June 3, 2024

Leading in a Hybrid workplace

Leading in a hybrid workplace

 

 

If the COVID pandemic taught us one thing, it was that traditional work structures are not set in stone. The widespread adoption of hybrid working highlighted the need for flexibility, adaptation, and innovation in how we approach work and leadership.

Because each organisation and team has its own unique circumstances and needs, requiring differentiated approaches to accommodate hybrid work, there’s no universal solution. 

With employees seeking to make hybrid work arrangements permanent, organisations are responding in diverse ways. This can involve implementing hybrid work options, allowing teams to select their preferred work styles, or mandating a complete return to the office. If you’re choosing hybrid work, mastering the leadership of hybrid teams is crucial.

During the pandemic, as technology helped us stay connected; conversations mainly focused on tasks instead of exploring new ideas and perspectives. This led to fewer imaginative “what if” conversations, causing an unintentional shift towards a less creative and innovative approach to teamwork instead of prioritising team purpose

It’s not enough to simply carry over crisis-driven work habits into everyday operations. For real change, hybrid leaders must shift their mindsets from accidental to intentional hybrid strategies.

But how?

This blog post will guide you through hybrid leadership-by-design. Learning about best practice tips for leading in a hybrid workplace to create high-performing teams

What is hybrid working?

Hybrid working is a flexible arrangement where employees divide their time between remote and in-office work. This setup provides the benefits of both remote and in-person collaboration, offering flexibility in work times and locations while still maintaining face-to-face interaction with colleagues. 

The specifics of hybrid working can vary greatly depending on the organisation and team’s needs. For instance, it might involve employees working remotely for three days a week and in the office for two, or it might involve a more flexible approach where employees can choose their work location on a day-to-day basis depending on their tasks and personal preferences.

What is the leadership approach for the hybrid workplace?

As employees gain more control over where and when they work, today’s leaders must rethink their strategies. This means delivering company objectives and strategy in a hybrid world, all the while ensuring your people still have the same opportunity to participate, contribute, enjoy their roles, and be developed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A real positive to the hybrid workplace is the opportunity it provides to create more diverse teams, enabling organisations to explore new approaches to performance and culture. For instance, teams that have individuals from different locations or backgrounds can bring diverse perspectives and ideas to the table, leading to more innovative solutions and a richer work environment.

Our research “Teamwork in Hybrid Teams” by the London School of Economics sheds light on the dynamics of hybrid teams, revealing five essential factors to enable them to thrive.

  1. Teamwork: Effective collaboration among hybrid team members is vital for achieving goals and maintaining productivity in flexible working models. Hybrid teams recognise the importance of teamwork more than face-to-face (F2F) teams, which may take it for granted without genuinely valuing (or demonstrating) collaboration.
  2. Leadership gap: The research identifies a need for strong leadership to bridge the gap between remote and in-person team members, ensuring cohesion and direction. The shift to hybrid has led teams to learn new ways of working and revealed gaps in our leadership skills and behaviours that require ongoing practice.
  3. Openness: Encouraging open communication and transparency builds trust and engagement among team members, despite their physical location or working arrangement. Hybrid teams value straight talking and openness more than F2F teams as they recognise the need to clarify communications. Teams should define new communication styles and rhythms to enable them to develop a shared vision and avoid misunderstandings.
  4. Connections: Building and nurturing connections between team members, virtually and in person, enhances collaboration and strengthens relationships within the team. Hybrid working has led to a tendency to focus on the task at the expense of connection. Hybrid leaders need to be deliberate in building and sustaining relationships within and outside the team.
  5. Technology: Leveraging appropriate technology tools and platforms facilitates seamless communication, coordination, and connection among hybrid team members, enabling them to work efficiently regardless of physical location. Hybrid teams need to become power users of technology and select various tools to optimise teamwork.

Leading in the hybrid workplace requires extra intensity and a mindset attuned to the team’s needs in a hybrid workplace requiring a set of skills to lead effectively regardless of their team’s location, such as: 

Let’s look at one company that has successfully implemented this approach. 

Valve Corporation is a global video game development and digital distribution business that operates on a unique hybrid leadership model known as “flatarchy.” In this structure, there are no formal titles or hierarchical levels. Instead, employees have the intentional freedom to choose which projects they work on and are encouraged to collaborate with others across different teams. 

This approach promotes a culture of trust which in turn increases their innovation, creativity, and ownership among employees.  As a result, the company has increased its ability to foster high performing teamwork, and continually grow and succeed in an ever changing environment.

Hybrid-by-design

We now know hybrid working has big benefits, like accessing talent worldwide and boosting diversity. However, as organisations rushed into hybrid arrangements without proper planning, unintentional rather than intentional hybrid setups became the norm. As a result, teams felt confused because roles and responsibilities weren’t clear in these unplanned setups.

With a hybrid-by-design approach, leaders work with their teams to discuss and deliberately structure hybrid work environments to maximise productivity and success. Involving teams in reviewing the ideal team ways of working (for example, defining what effective communication means for this team), helps employees feel valued, connected, and accountable to the process.

The first step in taking a hybrid-by-design approach is to define what good looks like for the team. They can then spend time understanding what is working well and what is not, and take relevant actions to close any gaps. With the LIW  3 Ws framework hybrid leaders can talk with their teams to figure out what they need to succeed. This helps identify the key elements necessary for effective hybrid leadership now and in the future.

With clarity from understanding the 3W’s , the next important step is to create the conditions for success for the team.  LIW 3Cs framework, clarity, climate, and competence helps simplify this for any Leader,  to help them understand what is required, and be able to facilitate conversations with their team to define and put in place the conditions teams for them to be successful. This leads to rich dialogue, shared accountability and well informed decisions about how the team organise themselves.

Tackle leading a hybrid workplace with confidence

We know that leading hybrid teams comes with its own set of challenges. However, with the right strategies, you can effectively address these challenges and build high-performing teams.

Here are three common hybrid work challenges leaders face today and our best practice tips to overcome them.

1. Supporting off-site employees to minimise distractions

Distractions are everywhere, from constant social media notifications and emails to working at home and family interruptions. In fact, a 2023 survey suggests that eight in ten employees who work from home unintentionally lose work hours to distractions and demands that wouldn’t arise if they were at the office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distractions can decrease team members’ overall productivity. When employees are constantly interrupted or diverted from their tasks, they may struggle to complete projects on time or meet deadlines, resulting in delays and reduced output.

Secondly, as individuals struggle to maintain focus and concentration on tasks, this can lead to mistakes or incomplete work, negatively impacting the quality of work and overall team performance.

Thirdly, constant distractions can diminish team members’ engagement and motivation. When employees feel constantly interrupted or unable to focus on their work fully, they may become disengaged or disinterested in their tasks, leading to decreased morale and satisfaction within the team.

Leading in a hybrid workplace: best practice tips

Having a clear shared vision and goals owned by the team, empowers teams to understand strategic objectives and motivate individuals to prioritise tasks and minimise distractions that don’t contribute to achieving those goals.

Actively engage hybrid teams in problem-solving exercises to overcome obstacles. Involve the team in setting goals, encouraging open communication, and giving regular updates on progress.

“In office environments” have distractions too (some of them intentional to give team members a break) – and remote employees can sometimes forget to take proper, scheduled breaks throughout the day (the office lunch break with friends, water cooler chat, self-development break, etc.). Encouraging remote employees to acknowledge what distracts them – and to schedule self managed breaks to allow for these distractions can help return focus when the break is over.

2. Developing meaningful relationships

Did you know that less than half of managers trust their leaders to do what is right?

What’s more, our Teamwork in Hybrid Teams research found that “Hybrid working has led to a tendency to focus on the task at the expense of connection.”

Hybrid teams need to develop a communication style that fits the hybrid model. They must find ways to replace non-verbal cues to retain nuance, check for understanding to ensure clarity across all team members, and enable everyone to have a voice.

High-altitude leaders make intentional decisions and actions, particularly in fostering meaningful relationships, when all those regular, natural touch points in the same place are missing. This involves deliberately prioritising teamwork, relationships, and communication.

But, a word of warning.

Beware of the illusion of teamwork. This occurs when individuals believe they are working collaboratively towards a common goal but, in reality, are not truly aligned or engaged in collective efforts. It can happen when team members are working together but not actively contributing or when communication breakdowns prevent effective collaboration.

Let’s say a team has regular meetings where everyone attends and nods in agreement, giving the appearance of teamwork. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that only a few members actively participate in discussions and decision-making, while others remain silent or disengaged. Despite the illusion of teamwork, the lack of genuine collaboration hinders progress towards achieving the team’s objectives.

Leading in a hybrid workplace: best practice tips

Encourage open conversations and practice honesty with your team. Define the relationships you want, nurture them, and prioritise transparent, open, and consistent communication across teams, no matter where they are. Remember: relationship first is always the mantra.

Adopt a “practicing” mindset and ease the pressure of finding all the answers. Role model having only some of the answers to questions and encourage your team to seek solutions collaboratively. By fostering an environment of open communication and shared learning, everyone can contribute their insights and skills and build great relationships.

3. Building psychological safety

Today’s leaders are losing the trust of their employees. While there is a recent slight improvement, there continues to need to be a focus on maintaining a psychologically safe workplace to engage and empower teams in both virtual and physical settings, delivering  the performance that companies seek.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our research shows hybrid teams prioritise teamwork more than those in the same location. Therefore, when considering how to foster a safe environment for hybrid employees, it’s clear that building trust is essential.

Like David Putnam’s analogy of social capital as a bank account, where individuals gain credit through support and time, hybrid teams can cultivate trust and camaraderie among remote and in-office members. Leaders need to consider how they can be intentionally inclusive to all team members, beyond the delegation of tasks. By prioritising others’ interests and forming lasting relationships, hybrid leaders can boost trustworthiness and accumulate social capital. This, in turn, can enhance teamwork, communication, and overall well-being, leading to a more positive and productive work atmosphere.

Leading in a hybrid workplace: best practice tips

Help build psychological safety among hybrid teams demonstrating empathy, resilience, and a commitment to ethical behaviour.

Build an open and honest culture with an experimental mindset, where ideas are shared, and when things don’t go to plan, they are genuinely seen as opportunities to learn and develop.

Create high-performance hybrid teams with LIW

As you can see, hybrid leadership is not the same as face-to-face leadership; it is effectively a higher-intensity leadership style. To succeed, you need to be intentional about your team’s goals, how you communicate, and the relationships you build to achieve those goals – regardless of physical distance.

By embracing a hybrid-by-design mindset, you can fearlessly experiment with new ideas, acknowledge that you won’t always have the answers, and keep practicing until you get better.

To learn more about how we can support your organisation in leading highly successful hybrid teams, contact us today. We’d love to chat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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