Ilma from MailerLite

Ilma9 min readRemote cultureJuly 21, 2020

Office and remote: Overcoming the challenges of hybrid teams

Office and remote: Overcoming the challenges of hybrid teams

Welcome to the new workplace. In 2020, the way we work massively changed.

Some of us are still working from home, while others have returned to their office desks. We’ve seen businesses transform into remote-first companies and ones that can’t wait to have all of their employees back in the office again.

This article is for companies that changed their business model into one with hybrid teams—a structure that allows people to choose between office or remote work.

Though the advantages of a hybrid team structure are undeniable (the most important one: happier employees), you’ll realize that this concept is much harder to manage than having all your employees in the office or 100% remote. We know this because we’ve been there.

Read along as we share the challenges we overcame as our hybrid team grew, what we’ve learned, and how we went about it.


A company with hybrid teams offers its employees the option to work from the office or independently from wherever. A hybrid team is popular because it provided the best of both worlds. People can choose where to work depending on their personal preferences. 

Hybrid teams work because people can modify their workspace to optimize their quality of life.


At MailerLite, we hired our first remote team member six years ago. Silvestras was in charge of support for customers located in North American timezones, working in the evenings from a different Lithuanian city.

By adding our first remote employee to the team, the entire dynamic quickly changed. We had to think about how to communicate all updates and future plans, how to incorporate him into the decision-making process and how to build a remote team culture when he was the only one “out of office”.

Fast-forward to today and most of our team members work remotely. Only a few still come to our Vilnius HQ daily. Interestingly enough, everyone has a different reason for wanting to work remotely. 

Some of these reasons are:

  • Spend more time with family
  • Ability to move together with a loved one
  • Travel the world while working, digital nomad-style
  • Have their private home office (and not a loud open office environment)
  • Live in a place where there are no job opportunities otherwise
  • Escape cold winters to more exotic locations

On the other side, the people that come to the office daily enjoy having a designated work environment to keep their work-life balance in check. It really depends on people’s personal preferences. If you can offer both options as a company, you’ll notice a huge difference in employee satisfaction.

Sounds great so far, right? Well, there are also hurdles that you’ll undoubtedly run into.

Challenges that can occur in a hybrid workplace:
  • Remote employees are left out: This can happen when team members—especially management— continue to come into the office and important decisions and information are shared there only.
  • Power difference in meetings: When some parts of the team are in a conference room and remote colleagues attend the meeting via a small screen.
  • Division of the team: The people in the office versus the remote people.
  • Perceived work productivity: Office people sometimes believe their remote colleagues are not working as hard because they can't see them.
  • Reduced career opportunities: Remote colleagues might not get the same opportunities for advancement as managers don’t “see” their work in-person on a daily basis.

While these challenges are natural in the evolution of hybrid teams, they shouldn't deter you from going for it. We’ve got some ideas on how to overcome these hurdles.


Communication

If you’re working with hybrid teams, you can’t discuss ideas in the office or organize spontaneous meetings. All information needs to be communicated online as if everyone was working remotely.

In general, there are fewer meetings in a remote environment and you want to inform team members in advance. Team leaders need to especially understand this. At MailerLite, we only organize meetings when they’re absolutely necessary. We found it to be more of a burden to organize meetings in different time zones when we can move forward faster if we discuss things over Slack.

When we do organize meetings, we ask everyone to attend via their own laptop, even when they’re in the office. This might sound strange, but it really helps with the dynamics. When people gather in the same space for a call, their combined presence can take over and remote workers can feel less heard. 

We also record each meeting so new remote team members and those working from different time zones can replay the meeting during their working time.

When it comes to communication, everyone should feel part of the team. People should know how to equally contribute, start discussions or propose new ideas. A shared guideline is key to make this work.

To craft your communication guidelines, think about these questions:
  • Can people work flexible hours or do they work during specific times of the day?
  • What tools do you use to communicate?
  • Is all communication asynchronous? If not, how fast should people answer their messages, calls or emails?
  • Are there any meetings that people must participate in? What and when are they happening? Could you plan ahead?

Relationship and culture-building

It’s undoubtedly easier to connect with a colleague when you’re both in the office and can grab lunch face-to-face. That’s why as a hybrid team, you have to encourage more team activities to stay connected.

We build relationships and culture within MailerLite in four different ways: newcomer hangouts, monthly company-wide meetings, fun Slack channels, and meeting in-person twice a year.

Newcomers are introduced to MailerLite in their introductory hangout. This is a monthly online event for all new team members to connect and hear stories about MailerLite, our values, and future plans.

For our entire team, we host monthly virtual team meetings where we talk about a non-work related topic. We meet up in the main room and then split up in smaller randomized groups to chat privately for about half an hour. To make these meetings more comfortable, we announce a topic or question to discuss beforehand (like summer plans or something that has inspired people lately).

In between these monthly meetings, we build our company culture by talking about non-work topics in Slack channels that are devoted to specific categories, such as food, movies or books. Anyone is encouraged to start Slack channels about their interests.

Finally, in hybrid companies, it’s very important to meet in-person. We host real-life meetups twice a year (our workations).

Organizing these get-togethers is a huge project, so we make sure to get the most out of them by spending this limited time wisely and connecting people through activities. 

Surprisingly enough, we came to realize that most team-building happened during the times we were uncomfortable together. You can hear that story in this article. 

Questions to build better team relationships:
  • How do you make your new team members feel welcome, especially if you onboard them remotely?
  • How do people build relationships inside your team? How can people bond remotely?
  • What traditions are there that allow the entire team to participate?

The emotional state of your team

“How are you? Good?”
“Good”
“How was your weekend?”
“Good”
“Great”

Sounds familiar? This small talk happens a lot in offices. Even with so little information, we often think we know how people are doing and what the vibe in the office is. Correct? Not so much.

My biggest discovery when comparing MailerLite as an office team versus a remote-first team is that we now care a lot more about the emotional state of team members. Since you have no idea how people feel, you take more time to ask and listen to people’s stories.

Another discovery I made was that most people prefer to express their feelings in writing. They can think through how and what they want to say, address issues with fewer emotions involved and give more constructive feedback. Our team’s writings have been a great way to get answers to difficult questions.

This is another reason everyone on the team, both in-office and remote, should communicate online using all the various tools that force you to write.  

Emotional check-in questions to ask your team:
  • How do you prefer to receive feedback and/or recognition for your work?
  • Do you feel your strengths are maximized?
  • How aligned do you feel with the company vision?
  • Of all of your accomplishments last month, which one are you most proud of and why?
  • What creates a sense of making progress for you?
  • What are you spending a ton of time doing that has the least impact?

In short, the secret to making hybrid teams work is by making everyone on the team feel included. Have a clear vision and guidelines of how you work, communicate, and connect. By continuously asking questions and being curious about your team’s challenges and emotional state, you’ll recognize hurdles earlier on and overcome them more easily.

Now, I’ll pass the mic to you. Did your company change its work environment into a hybrid model? What are the biggest challenges you might face? Talk to us in the comments, we might just have some insights to share that can help you overcome them :)

Ilma Nausedaite

I’m Ilma, COO at MailerLite. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win (like being named one of the top 5 fastest growing SaaS companies). Email is my passion, although I took a rather unusual path. Before MailerLite, I worked in finance and art, which turned out to be the perfect mix for marketing.