The Hybrid Rule of Thumb – leading teams in the New Normal

In the shift out of lockdowns and easing of restrictions, everyone is talking about the New Normal, hybrid workplaces and remote leadership. The question I get asked most often by leaders is: ‘How do I navigate in a hybrid world and keep my team connected and make people feel inclusive?’

Here is the thing. ‘Hybrid really still means remote’ for most leaders. The situation right now and in the near future is that organisations have realised that working from home (wfh) works better than anticipated, and they want to keep some of that structure. It also saves cost, and many businesses are in the process of downsizing their office space, and re-design to co-working style set-ups are underway. Employees are also asking for flexibility with either some wfh days or working completely remotely. The challenge for team leaders now is finding a structure that works for them, their team members and the organisation.

One of my clients from a global insurance company has partly returned to their central headoffice in the CBD with an allowance of days and a maximum number of team members in the office on each day. She said it was nice to have face to face catch ups and coffees but on all of her days with half the team in the office they ended up in separate spaces using Zoom to dial into the team meeting. It felt just like during lockdown working from home.

“Leading remotely makes the complex role of leading even more complex. It takes new skills to get better results.” — Kevin Eikenberry

Many leaders are facing similar challenges as office availability is limited, space requires pre booking and team members have different priorities. Hybrid often still means remote. The feedback I get from leaders is that innovation and problem solving usually happens organically when everyone is in the same space and has easy access to each other. We know that this is much tougher in a remote environment and leaders and teams need now need to have a structured organic approach for these team sessions.

3 kinds of distance

Let’s look back to when we were all working from home, the challenges our teams experienced were disconnection, loneliness, lack of accountability, zoom fatigue, lack of boundaries, lack of cohesion, lack of productivity or increase of productivity but at what cost? In remote collaboration we experience 3 kinds of distance: physical (place and time), operational (team size, bandwidth and skills levels) and affinity (values, trust, interdependency). We have to consider all 3 distance challenges, even in a hybrid world to lead our teams into the New Normal.

Here are my 7 strategies for leaders to lead in a hybrid world:

  1. Set clear expectations. The way everyone works has changed so be very clear about what is expected. No matter if it’s about working hours or outcomes, discuss expectations in detail, put them in writing, get agreeance and be open for questions. Don’t stop here. Check if everyone has the skills and resources to meet expectations and provide what your people need to set them up for success. Then check in regularly and give feedback. Check out my blog about how to set expectations and ask for accountability:
  2. Get buy-in from your teams. The easiest way to get buy-in from people is to ask them what they need and how they want to work. That doesn’t mean to you have to answer to their every whim or disregard organisational goals. It’s about establishing processes together that work for everyone, negotiate compromises equally and empower your teams to achieve goals in their own way. Consider all forms of touch points like hangouts, team meetings, pair buddies and 1:1’s. Get everyone to agree with your hybrid work and communication structure and encourage feedback with the flexibility to amend as needed
  3. Develop a communication strategy. As most leading will still be remote, revisit your communication strategy. Use the face to face time in the office for informal chats, coaching, social events and innovation and problem solving. With a lack of organic communication in a hybrid environment you have to plan and structure your team communication and find agreeance and commitment from everyone. Probably sounds tedious but is necessary. After the initial ‘Overcommunication is the New Black’ back in March, be responsive and intentional with your communication channels. Not every email has to be a Zoom call. Consider Slack, Whatsapp or Messenger for brief messages and create and join groups. But don’t overwhelm people and stay away from sending messages in the middle of the night. Key is to be transparent and agree on how everyone communicates. Review how it works, ask for feedback and change things up if they don’t work anymore.
  4. Be flexible and adaptable. Adaptability is one of the main skills leaders need to champion moving into a hybrid world. This is new for all of us and it will take some getting used to. Keep considering people’s personal situation but also get commitment from your teams to maximise face to face and online time together. Ask questions like: ‘Here is what we need to achieve together. What’s the best way to get there?’. Things haven’t stayed the same for long in the last few months and I don’t foresee it very different for the coming year. Foreseeing change and leading change effectively in collaboration with your teams will be the main challenge but also opportunity for leaders in the coming months.
  5. Celebrate successes and progress. Nothing motivates more than celebrating wins. In the absence of ‘office high fives’ consider introducing recognition and reward programs. Make them public for peer shout outs and incentives and use your internal tech platform (ask your Gen Z’s if you are not sure how it works). Have regular check-ins with your teams and get everyone to share a success in every meeting. The key is consistency. In countries where people have gone back into lockdown, switch it up with asking how they are feeling from 1-10, what their numbers is and why. It’s about responding to the situation you and your team are in and tailoring communication in the service of your teams.
  6. Trust your team and focus on outcome, not activity. ‘I can’t see my team members, therefore I can’t trust them’ is a comment I have been hearing all too often lately. You have to assume positive intent from your people. Remember to set clear expectations and get buy-in, it will build trust automatically. If you get your teams to focus on outcome, the focus will shift to productivity and delivery rather than what they are doing all day! Keep up your check-ins and feedback!
  7. Resource your teams. There is nothing worse than being asked to do something but then not having the ability or resources to deliver. Moving into hybrid workspaces means that some of your team will be in the offices where others are at home, there will be company rules and safety measures to consider as well. Be organised and informed and ask your team members how they need to achieve their goals. Is it technology, time, software, skills, information or mentoring?

If you feel your team is not working cohesively or negativity and underperformance creeps in, don’t blame the individual but check these 6 areas first and ask yourself, what you can do to improve leading your people in a hybrid world.

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Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

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Jessica Schubert