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Leading Hybrid Teams

June 7, 2021

One of the biggest challenges leaders have had since the pandemic disruption is ‘leading hybrid teams’.

Being a leader pre-pandemic was still very traditional in that leaders had workers working primarily in office. When the pandemic happened it sped up the future of work reality of ‘remote work’.

Prior to the pandemic many companies said that remote work was not possible. When the pandemic occurred it was quickly obvious that not only could work be shifted to a remote work reality – it could actually work well!

The remote work genie is now out of the bottle. Which means we are never going back to the way work was done prior to the pandemic.

We have surveyed thousands of workers who have said that the benefits of remote work were many including:

  • Ability to spend more time with family
  • Less time spent on commuting
  • Greater ability to focus with less in office distractions
  • Autonomy over pacing of work
  • Increased self motivation to achieve work goals
  • More productivity
  • Less time spent on non productive activities
  • Better control over work life balance

Of course the remote work reality has caused some leaders to be concerned as businesses prepare to re-open and to call workers back into the office.

The leadership skills that were used to lead in an environment where you could see/hear and participate with co-workers are not the same skills needed to lead both in office teams along with remote teams.

The skills that leaders need today and for the future include:

  • Ability to see the big picture and all of the moving pieces of the business
  • Increased EQ (emotional intelligence) to lead with compassion and care
  • Elevated technology skills to link up tech solutions to common problems
  • A ‘people first’ leadership focus where people are valued over profits
  • Expanded perspectives to ‘multiple perspectives’ that has expanded awareness of diversity
  • Enhanced communication skills to connect both in person and virtually

A hybrid team is a team that consists of team members working in office along with workers working remotely.

Leading hybrid teams has unique challenges such as:

  • Maintaining connection to remote workers who can often be out of sight and out of mind for both the leader and the in office team
  • There is potential for perceived inequities between the groups. For example the in office team can feel as if they are ‘working harder’ than remote teams. Conversely remote teams can feel as though they are working harder due to having blurred lines between work hours and personal time.
  • Leaders can have greater negative unconscious biases about remote teams due to his or her own work style preferences.

The keys to leaders being successful at leading hybrid teams include building new skills and reskilling to be a future ready leader.

The biggest shift leaders need to make is to shift his or her mindset about what it means to be a leader. In the past a leader would have ‘power over’ others based on title. In the future leaders see themselves as facilitators of others intelligence. Leaders of hybrid teams need to shift to an attitude of ‘shared leadership’.

Shared leadership does not mean too many cooks in the kitchen what it means is that workers are valued for their strengths. A leader leading hybrid teams has the opportunity to increase understanding of people in general.

The key factors for success in leading hybrid teams comes down to leaders:

  • Leaders who value people as people and who see leadership as an opportunity to grow and learn
  • Leaders who are constantly learning and growing and who do not try to have all the answers rather he or she strives to empower team members to bring solutions to be facilitated
  • Leaders who value diversity of culture, gender and personalities and truly commit to respecting the diversity of the teams
  • Leaders who can bridge the in office culture with the remote worker culture through continuous connections (virtual and in person)
  • Leaders who leverage innovation by asking for ALL team members to share ideas consistently via polling/surveying/anecdotal feedback
  • Leaders who are agile and flexible with what it means to BE a leader. In other words leaders can change from how they used to lead to a new way of leading in a fast changing reality.
  • Leaders who can hear feedback from their teams without defensiveness. In addition leaders take the feedback they have gathered and apply what has been learned right away.
  • Leaders who leverage technology for the benefit of elevating communication, ideation and team collaboration.
  • Leaders who are sensitive to the unique challenges of workers working in the office as well as the unique challenges of workers working remotely.
  • Leaders who are empathetic, compassionate and caring.

Out of challenge comes opportunity – I think we will look back at the pandemic and the changes it forced as a positive thing. For leaders there is much change ahead and the ability to lead hybrid teams is going to be an in demand skill and leaders who can master leading hybrid teams will be guaranteed job stability for the future.

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