Navigating Project Management with a Hybrid Team
Project management has forever been changed by COVID in both subtle and significant ways. In my world – government contracting – it previously would have been unimaginable to work anywhere but at the client’s site. Since the pandemic, change surrounds us. I hesitate to call it the ‘new normal’ because nothing is normal about our situation today, whether you are in the public or private sector. As PMs, we’ve come to expect change and to shift our project management mindset accordingly (and sometimes daily!) by asking ourselves, “What will it take to meet the needs of this project?”
Managing a hybrid workforce represents one of the most significant changes ushered in by the pandemic. While we might have dabbled in it before, widespread adoption of hybrid is here to stay. And frankly overdue. Leading a dispersed workforce demands that project managers drill down to an individualized level. It requires looking at the work differently, identifying each employee’s strengths, weaknesses, and availability to determine how they can best contribute to the team.
Operationally, there are several aspects of project management to consider with a hybrid workforce. Here are the ones I rank in the top five:
Realign your hybrid workforce with project needs
Working 9 to 5 in an office used to be the norm, with limited flexibility about where and when employees worked. The pandemic proved that many employees can be productive remotely and outside of core hours. PMs need to realign project tasks with new flexibility, mapping a new path to project milestones. Harvard Business Review published a hybrid matrix model I like with four quadrants:
- Work anywhere during set hours
- Work in the office during set hours
- Work in the office anytime
- Work anywhere, anytime.
By dissecting the elements of project work and identifying specifically which item falls into which quadrant of the model, we can manage all employees with predictability and stability. The goal is that each person on your team knows what they must accomplish and the deadline so they can schedule daycare, uninterrupted work time, collaboration, and a work-life balance.
Manage individuals for engagement and productivity
Once we reassess the project needs, we also need to reassess the available resources – our employees. That starts with knowing each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. I use a Strengths-Based Leadership Model and the Clifton Strength Finders Assessment. With metrics in hand, you can balance your teams in terms of strengths and hybrid availability, ensuring you have the right coverage and resources.
This individualized approach is time-consuming, but correctly applied, this approach can save PM’s time over the lifecycle of the project. Consider sharing strength results with each employee within the context of how the strengths help the employee meet organizational goals, project goals, and personal goals. These insights often reveal what truly motivates each employee (it’s not always money).
Policies and governance for hybrid teams
With a hybrid workforce, your employee handbook and project guidelines need to become living documents. You’ll need policies designed for maximum flexibility. Rather than focusing on what employees can or cannot do, policies need to be written to ensure employees have all the tools they need.
Some policies might require trial and error to get things right. For example, when we have team meetings now, we ask everyone to dial in to the conference line individually to listen, regardless of where they are working, and to turn on their camera when they are talking. This saves bandwidth and makes “face time” equitable between those in the office and those working elsewhere.
Developing a dispersed culture
Many PMs manage teams who are in multiple locations, and large organizations have shown us how culture and values can span the miles. What I will emphasize here is that culture in a hybrid workforce demands more communication.
Weekly emails, quarterly leadership calls, daily check-ins all help to replace the
face-to-face interaction of the past. Establishing new routines, like having teams eat lunch together once a week via a video call, provide a casual ‘watercooler’ environment that helps employees get to know each other on a more personal level. We understand others better when we communicate face-to-face and can pick up on the nonverbal cues, whether in person or via video.
When the communication is two-way, and employees feel heard, hybrid culture really shines. Since everyone’s work preferences are (hopefully) being met through hybrid flexibility, you have an organization where everyone buys into the culture and people recognize that their behavior and their contribution matter.
Metrics for a hybrid workforce
PM has undergone a shift in metrics that highlights a hybrid workforce. The trend now is to focus on the outcome rather than output.
The outcome mindset measures value based on individual contributions to the end result. Were objectives met? Is the client satisfied? Are teammates satisfied with the balance of contribution across the team? These are metrics we need to measure for a hybrid workforce. The focus shifts to determining if teammates are contributing in substantial and meaningful ways. The team dynamic becomes so important that you may want to consider adding 360-degree feedback from peers as part of your PM processes.
Project management with a hybrid workforce comes down to three factors: flexibility, individuality, and communication. It’s a change brought on by the pandemic but exactly the shake up the working world needed.
The same flexibility that allows our teams to accomplish tasks at various times and places drives agility in other areas of the organization.
The focus on individuals and their contributions to the collective outcome pushes us to take a deeper look at the human beings on our payroll and gain insights into what satisfies their personal and professional goals.
Communicating differently, and more purposefully, has helped with a greater understanding of the organization and project goals. And it gives a voice to each individual and drives a deeper level of team engagement.
So even though we may be dispersed, our teams are closer than ever before.