Adopting a hybrid team strategy—using freelancers and in-house staff on the same team—may feel like a gamble, but the payoff can be great: Remote workers can fill skills gaps in your core team, help you scale capacity during busy periods, and take on big initiatives so they’re not put on hold. Research shows that 70% of managers at Fortune 100 companies have a least one remote worker on their teams—proof that the odds for hybrid team success are pretty good.
But getting to most out of a hybrid team isn’t a game of chance—it’s a moving target, and it requires preparation, planning, and good instincts to keep things track.
“In the beginning, we wondered if freelancers could provide our team a safe and productive solution. With the right processes in place, the answer is a definitive Yes.” Craig Mestel, VP of Finance Planning and Analysis, Upwork
If your organization is making the shift to a hybrid team or is ready to start giving your hybrid team larger, more important projects, what can you do in advance to set them up for success—and continue to do to keep them on track?
HEAD OFF CHALLENGES FROM THE START
Every team leader faces challenges, but not having everyone in the same room can present some unique hurdles.
A bit of upfront work can compensate for distance and help remote workers be more efficient with less oversight. Here are some solutions used by Upwork’s own hybrid data, content, and design teams.
Provide a “playbook” for self-service access to resources. Whether it’s a comprehensive project brief or a company brand book, create a document that provides plenty of context and a self-service way for team members to answer FAQs. This might include a glossary, brand guidelines, links to important resources, and an org chart of the team. Upwork’s content team works off a centralized editorial calendar so each quarter, everyone knows their deliverables and publish dates.
Structure teams to be scalable. Always go hybrid with a plan. A typical flat structure often leaves one person acting as the hub for remote team members, which isn’t sustainable as demand increases. Upwork’s data team is structured so employees perform the core work, and freelancers help with project-based work requiring specialized skills. This keeps things moving while minimizing growing pains when it comes time to scale up (or down).
Establish workflows to build in prioritization and reviews. Create a process for each project and use a kickoff meeting to get buy-in. To maintain quality and consistency of their work, Upwork’s design team employees “spend 60% of their time designing and 40% reviewing work by freelance designers.” On the data team, employees prioritize and delegate appropriate requests to hybrid team members for execution. Also, parallel workstreams help reduce dependencies.
LARGER PROJECTS & TEAMS REQUIRE MORE COORDINATION
With bigger projects (and bigger teams), there are more moving parts and information getting passed around. The right tools and processes can keep remote team members in the loop no matter where they are.
And communication is key: you have to assume remote team members won’t get all the information they need if you’re not ensuring it gets passed on.
Stay synced up. Make sure remote team members are in the loop about any offline decisions or sidebar chats. Open communication can help keep everyone on the same page, reduce miscommunication, and maintain company culture.
Use the right mix of tools to keep operations on track. Boost transparency and accountability and streamline collaboration with tools like virtual whiteboards, document sharing like GoogleDocs, and project management software like JIRA, Basecamp or Asana. Find one that aligns with your team’s work delivery system, whether it’s a content team editing drafts, engineers merging code, or marketers sharing calendars and analytics.
Level up with a project manager. For extra support, consider engaging a freelance project manager to help you determine what kind of talent you need and when, and to find team members who are available and want to take on the work. They can also help with sourcing talent, coordinating meetings and logistics, and releasing freelancer payments.
Staying On Track Once You’re On a Roll
What can you keep doing as a project progresses or moves into new phases, and your team expands to meet new demand?
Mike Volkin, a Fractional CMO and Marketing Strategist shares a tip for teams in different time zones: “Always state the time zone you’re referring to when you ask for a meeting. Also, prioritize your work according to your team’s time zone. For example, I work with a designer who usually stops work for the day at 9 a.m. my time, so I try to get him all the correspondence needs when I first get to the office. This way, he has it before he stops work or right when he starts the next day.”
While there can be a learning curve with hybrid teams, these tips will help you more effectively partner with your hybrid team. If you anticipate more complex needs from your hybrid team, Upwork offers plans that provide access to professional support to help companies find, engage, and work with talent.
Hybrid teams thrive on Ravetree—a project management solution for both Agile and waterfall teams. Most of our company uses Gantt charts, but our developers use Agile. Ravetree allows us to manage them both very well. IMHO Basecamp is terrible, Asana isn’t very useful, and Jira is confusing. I’ve used all three in a previous life.