The Challenge of Coaching Hybrid Teams

Workplaces may be reopening, but not everyone is returning to the office. Many leaders now find themselves managing hybrid teams that are a mix of employees working locally (on-site) and remotely (off-site). Although this change comes with several advantages, both for the company and its employees, it also brings some new challenges — in particular, how to coach a hybrid team. 

What is a hybrid team? 

Today’s hybrid teams have a variety of working modes – people working full time in the office, people who split their week between the office and an off-site location, and people who are permanently home-based or working from other remote locations.  

When done right, the hybrid work model allows businesses to maximize worker productivity and access talent outside local pools. But as great as these advantages might sound, they’re not without their challenges. In particular, hybrid working is new territory for many leaders who struggle with creating inclusive, equitable, efficient, and connected work environments in which all team members — “remotes” and “locals” — volunteer their best efforts and highest energy. 

Managing a “New Normal” 

Managing well, whether in-person or at a distance, requires the same skillset. You’ll need to coach, give timely and actionable feedback, set priorities, clarify expectations, protect your team’s time, and use one-on-ones to increase engagement, certainty, autonomy, meaning, progress, and social inclusion.  

One of the biggest challenges facing hybrid team leaders is ensuring that every employee, regardless of where they are doing work, has equal opportunities for growth, professional development, and engagement. In optimizing and adjusting to hybrid work environments, leaders need to assess how they coach equitably across the team.  

Coachable Moments for Everyone    

This is where being deliberate comes in.  Leaders must reflect on their current coaching approach by asking questions such as, “How much of my coaching happens in a casual and unplanned way?” or “How much of my coaching is triggered because of my proximity to an employee?”   

If you have historically relied on “drive-bys” and impromptu conversations to monitor work performance — which in turn triggers the feedback and coaching you deliver — you may be unintentionally giving preferential treatment to those who spend the most time physically close to you. 

Let’s look at an example: a manager who is physically in the office attends a meeting with employees that are both local and remote. After the meeting is over the manager walks out with a local employee chatting about the effectiveness of the meeting and offers a few “tips” on how to handle things better for the next meeting.  That local employee got the benefit of the impromptu coaching moment — but what about those attending remotely? It would take a deliberate action by the manager to reach out in some way so that everyone might benefit from the “tips for next time” coaching.  

The risk of any proximity bias in our coaching approach may mean that in-person employees will grow and develop at a faster pace than their remote coworkers.  In other words, the playing field of employee development is decidedly unlevel with clear advantages going to those who are in closest proximity to their manager.  

The Key to Coaching a Hybrid Team: Maintaining Awareness  

At the end of the day, managing a hybrid team means maintaining awareness that remotes and locals have different experiences — and reacting deliberately to level the playing field and maintain strong team dynamics. Coaching — when done well (and regularly) — provides us a better understanding of individual employee needs, impact, and performance. Being a good coach also develops our interpersonal skills and makes us better leaders. 

Here are three key areas of focus for anyone coaching in a hybrid work environment:   

Use coaching to build a culture of trust and inclusion  

Coaching is a highly relational activity, requiring focused and appreciative listening, an open mind, and a belief in the potential and capability of others.  Continuously improving your communication skills used in coaching will underpin strong, trusting, and appreciative workplace relationships. 

Be accountable for an effective and equitable coaching process  

Coaching conversations are designed to help people progress toward their goals, big and small. When, where, and how you facilitate these conversations is one of the most important managerial processes you own.  Using a simple but powerful framework, such as the G.R.O.W. model for coaching, can help structure your coaching process to unlock the possibilities and potential of everyone you coach.   

Create conditions for everyone to become self-motivated   

Motivation is influenced by both internal drivers (or intrinsic factors) like purpose, competency, autonomy, and progress as well as external drivers (or extrinsic factors) like money, status, or power. As you are coaching in the hybrid work environment consider how your group members are motivated by these various drivers and help them gain greater self-awareness and alignment with their values, strengths, and goals.    

The bottom line is leading a team is difficult to begin with. Now the prospect of accomplishing this in a new, more complex, more dynamic environment raises the stakes — and the level of stress. On the other hand, it is also a tremendous opportunity to add a new aspect of leadership competency to your own resume.  

If you are interested in learning more about coaching and team management, join us for  Coaching and Motivating in the Workplace and Managing Teams Effectively . Both programs are offered online and in-person to help you build the coaching skills needed to advance your career. 

Betsy Hagan is an independent consultant specializing in organizational effectiveness, talent development, and executive coaching. Betsy has advised on a variety of business improvements in the areas of strategic planning, restructuring, talent development, and cost management. Today she leads CPED’s Foundations of Management Certificate focused on helping managers motivate their teams, influence stakeholders, leverage resources, and enhance business processes. Betsy is a member of the Society of Human Resource Management and the American Productivity and Quality Control Council. With a B.A. in communications from Eastern Illinois University, she is also certified in executive coaching, change management, performance consulting, and instructional design.