Hybrid work is here to stay. I've said it before, and I'll say it one more time for people in the back - HYBRID WORK IS HERE TO STAY. In fact, hybrid work has been around a lot longer than most of us think. Industries like the Department of Defense and other Federal entities have always had people spread across the country and the globe. Furthermore, leaders have had to manage and lead hybrid workforces without the amazing technological advancement of the post-pandemic work world.
Another industry that has operated largely through hybrid and remote work are sales organizations. Sales representatives and leaders have proven to be more effective if they spread out and increase their geographical reach than one limited by their zip code.
While hybrid work has been here for quite a while, the speed at which previously in-person organizations are switching to hybrid work has dramatically increased. With this increase comes amazing research and opportunities to address the challenges of leading new and old hybrid teams. So, without further delay, here are five challenges of hybrid leadership and how to overcome them...
1) Creating a Dynamic Team Culture. Culture cultivation and creation is difficult in any scenario, especially with new teams. Throw in the fact that you don't see each other often, or even at all, and you have an environment that will create individuals rather than teammates. As a leader of a hybrid team, whether you've been a team for five years of five days, creating a culture in which people want to work and be a part of is an absolute requirement. You need to make people feel like they are a part of a team and not as if they are a group of individuals. This can be tricky for a leader. Why? Because your initial response could be to tailor your team culture to each of your individual teammate's needs and wants. If you tailor your culture to the individual teammates, you will have relationships, not culture. As their leader, come up with team values that are agreed upon and build your culture around those values. Examples of values can be trust, safety, honesty, integrity, and courage. Define these concepts with your team and craft your culture around them; that way your culture will have a foundation based on the team's core values.
2) Being Productive and Measuring Success. On-site teams have the luxury of proximity. As an on-site leader, you can pop in on your people, ask good questions, provide help, and measure productivity in real time. You have no such luxury in a hybrid world. Yes, there is a fantastic chat function that you can use to check in, but this can easily be ignored or overlooked. Measurements of success define productivity. What is your company or team's definition of success? Is it 10-15% growth or an increase in partnerships? Sometimes these measurements are very clear. Sales reps have a goal, and if that goal is met or exceeded, then no administrative or leadership tweaks need to be made unless requested. However, in industries such as non-profits, these tangible metrics can be hard to come by. How do you measure something you can't track - like the decrease in domestic violence in a specific area over a particular amount of time or eliminating child hunger ? To measure your success and productivity in a hybrid world, you must build metrics for success with your team. Look at your industry and set goals regularly. Set short-term goals, long-term goals, and anything in between. Creating these goals will keep your people active and give you metrics to measure productivity. The key here is to be communicative and follow up before deadlines.
3) Communication. Once again, communication is a familiar problem in the leadership world. Leaders often ask themselves, "am I communicating enough or too much" or "how can I communicate effectively without over-communicating ." In hybrid work, communication is one of the most vital parts of success. You don't see your team every day or at all. You have to find a rhythm of communication that works with your and your team's schedules. Outside of the chat rooms and video calls, one of the most important means of communication with your people is through your 1:1 meetings and your broader team meetings. My schedule for our team is weekly 1:1's with a monthly team meeting - all virtual, of course. There are other times throughout the week when we communicate around specific issues, problems, or praises that need to happen, but unless there is something that needs discussing, I leave my team to do their work. As a leader, I trust my team to do their job, and they trust me to have their backs. We have created a culture of trust and "big person rules" that has proven effective in well-established and more senior teams. But what about teams of junior employees that don't have the experience of a more senior team? For these teams, you will have to increase your touch points and your coaching to ensure that they are successful, that they are learning, and that they know they are being taken care of.
4) Isolation. This problem is particular to hybrid and remote work. It is tough to isolate yourself on a team that meets every day. If one of your people isn't at work, you notice. You notice if one of your team members seems down, angry, or upset. In a hybrid or remote world, you won't know there is an issue until the problem has manifested into performance issues (this is another reason why metrics and goals are so important). As a hybrid leader, you must do your best to create best practices that help integrate and not isolate your people. Here are a few examples I've used as a leader and follower over the years.
Working in a hybrid world allows us to work from anywhere there is WiFi or a cell signal. I encourage my team to take at least one meeting per day outside. Not outside of your home office, but outside, outside - in the fresh air! Being outside is beneficial in so many ways. Sunshine and fresh air are generally more healthy than being cooped up inside and have statistically been proven to increase energy and cognitive ability (it's science).
The second thing I encourage is working outside of the home two days per week. Find another hybrid buddy and go to your favorite coffee shop or library.
The third step is to get together as a team as often as possible. Team cohesion can be accomplished over a computer screen, but there is just something to getting together and shaking hands or exchanging a professional hug. I promise that these in-person interactions will make online interactions more productive and helpful.
5) The Great Resignation and Hiring: This... This may be one of our post-pandemic world's most challenging discussion points. With hybrid and remote work comes the ability to work from anywhere in the world, which is amazing! But it also comes with a price, literally. There is article after article on demand for high-paying, super benefit giving, work from anywhere anytime, jobs. People are embracing this hybrid world and are demanding that companies oblige them in their requests. This is shrinking the talent pool and causing people to jump from job to job. Without a physical environment in which a person belongs and works, scientifically, people feel less invested in the organization in which they work. This is why people are moving from job to job and why it's so hard to find qualified people who will stay with you for the long term. Here's where you shine as a culture builder and a leader. As a leader, you need to create a culture where people are invested in something bigger than themselves - even more significant than the company. You need to create a culture where people are willing to stay for potentially less money. Culture cultivation is what will keep your team together and is what will help you hire the next member of your work family. One great way to ensure that you create this kind of culture is to collect data from your team. Conduct a 360-degree assessment. Have them evaluate you and your performance as their leader. Once you know what your people think of your leadership style, you can adjust your style or address issues to create a culture of honest communication and trust, and THAT's a team that people won't want to leave and will be breaking your door down to be a part of.
I understand that all of these things are fluid and that leading ANY team is hard. Above all else, take care of yourselves and those closest to you. Lead well and from a posture of openness and growth! Start strong and finish well!