ mode, responding to Slack within a day (even if just with a holding message) and an email within a couple of days.

Preferences will vary by organisation: the important thing is for leaders to stick to their own rules, and apologise if they fail to do so. Managers may also want to look at regular ways of staying in touch – for example, and email to all staff every Friday – making people feel informed and included.

Managing transition

The ideal default is that senior management and Trustees need a really good reason not to do what the staff want.  The presumption in many organisations is the other way around.  If you want to act against staff preferences, ask yourself “what is my really good reason?”

Where you can’t accommodate staff preference, explain why – do not treat them as if they are unable to understand management dilemmas.

If you’re working towards a hybrid model, but are beginning to receive individual requests from staff for flexible working arrangements, there are two equally valid ways to approach this. You could ask staff to wait because the organisation is working out a long-term solution. Or you could allow a staff member to change their working practice in the short-term, but emphasise that this is an interim measure that may need to be withdrawn. So long as there is honesty and clarity, this should not be a problem from an HR point of view.

‘Heimarbeitneid’ – Envy of Home Workers

“I’m not chaining anyone to their desk” – Laura Pye

One of the newer German compound nouns, coined in 2020, Heimarbeitneid, or envy of home workers is not just a wry joke but should be taken seriously as a meaningful problem, which may cause resentment if not addressed. It exists because home working reinforces existing privilege – with back-office often better paid than Front of House, whose work calls for them to be on-site at all times.

However, noticing the risk of resentment is not a reason to maintain the status quo. Instead, the aim should be to look at how to improve work for everyone, while keeping a focus on your central aim of serving the business.

What’s important to your on-site workers?

As well as consulting staff with the potential to work remotely about their preferred patterns, it’s crucial to talk to those who are working largely on site. What is important to them? Is it a high-quality rest place instead of a tatty back room? Would they appreciate good cheap or free coffee or better computers? Could you acknowledge the commitments of working onsite through perks such as extra days of annual leave – possibly with senior staff backfilling their work on those days, to keep in touch with the experience of working Front of House?

It’s also worth exploring if shifts could be offered more flexibly, or if there are occasional days when on-site staff could usefully work from home.

Whatever answers you get, the interaction will help you and your on-site staff to think through what is (and isn’t) possible. Remember too, that with some caveats about opportunity and life circumstances, on-site staff are adults with a choice: managers can’t plug a really big mismatch between desired working patterns and the needs of a role – and for some ‘Heimarbeitneid’ may make them decide to retrain or take a different job.

If you decide to pay workers for a proportion of their broadband, much of this is likely to go into their pockets – minor benefits like these all help towards a supportive workforce. Conversely, if those who are frequently home-working are saving substantially on commuting, factor this in for those working on-site – should they be in line for more of a pay-rise when possible to reflect this balance?

What interpersonal issues can you see in your organisation if you allow people to work from home? What tension might that create? What does that say about your existing work culture? For example, if Front of House resent back-office staff, home working may add fuel to the fire — but your central problem is your existing culture, not home working.

Expectation and Obligations- Remote Working and the Law

Your obligations as an employer are just the same as for on-site working. These include:

Health and safety.

Redundancy issues: be sure there isn’t a perception that those who have been in the office are less susceptible to redundancy.

Usual standards for employment conditions such as the working time directive and the minimum wage.

Making sure GDPR and data confidentiality standards are being met. For example, do you have a staff member working from home in the same house as someone working for a competitor company who might be interested in your data? However, even 9 to 5 working hours in the office are unlikely to entirely protect you from this sort of risk: managers and senior managers were frequently taking work home with them well before 2020.

HMRC offers guidance on what employees are allowed to receive without incurring a tax liability, this gives a framework as an employer. Beyond this, a good starting point for deciding home working expenses is to find an organisation that you like and respect that is already working in a hybrid way, and use their model as a starting point.

Putting It All Together: a Template for Implementing Hybrid Working

Here is a simple, four-stage process for moving from your previous practice to hybrid working. Adapt this to create something that works for your organisation.

Review your current practice including consulting staff and volunteers. Use surveys or interviews with staff members to establish their preferences, wants and needs.

Senior management should then develop the desired approach and communicate it. This approach should meet the needs of your business while aligning as closely as possible with the ways your staff would prefer to work.

Agree a minimum trial period of six months with stakeholders, board, unions, staff and volunteers. In many cases, a trial period of a year may be even better.

Instigate a review three months before the end of the trial, with aim of deciding whether to continue with the pattern or introduce changes. If you are going to tweak or radically change your model, let people know six weeks before the end of the trial.

Final Top Tip: Manage to Enable your Team

Andrew Evans says:

“Your team know – even if they can’t always articulate it – how they work best for the good of the organisation. Your job as leader or manager is to listen to your team, address the knotty problems they bring to you – then work that through and give them something that works as well as it can. It will not be perfect or please everyone. But it will be better if you listen to your team.”

This article was written by Kate Smith of Goosegrass Culture.

Adapted from content delivered in partnership with:

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