More than a year into working from home, many office professionals are eager to continue their flexible arrangements after the coronavirus pandemic. According to surveys from Gallup, Pew, PwC and more, workers and employers alike expect that the future of work will revolve around a hybrid schedule, where people are in the office some days and can work from anywhere on others.
The flexibility opens up a lot of potential for workers, but it can also pose a new set of challenges for leaders and managers. Brie Reynolds is a career development manager and coach at FlexJobs, which specializes in job postings for remote roles, and has a decade of experience working and leading teams from afar. However, she tells CNBC Make It she's still learning new ways to bring people together every day, just like everyone else working from home during the pandemic.
But she does have one piece of advice for any manager leading a team remotely, whether they're apart 100% of the time or on a hybrid schedule.
"Get a strong sense of how to be the proactive communicator for your team to bring people together, form team culture," and work effectively, Reynolds says. Being a proactive communicator means asking your employees the right questions in the right ways so you can get honest feedback to learn how they work best.
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Learn how people work best
A good place to start if you're a manager new to a team is to understand how your reports feel about the collaboration tools they have available. Reynolds suggests asking: "What do people find most helpful? What do people use each tool for? When you start, you may intend to use Zoom just for web conferencing, but maybe people like using it for regular phone meetings, too. You won't know unless you ask."
This check-in is also helpful if you're not new to a team, but your company has announced long-term remote work. After all, your office may have introduced a whole suite of remote collaboration tools a year ago, but you've found your employees gravitate toward two or three the most.
From there, you can set a standard for what tools are to be used for what purposes so the whole team can incorporate this into their workflow. You could also take your findings to your own managers and suggest if certain unused tools can be cut from the budget, or if funds could be reallocated elsewhere.
Solicit feedback in a variety of ways
It's also important to solicit feedback in a variety of ways to make sure employees can share their thoughts in the way that's most effective for them. Some people may feel comfortable speaking their mind on the spot during a conference call, while others would prefer to have some time to gather their thoughts and submit written feedback. And remember that working from home instead of an office can change people's preferences. Your colleague who feels comfortable chiming in during an in-person meeting may have additional demands, like caring for children, or home-based factors, like slower internet, that prevent them from speaking up during a virtual video meeting.
In short, "give people a variety of ways to answer," Reynolds says. Send around a survey so people can pinpoint how they prefer to give and receive feedback. As a manager, note whether they prefer one-on-one meetings, if they like convening in small group sessions or if they believe certain messages get across best through a larger town hall.
Additionally, "being open to accepting feedback in multiple ways is the best way to get the most honest view of what the team is doing and how they're feeling, and they can ask whatever questions they have too," Reynolds says.
Gathering anonymous comments is crucial to making sure your employees feel like they can bring up what is and isn't going well while working from home, Reynolds adds, so you can help build "strong, fully functional remote teams."