• Jill Hauwiller

THE LEADER'S ROLE: HYBRID TEAMS AND CAREER ADVANCEMENT


A shift is underway – the arrival of spring, broader distribution of vaccines, a general sense of openness and momentum. The same is true in the workplace. Teams that have been doing the work of keeping the wheels on during the pandemic are starting to focus on growth, improvement projects, and other work that has been on hold or re-envisioned over the last year. Along with this comes the conversation for many organizations about a return to the office. Will it be all employees, every day? Some employees, some days? Will remote work become permanent for some percentage of employees, who rarely need to be in the office to do their roles? It is exciting to consider, but for leaders and teams, it may mean yet another new dynamic to how work gets done and how careers develop.


In September, McKinsey published their annual women in the workforce study which found that up to 2 million women are considering leaving the workforce – and thousands have already left or taken a step back – due to the strains and demands of life during the pandemic. Women of color have been disproportionately affected professionally and personally. Career plans have been thrown off course and will be hard to recover. Recent gains in leadership roles for women and diverse candidates will be erased if people exit the workforce. The knowledge and expertise gap left behind is and will continue to be significant. For organizations and leaders committed to diversity equity and inclusion, this is a problem.


You may be thinking, these are both interesting topics, Jill, but what does one have to do with the other?


Permanent moves to more flexible work arrangements are a boon for employees who prefer a mix of work environments or are more effective working remotely. It also gives employers access to a broader talent pool if teams do not need to be geographically co-located. Leaders with hybrid teams will need to bring new skills to bear, taking into consideration the career stage, development goals and potential of their employees and how these are affected by their work environment. Who are fully remote opportunities available to? Without intentional leadership, the partial return to work may exacerbate the challenges women and others who work remotely, even if just for part of their work week, experience in advancing their careers. Let me share a few techniques to avoid leaving critical members of your team behind.


We have a natural, very human tendency to prioritize and give attention to what or who is right in front of us. As parts of teams return to in-office settings, leaders need to consider their potential bias toward on-site employees. Opportunities for collaboration, recognition, and even project assignments can be driven by perceived availability and proximity. By building awareness of this inclination within themselves and across their organization now, leaders can create more equitable approaches that benefit the whole team.

One area that leaders can consider is how they facilitate full-team collaboration so that those who continue to work remotely are part of the conversation, consistently. Employees have a responsibility to be proactive in both settings as well. But if an organization has opted for a hybrid environment, then leaders need to invest time in creating structures, tools and expectations so that everyone can participate and contribute.


Internal networking is essential for team member growth and effectiveness. Leaders of hybrid teams can overcome immediacy and on-site bias by setting up opportunities for all members of their team to meet others across the organization. It is especially important for promotional, cross-functional and special project opportunities that the leader's peers know and are aware of the full contributions of all employees. Leaders will need to tap into their sponsorship and advocacy capabilities to ensure employees are represented even when they aren’t physically or virtually in the room. Having opportunities for team and individual contribution recognition during leadership meetings is one way to facilitate broad awareness of team member contributions, interests and potential.

Inclusive Leadership in Action: If you are passionate about creating an equitable workplace and want to be a champion for a woman or BIPOC employee in your organization, step up as a sponsor for someone who is not on your team. Your role as a sponsor is to get to know this person - their interests, their strengths, their career aspirations, and their development opportunities. Ask them if they would welcome your support in career advancement. Be a sounding board when they are facing challenges. Recommend and advance their work and capabilities during broader succession planning discussions. Be their advocate in conversations when they are not in the room and put them forward when opportunities come up that align with their interests and development goals. Clear their path to career growth.

Perhaps most importantly, leaders with hybrid teams will need to be even more thoughtful about how projects are assigned to ensure that in-office personnel are not assigned to the most desirable and developmental work by default. Leaders with development plans for each employee will find navigating project assignments easier. Without a considered approach, remote workers will miss out on essential career development opportunities and be left off cross-functional teams.


When the time comes for recognition, promotions or other leadership opportunities, the part of the workforce that is remote will be passed over because they don’t have the experience or internal network. If women are a higher percentage of the remote workforce, then failing to build skills for managing and elevating hybrid teams and remote employees will compound existing gaps in women in leadership. That’s bad for organizations, teams and employees. Proactive leaders who are prepared for the long-term changes in the ways we work will be the most effective in leading hybrid teams. And that’s the workplace of the future!


Originally published on LinkedIn