As companies consider future office re-entries, they are also considering workspaces where some service reps are remote, some are in-person, and some are a hybrid of the two.
Even more notable is that service people want the hybrid working option. A recent survey found that reps were 14% more interested in working from a combination of home and office vs. just in the office, and 45% more interested in a blended model than just working at home.
Even though your employees are on board, it may be confusing, as a service manager, to figure out how to lead a hybrid support team. The good news is that support teams can leverage the hybrid working model and still find success in providing excellent customer service.
This post will explain what hybrid customer service teams look like and give insight from remote HubSpot service leaders on how to implement and manage these teams.
What does hybrid customer service look like?
For support teams, hybrid customer service looks like reps working from home, in the office, or combining the two. Employees may be in various geographic locations and time zones, but all teams still provide delightful experiences and excellent service to customers.
At its core, hybrid teams don't look much different than in-office groups; they're just working in different places. Your team members are still doing the same jobs, following the same goals, and, as mentioned above, providing support that goes above and beyond customer expectations.
Even though there isn't much difference, you may still be a bit worried. What if your teams are unable to communicate well online? What if they're not productive? Or what if you lose the sense of unity you once had in-person? These are all valid questions, and we'll address them below.
1. Create an environment that replicates in-person experiences.
Although the environment you're working in is physically separate from where your team members work, most of the service managers we spoke to gave some iteration of the same tip: creating an environment that is similar to or replicates in-person experiences, like collaboration and interaction.
Varun Bhandarkar, Manager on HubSpot's Customer Success team, said it outright: "The key is to find ways to foster an environment that can successfully replicate in-person collaboration."
The environment you choose to create can differ depending on your team's organic structure, but Sindhu Suresh, also a Manager on the Customer Success team, gives this tip as well. She encourages her teams to mirror in-person interactions virtually: "I've tried to normalize ad-hoc Slack or Zoom meetings to replicate the ‘Can I ask you a quick question?' moments that would happen organically if we were in the office."
2. Always over-communicate.
The nuances of virtual communication can lead to confusion and misunderstandings that can be detrimental to service reps' success. Bhandarkar says that he prefers to over-communicate when corresponding with his team to ensure everyone has the information they need.
Of course, there may still be questions, but being as straightforward as possible makes it easier for reps to approach you with actionable questions that you can provide specific answers to.
Suresh is also a proponent of over-communication, but for additional reasons. She says, "Frequent communication (not micromanagement) for the sake of connectedness is key!"Besides job-related information, she and the other managers on her team like to invite reps to communicate with each other, check-in, share stories, and seek guidance on customer work.
3. Don't overlook the little things.
There are things inherent to working in an office that aren't options for remote and hybrid employees, like leaning over and asking a neighbor when the next meeting starts. If you're in office leading a team that isn't, understand that your remote employees don't have the option to do things that you may deem insignificant.
The solution? Simon Wong, Director of JPAC Customer Success and Services at HubSpot, says, "With hybrid teams, we want to make sure we don't overlook the little things.For example, we always want to make sure that meeting invites contain a Zoom link, that team members that are dialed in don't feel isolated, and to avoid side conversations with meeting attendees that are physically present."
These small things may seem insignificant to in-office workers, but remote and hybrid teams may view them as a luxury. Aim to maintain the baseline belief that even the most basic in-person task may mean something to a remote employee and find ways to incorporate them into their work experience.
4. Be mindful of virtual meeting fatigue.
Being online all the time can be overwhelming. Being online all the time and in long meetings is even more overwhelming.
Bhandarkar is very aware of this and is mindful of virtual meeting fatigue when creating schedules. He likes to create topic-specific meetings instead of an all-in-one meeting that may leave team members feeling tired and overwhelmed.
He says, "We've taken a very focused approach to our meetings by separating weekly team meetings for updates and customer stories from forecast meetings that cover what we need to do to continue over-performing." Each meeting serves a different purpose, and team members can fully absorb content without worrying about retaining multiple sources of information all at once.
5. Prioritize one-on-ones.
All leaders we spoke to emphasized the importance of one-on-ones with hybrid teams. Bhandarkar's main tip is not to skip them. He says, "These meetings allow you to check in with your team and their progress, workload, and mental state. Without the safety that a one-on-one provides, you might never know how you can help your team."
Suresh's main tip is to prioritize them: "I make my weekly 1:1s and team meetings a priority. I give my undivided attention (no emails or Slack) to the team during that time." Like Bhandarkar, she adds that these meetings are an excellent opportunity to pick up on things that could be affecting your team that you can't pick up on if you're not in the same office.
She says, "One of the most challenging things for me about not being physically around my team is not being able to feel their energy on the floor. You'll have to make more of a concerted effort in 1:1s and team meetings to dig into what could be impacting people's energy in a given week."
If you only see your remote employees once a week and it's on Zoom, it's the perfect opportunity to check in on their experience and over-communicate crucial information.
6. Lean on empathy.
Remote and hybrid employees may feel isolated, especially since it's harder to make connections online.
As a leader, recognize these feelings and lean on empathy with these team members. Wong says that this can be something as simple as checking in with remote employees and asking if a meeting time works for them and being flexible to schedule changes if they need to make adjustments.
Bhandarkar agrees and says that empathy can "help with feelings of isolation."
7. Set boundaries, expectations, and encourage a work-life balance.
It's very easy for work and life to blend together, especially if work and life happen under the same roof. It's also easy to open a laptop after working hours to check a personal email and get distracted by notifications from team members in a different time zone that need something from you.
Given these possibilities, Bhandarkar says that it's essential to set expectations and boundaries for yourself and encourage your teams to do the same. He says, "Be available and also set clear expectations to ensure that neither you nor your teams end up getting over-worked."
You can leverage calendar tools, like Google Calendar, and encourage team members to set publicly-visible working hours so everyone makes a careful effort only to reach out when someone is available.
8. Empower your teams.
All work, whether in-person, remote, or hybrid, requires individual progress and direction.
Although it's easier to see that your employees are working when they're in the office, trust that they're also working and making progress when they're at home. Bhandarkar says, "Empower your teams to come up with their own solutions and trust them to execute them."
To facilitate and encourage empowerment, give employees the necessary training, tools, and information they need to succeed. Trust that they've learned from you and can guide themselves through their tasks, but that they'll still approach you if they have questions or hit roadblocks.
9. Leverage technology and collaboration tools.
Collaboration can feel like an afterthought for hybrid and remote employees, but it shouldn't be. Wong says, "Lean heavily on collaboration tools, so it does not matter where you are or your team members are, and everyone can contribute meaningfully."
Aim to use tools that meet your individual team needs, but popular options help with video conferencing, direct communication, file-sharing, and project management. Here is a list of popular tools:
10. Have fun together.
It can be difficult for remote employees to connect with their team members, especially if they only communicate about work-related topics. Given this, Suresh thinks it's crucial that teams have fun together.
Whether this means beginning meetings with an ice breaker or planning virtual game meet-ups, give people a chance to get to know each other during low-stakes activities. One of Suresh's steps is creating catch-up sessions after monthly meetings so team members have an opportunity to relax, make connections, and talk to people they wouldn't regularly see in their team meetings.
Suresh adds, "You can also get creative with virtual outings. I know everyone has Zoom fatigue, but taking some time to step away from the grind can be rejuvenating. We're doing a virtual murder mystery together as a team later this month!"
11. Ask teams for regular feedback.
One of the most important things to do as a manager, regardless of where your employees work, is asking for feedback. Your teams can tell you how they feel about your management style, and their insight can help you make adjustments if you feel as though you're not getting across to them.
Suresh says that it's important to get regular feedback from your teams about what is working and what needs to change. She says, "There were ideas we tried out at the beginning of the pandemic that eventually lost steam while others remain popular. It's okay to outgrow things; don't be afraid to pivot and try something new."
Hybrid Customer Service Teams Can Be Successful
While it may be challenging to manage employees at a distance, it's still possible to create connections and emulate a work environment that mirrors what is possible in-person.
Leverage these expert tips from HubSpot service leaders, and begin crafting a strategy that will help you manage a successful hybrid service team that continues to offer the excellent experiences that customers desire.