Updated: Feb 27
I learned to be a manager while I was learning to be a teacher.
After graduating from university, I had a job that involved managing others. And, at the same time, I began teaching part-time as an adjunct professor. During this time I observed many parallels between the two professions.
In the classroom, I learned that if I clearly communicated my expectations to students, gave them the resources they needed, and checked in with them along the way, most of them would enjoy my class and produce high-quality work. At the same time, I realized the same approach applied to managing my employees.
During the pandemic, I further understood that these three practices take on even greater importance when teaching remotely and managing hybrid employees. With less face-to-face interaction, a central key to success in both contexts is the willingness to over-communicate.
Establish Clear Expectations
Professors use their syllabi to communicate their expectations about the course, the assignments, and expectations for student contributions and behaviors. However, simply putting expectations in writing isn’t sufficient. That’s why most faculty use a variety of approaches during the first week of class to bring those expectations to life. For example, my syllabus includes a statement about inclusivity that partially reads, “Cornell supports an inclusive learning environment where diversity and individual differences are understood, respected, appreciated, and recognized as a source of strength.” On the first day of class, I ask students to identify behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable for a learning environment that values inclusivity. We revisit that list at various points during the semester. If we don’t, they will forget.
Managers don’t have syllabi, but they have policies, procedures, and unwritten expectations that guide how work gets done in their organization. The best managers take the time to establish clear expectations about hybrid work including when they expect employees to be available, how often they would like to meet, and what communication channel is preferred for various topics.
To help normalize expectations, you might briefly revisit them during a team meeting each time a new employee joins your group.
Give Your Employees the Resources They Need
Students need information and reminders between class sessions. Many faculty use weekly emails to review key takeaways from the week, alert students to the plan for the week ahead, and provide links to helpful resources.
I often use updates to address questions I receive during the week from individual students. These help everyone enrolled in the course benefit from my responses. When I recognize a gap in my course resources, I include links to brief videos to explain more complex ideas.
If you manage a remote or hybrid team, regular emails and brief videos are an excellent way to keep your team on the same page. Consider sending weekly emails that include important changes, notable accomplishments, and information that does not require a discussion. Your employees may also appreciate the personal touch of recorded videos for updates because video allows them to see your facial expressions and hear the tone of your voice.
Check In With Your Employees
You have a variety of strategies at your disposal for checking in with hybrid employees including holding virtual office hours, arriving early and staying after meetings, and allowing time for employees to interact with you and each other.
Hold Virtual Office Hours: Faculty hold office hours to give students the opportunity to drop in and ask questions without having to schedule an appointment. In addition to holding in person office hours, I have been offering virtual office hours via Zoom. Students appreciate the virtual office hour option because they can drop in from anywhere. I usually turn on the waiting room feature, so students can speak with me privately; however, prior to major project deadlines, I hold open virtual office hours where students can hear not only what other students are asking but also my responses. Some students drop in and others stay the entire time.
Since remote workers can’t simply stop into your office, you should consider holding virtual office hours for your team. You will likely have a small group of employees that value the chance to communicate with you this way. The rest may not be regular visitors, but they’ll appreciate your availability when a situation arises where quickly dropping in helps move a project forward.
Arrive Early and Stay After: Arriving to class early and staying after class is a great way to build relationships with students. Greeting students as they arrive makes students feel welcome, and chatting informally helps professors learn a bit about what is going on in their student’s lives. I have also found that some students appreciate hearing about what’s going on in my life. Arriving early also gives students the chance to ask questions or chat with their professors about topics they might not feel comfortable sharing in front of the rest of the class.
Staying after class yields similar benefits. In fact, I’ve had some of the richest conversations with students after class. Sometimes we explore a topic from class and quite often we learn about each other on a deeper level.
Managers who wish to support their hybrid team should consider making it a habit to log in early and stay a few minutes after their virtual meetings. Your employees are more likely to take advantage of these additional informal communication opportunities if you let them know in advance that you intend to arrive early and stay after.
If you feel like spending time this way may not be a good use of your own time, think about how many valuable conversations you have had immediately before or after an in-person meeting. By logging on a bit early and staying a few minutes after a virtual meeting, you provide your hybrid employees the opportunity to develop a stronger relationship with you.
Allow Time for Interaction: Once class officially begins, it’s best to check in with students by inviting them to share what’s on their mind, issues they are experiencing, or topics they would like to be sure are discussed. This process is likely to be more structured than the informal chatting that happens before class begins and could account for 5% of class time (i.e., 3 minutes of a 60-minute class).
Managing hybrid employees requires more intentional efforts to build and maintain relationships than in-person teams. For example, during an in-person team meeting you may begin by focusing immediately on tasks because you can build relationships with individual members of your team at other times and they can build relationships with each other at other times. However, with a hybrid team, virtual meetings may be one of the only times certain members of your team interact with each other.
You can help your team build trust by allotting a few minutes at the start of a meeting for your hybrid employees to interact. I’m not suggesting you use cliche ice-breakers, but you could randomly assign participants to break-out rooms and ask them to share something they have accomplished in the last week that they are proud of and/or a challenge they are facing that they could use help resolving. Even work-related topics that are not overly task-focused can help your employees connect.
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By being intentional with your communication, providing the necessary resources, and making time for interaction, you can create an environment where your hybrid employees feel supported and thrive, yielding positive results for your team and your organization.