Leaders: It’s time for a conversation about the hybrid workplace and your role in making it a success. For leaders who haven’t managed a distributed team before, you may need to assess and develop a few of your leadership skills and habits. Leading is going to be different in some ways than it was before. You are going to need to learn new approaches to support your team, build a strong culture and foster meaningful relationships.
I want to help you through this with a few suggestions on approaches to leading a team in a hybrid environment, but more than that I want to offer questions for reflection. Because I believe that you know how to do this and do it well, I am going to plant some seeds of perspective to coach you through this evolving workplace environment.
Cynthia Occelli has a bold and challenging quote about growth that I think is applicable to what is required of leaders now: “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” To begin to break through our shells and grow as leaders, we need to acknowledge that some previous approaches to people management need to be set aside.
Here’s what it’s going to take:
• More trust is fundamental. When part or all of your team is remote, you will have less insight into their day-to-day approach to work. Ask yourself, has the essential and expected work been getting done since March 2020? Trust people to make the right decisions about the work at hand and priorities, and make sure you are giving them enough information to do so. Manage performance issues if and when they arise.
• Redefine “fairness” when it comes to locations where work gets done. Just like different roles have different educational, experience or skill requirements, jobs may have different levels of flexibility on work location.
• Work with your team to create individual development plans. Have frequent conversations about career aspirations, areas of interest and skill-building opportunities. Understand what motivates and inspires the people on your team.
• Prioritize results over in-person visibility. Spend time with your team setting expectations and reviewing deadlines. Then, create space and time for the work to get done.
• Foster a collaborative environment. Create an environment where it’s OK to ask for help, and encourage team members to work together to get things done.
• Spend time connecting your team to the rest of the organization. Lean on employee’s development plans to identify important relationships they need to have to reach their goals and then facilitate introductions. Take a similarly intentional approach to project opportunities. Rather than defaulting to assigning the project to the employee you just saw in the office hallway because they are top of mind, go back to your team’s development plans and determine the best fit based on current capacity and overall goals.
• Be intentional with recognition. When you are with your peers or executive team, celebrate the contributions of your team as a whole and take the time to recognize individuals, too. This will build name recognition for your team when promotion and special project opportunities arise.
• Spend time getting good at virtual and hybrid meeting facilitation. This is especially important if meetings are part of your organization’s decision-making approach. If you are looking for resources on how to improve your virtual meeting facilitation, a recent Harvard Business Review article covered the topic, and the book Digital Body Language also offers practical tips. Balancing the voices of those who are physically in the room with those who are attending virtually will ensure more perspectives are considered.
You may already be doing these things with your team. (If so, that’s great.) Or you may find you need and want to make some adjustments in your leadership style after reflecting on these recommendations. Either way, it is important to recognize that there have been seismic shifts over the last year in the ways that work gets done — at least for office workers.
As you think about the months and years ahead, I encourage you to reflect on these questions for your team and organization to ensure that your organization will be able to attract and retain the best people for the work you do.
• How does your organizational culture need to shift to accommodate a more dispersed workforce? What steps can you personally, as a leader, take to support this culture shift?
• How are development opportunities for employees in similar roles determined or offered, regardless of physical work location? What steps can you take to ensure development does not hinge on visibility alone?
• Are your advancement policies and organizational culture equally likely to promote someone who primarily works from an organization location as someone who works remotely? What role can you play in fostering a robust culture that recognizes and celebrates everyone’s contributions?
As you hone your people management skills for this new world of work, give yourself permission to set aside past practices that no longer support the realities of your team in favor of being an intentional advocate. Your team will thank you, you will deliver superior results and your organization will be able to attract the talent it is looking for.
*This article first appeared on Forbes.