Minisode: 5 Tips for Hybrid Leaders
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall, and in this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, we are going to talk about hybrid leaders and managing hybrid teams. Yes! A Minisode devoted to the challenge and change that many of us are making in leadership today. Why does this matter? What’s going on right now? We know as a result of COVID, many of us have shifted to either a fully remote or a hybrid environment.
And I just want to share a few stats to support why we want to continue to talk about this. So we can be the best leaders that we can be. Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index survey found that 73% of the 30,000 people surveyed across 31 countries want the option of flexible remote work to continue, which means that you likely will have a hybrid, which is a blend between maybe a fully remote, partially remote, partially in person or fully in person. And that people are still craving that one-on-one time. As a matter of fact, from that same Microsoft survey, they found that 65% of workers crave more in-person time with colleagues, which means that the future workplace will be hybrid. It’s going to be that mix of fully remote William person and blended schedules, which means that today’s hybrid leaders must rethink their approach to managing successful teams for exceptional results.
How are Hybrid Leaders Different?
So what is a hybrid team and how are hybrid leaders different? Here’s the definition from Owl Labs. A hybrid team is a flexible work structure where some employees work remotely, and other team members work from a central location or office. Hybrid team structures allow employees to decide whether they prefer an office environment or working from anywhere remotely.
And why do employees, why do they prefer remote? Well, it gives them increased flexibility. They can choose how they’re living their life, how they’re balancing and integrating their life and work responsibilities. It also can create a better environment for them to focus. For some individuals, a busy office with maybe a cubicle setting could be very loud, and it could be distracting. And it also could leave them open to a lot of people, maybe saying, Hey got a minute. And then that distracts them from being able to be as productive as they can be. So focus is another reason they want it. Right in with it is then to be more productive. When we can focus, we can clearly then give ourselves the time and attention to focus on a given task.
So we are more productive, and we’re again not juggling those water cooler conversations that we can get pulled into, which of course, are enjoyable. But sometimes, we’ve got a lot on our plate that actually needs to be addressed. And then the fourth reason employees still prefer remote is for the work-life integration. People want to figure out, or I should say, people, are no longer looking at how can I live to work? That’s not what the younger generations want. They want the opportunity to figure out how they can create a type of balance or the new buzzword “work-life integration.” How can I maybe balance an appointment, my child, or after-school care along with my job? That’s just a brief example or a few brief examples. And why does this matter? Well, why do we need to care?
So those are four reasons why people want remote, but here’s the thing you want to be really cautious before encouraging or demanding all employees return to work. Because according to a recent McKinsey study, they found that 30% of employees say that they are likely to switch jobs. If they had to return to full on-site work, meaning that they do not want to go into the office full time again. So you might want to check in with your top performers and make sure before you make this drastic change to go back all in the office if you’re coming from fully remote that you’re not at risk of losing some of your top talents. So what do you need to be aware of as a leader?
Jenn’s 5 Tips for Hybrid Leaders
I want to talk about a hybrid leader’s role in hybrid teams. There are five things as a leader that you need to consider to make sure that you’re doing your best at managing this new type of leadership of the hybrid worker, or if you will, the blended employee, you need to focus on five things, building collaboration and connection, creating structure, setting, clear expectations, promoting equity and inclusion, and then monitoring burnout.
Build Collaboration and Connection
So what does it mean to build collaboration and connection? Obviously, now that we are not necessarily on the opposite at the same time, it can be a challenge for hybrid leaders to build a cohesive team. One where people feel like they see one another, they know who to go to. And as a matter of fact, the challenges with building connection and collaboration are many. You might have the challenge of having different work schedules or trying to onboard and integrate new employees, or maybe your challenges are that your organization doesn’t have an onboarding process. And so, if you’re trying to bring them in, in a remote setting, without a clear structure for them to follow, they’re not necessarily engaging with the organization or the team in a way that you would hope. Another challenge that leaders will have with building connection and collaboration in this hybrid world is visibility. You may not necessarily see every single person on your team, which means it’s that much more important for you to be intentional about scheduling that quality time.
Then, of course, communication is a challenge. You might say something in a live meeting that someone that was not present or that’s in a virtual role may not have been privy to and vice versa. And then, of course, organizational silos are that much greater. So here’s what you can do to build connection and collaboration in your workforce in a hybrid team, build a team schedule, make sure that everyone is aware of when people’s starting and ending times are, and they also have people update their calendars. This will ensure that people check in with individuals or they know the best times to get in contact with them. The second is to schedule team coffee or lunch breaks, give people the opportunity to replicate that water cooler conversation that typically happens in live settings, and also consider creating team-only connection time. And if you’re also onboarding a new employee and you want them to get greater exposure into the culture of the organization, I would also maybe consider adding in not only team-only connection time but networking groups, where you join up with other departments. This gives your new hires the opportunity to meet other people that they wouldn’t typically meet, especially if they’re fully remote.
Another way to create and build connections and collaboration in group brainstorming sessions is to invite everyone into a meeting and allow them the opportunity to share their feedback. Another way you can do this is to build water cooler time into your team meetings. Instead of having a 60-minute meeting that just covers a variety of agenda events, consider adding five to ten minutes where you mandatory required people to have their camera on so they can talk, connect, get to know one another, check in with how they’re doing, and then if they want to take their cameras off, of course, they can. Now those are just a few tips and techniques for building connection and collaboration.
The second thing the hybrid leader needs to pay attention to in a hybrid work environment is structure. And the challenges that you might run into are more than a few. You might run into people finding that there are unclear expectations, there’s poor communication, uncertainty about what communication tools to use and when. Or maybe your staff is on different schedules or time zones. So the tip for creating structure within your team is to identify the core or peak hours. Now, these are the hours that you might find that everyone overlaps. So these might be the best times for team meetings or just team-building opportunities. Another way to create structure is to determine and create communication norms. This also includes the response time. So you might think about email and say, we can send emails. I want you to check emails, but only during these certain hours. And then also, I expect you to reply to emails within 24 hours. Even if it’s just simply, Hey, I can’t answer that right now, but I will get back to you by the end of the week. In addition, set clear expectations of what communication modality to use and when, which means, when do you want your team to text or to use instant messenger, or to use a slack channel?
Another way to create structure is to identify common “what if” scenarios think about the problems that your team might face these problems, especially if there’s something that’s been solved or they’re repeated because they’re common, it’s helpful to create a guide or resource if you will, for what people can do or what should they, what they should expect to do if they encounter this situation. That will allow your employee to continue to follow along in their job instead of creating a bottleneck in the process where they have to stop and ask for help. And then another way to create structure is to also provide adequate levels of decision-making authority. Your employees want this, and you may, at a subconscious level, not be realizing that you’re de-motivating your employees or creating more inefficiency by not giving them the appropriate levels of authority. So, you can build structure by allowing them to understand and take ownership over a given project or a task.
Set Clear Expectations
The third thing that leadership or leaders need to pay attention to in managing hybrid teams is setting clear expectations. Now, the challenges that you might run into in setting clear expectations is that maybe you’re not a strong communicator, or maybe you only communicate something one time, and you assume that everyone got it. Now, that is not the case. And at Crestcom, one of the best practices that we say is to communicate everything seven different ways, seven different times. This ensures that depending on the learning style, what else is going on, that your message is being heard. Another challenge that you might bump up against setting clear expectations is maybe creating a goal, strategy, task, or to-do list that’s too broad or ambiguous, or open-ended where people aren’t sure what’s expected of them, what success looks like, or who to even turn to, or who owns what, which leads into unclear role responsibility.
You need to make sure on your team, especially in a hybrid environment, that people understand what is expected of their role, what projects, strategies, responsibilities they own. Otherwise, they may not have that opportunity to just pop over to someone and say, Hey, are you on top of this? Or it might just create a stall in your process. So our tips for creating and setting clear expectations. First, identify core and goals that can be simple and easily understood. Try to create goals that can be stated in two sentences or less that make sure that people understand what the main priorities are. The more complicated the goal, the more room there is for error and miscommunication. The second piece is to reinforce your goals and expectations often. Leaders sometimes take the approach where they set a goal and then they don’t follow up, which not only tells your employees that that goal is not, that isn’t that important, but it also could create an opportunity where you’re not addressing challenges.
When we build in milestones or check-in opportunities to reinforce the goals and expectations, then we create feedback loops. It allows us to be more flexible and agile to address any challenges. And then also make sure that our staff and team and employees understand what’s important. And when you’re setting clear expectations, be sure to state the “why.” people want to understand why you want them to do something, not just go and do this task. When we understand the why that can create meaning, which we know Google has surveyed, it, Microsoft has surveyed it. And countless other organizations have found that one of the predictors of strong team performance is understanding the why, and essentially having meaningful work, or work with impact when you provide the why people can connect, or you can help to facilitate the connection of why you need them.
Another way to set clear expectations is to make sure that you’re holding your employees accountable. This means having tough conversations, having one-on-ones building in opportunities and deadlines to reconnect, to make sure that something is on task too often. We don’t hold others accountable. And when they don’t do what we need them to do, we become frustrated. When in actuality, have we just set the expectations appropriately and followed up with them, we would have found a different result. And last, but certainly not least. And this goes with our last point, make sure that you’re also setting norms and guidelines, make sure that your team understands appropriate rules, such as how to communicate, how to resolve conflict, and who owns what; this will help make sure that you’re as efficient as possible.
Practice Equity and Inclusion
The fourth thing that every leader of a hybrid team needs to do is to also promote equity and inclusion. Now, this is one of the biggest challenges in a hybrid environment because you’re not necessarily going to be able to access or see every single individual every week. It requires you to be intentional, to carve out that time. And here’s an interesting consideration. Careful consideration of equity and inclusion is equally, if not more important, in a hybrid workspace, as visibility and access to leadership can play a large role in advancing our careers. Employees need to be visible to managers to access the resources that they need for work and to stay informed. This needs to be top of mind, but what are the challenges?
Well, the challenges that you’ll bump into when promoting equity and inclusion are knowledge silos, finding out the different people in different locations have access to different information. Or there might be different distractions depending on where you work, or someone might be wearing multiple roles. So here are our tips to promote equity and inclusion in a hybrid workplace. Make sure that you’re scheduling one-on-ones. Practice vulnerability and curiosity. Again, remember you don’t just want to assume what’s going on with an employee. You want to leverage open-ended questions and lead with curiosity.
Another way to promote equity and inclusion is to reduce meeting times to allow for work-life integration. You might have one employee that maybe doesn’t have a lot of meetings, or maybe they’re in the office. And then another employee that is still teaching their child from home, or maybe they’re managing a different responsibility. If you want to truly create an inclusive environment, make sure that you’re setting your meeting times in a way that everyone can thrive. One recommendation is to shorten your meetings from, let’s say, 60 minutes to 50 minutes to allow people that might have different roles at home, such as being a mom, being a teacher, or a parent, give them an extra five to ten minutes to maybe check-in or go to the bathroom or eat because many of us are used to, especially in the zoom setting, going back to back to back. And that’s not realistic when we’re maybe working in a more remote environment with those additional roles. So make sure that you’re reducing meeting times to allow for that work-life integration.
Again, if it’s a 60-minute meeting, maybe cut it short at 55 or 50 minutes. If it’s a 30-minute meeting, try and see if you can get it to 25. Another way to promote equity and inclusion is to encourage all voices to be heard. Now in a virtual platform, it’s easy to stay silent. That will require you as a leader to directly call on people, to ask for their feedback, and make sure that if you’re starting to also have any important conversations, either in a virtual platform or in a live setting, try to see if you can make it and move it online. This way, you can offer up and invite everyone to attend so they can be privy and they don’t miss out on this valuable information. And last but certainly not least, you want to promote equity and inclusion, be sure to identify mentoring and development opportunities for people to grow and educate your team on personality, cultural and style differences. This will help us all work better together, especially as we may be communicating over different modalities.
Monitor Employee Burnout
Now, the last thing that a leader needs to consider in managing a hybrid team is how you are going to monitor burnout when we’re face-to-face. It can be really easy to see some of those may be nonverbal cues that can indicate to us that someone is overly stressed, frustrated, or burned out. And it can be difficult to identify that in a virtual setting. So what you need to consider then is your lack of visibility, or maybe you work in a workaholic culture. What are you going to do to monitor burnout? Because it’s that much more challenging, especially when we find it more difficult to set boundaries when we are working from home to actually stay engaged and protect our time.
So here are our tips for monitoring burnout. Make sure that you’re talking about it. A good leader needs to talk about mental health. It’s top of mind, and that should be one of the primary responsibilities and priorities of your team. So talk about burnout, educate your team on what it is, the signs of burnout, and encourage them to ask for help.
Another thing you can do to monitor burnout is to embrace flexibility. If employees are coming to you because they feel burnt out, try to see if there’s an opportunity to maybe delegate or shift around deadlines to give them a little bit more breathing room and encourage your team to build in mental health breaks. These might be breaks that happen throughout the day, ten minutes in the morning, ten minutes in the afternoon, five minutes here or there, but these are just opportunities for them to unplug, reset, and focus on a different task. The bonus is that you can pull them out of that stressful, maybe project that they’re working on. And when they give themselves that break, they can relax and rest their mind and hopefully come back to it with a fresh perspective or new energy.
Another way to monitor burnout is to always be the example. You can’t expect your team not to become workaholics. If you are a workaholic, you are the one that’s setting the example for your team. So if they notice that you’re in at 7:00 AM and you don’t leave until 7:00 PM, and then you check your emails at all hours of the weekends, you are subconsciously setting that expectation that that’s what you want them to do as well, which when they jump on that schedule might create burnout. So it’s so important for you to be the model, not only in the structure or how you structure your day, but then also making sure that you’re taking your PTO or your vacation time, making sure that you’re also taking breaks and making sure that you’re continuing to talk about mental health.
And last but certainly not least, make sure that you’re encouraging your team to use their vacation times, allow time for special projects. This gives people the opportunity to switch gears, use a different part of the brain, maybe leverage their passion and focus on something else that can fill them up with joy, new perspective, and curiosity. And then last, encourage time for play. Give people the opportunity to have fun at work. And this is especially important for your younger generations, but I would argue that everyone wants to enjoy work given that we spend the majority of our time there.
Now those are our tips for what you can do as a hybrid leaders to be successful. If you know someone that is a hybrid leader that could benefit from this episode, please share it with them. And, of course, if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to give us a review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.
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