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Apart and together

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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 10/2021 vom 22.09.2021

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Ready to lead your hybrid team? A new approach is needed


This article will help you to...

• reflect on the benefits and challenges of hybrid working

• gain insights into the key drivers of successful hybrid working

• identify strategies to become a better leader in a hybrid world

The coronavirus pandemic has made remote leadership and hybrid leadership parts of the new normal. Many have now experienced the benefits of less commuting, the value of videoconferences and the efficiency of focused homeworking. On the other hand, there have been complaints about the relentless video meetings (“Zoom fatigue”). A loss of spirit has also been felt. And leaders often have a sense of stalled innovation as a result of fewer creative face-to-face meetings.

Organizations now face the challenge of keeping the positives of hybrid working and eliminating or reducing its negatives. Many made extravagant claims in the early days of the pandemic, that they ...

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... would remain fully remote or move to an “80–20” hybrid model, with 80 per cent of staff working remotely at any point and 20 per cent co-located. Most organizations have reduced their ambitions and are now looking at a “60–40” model. Some CEOs even want a full return to the office.

Whichever way companies choose to go, a new hybrid model is here to stay. So, what does good hybrid leadership look like? Here are 12 tips to help you to design your own strategy for hybrid success, either as a leader or as a team member looking to step into leadership.

1. Discuss preferences

One size does not fit all. Many people experience isolation during remote working or don’t have a suitable working space at home. Others are in jobs where co-located working is essential. If leaders wish people to embrace hybrid working, there needs to be a period of serious consultation. This can ensure a realistic and motivating co-design of employees’ new working modality. If “hybrid” is to work, it must be a choice.

2. Empower or die

Hybrid working requires leaders to fully empower their team members. It signals the death of micromanagement. Leaders who fail to realize this will struggle as they attempt to keep oversight of partly invisible teams. And team members will see the effort needed to respond to oversight requests as a waste of their time.

3. Clarify roles and rules

Total empowerment will lead to chaos, however. Leaders need to empower within a structure — freedom within a framework. Telenor, the Norwegian telecoms giant, has the philosophy of “Tight– Loose–Tight”. Leaders take extra time to clarify who is responsible for what, how things need to be done and how to communicate (and with whom) when there are problems. Once this is clear, people can disappear into their remote worlds to get their jobs done with full autonomy. They then come back together at agreed times to solve problems, provide updates and define the next cycle of tasks.

4. Overcommunicate

This idea may strike terror into those with packed virtual meeting schedules and bursting inboxes. What is needed, however, is not more communication but higher-quality communication. We need more checks to ensure that what has been said has really been understood, and that what was understood was really what was intended. In virtual meetings, and when using email, the risk of misunderstanding is greater. More focus, both as speakers and listeners, is essential.

5. Limit hybrid-hybrid meetings

“Hybrid-hybrid” meetings are those in which some team members sit face to face in a room, some dial in alone, perhaps on a mobile, and some connect via video software — either alone or in a shared office. The overwhelming feedback on this multichannel approach is that it fails. If everyone can’t be face to face, it is better to have everyone remote, playing by the same rules and focusing in the same way.

6. Create trust

A precondition for hybrid success is the right level of trust. Trusting too little can destroy people’s motivation. Yet, trusting blindly exposes leaders and organizations to significant risks. The answer is to consciously invest time in the factors that help to create the right level of trust. We trust for specific reasons: when we see people as competent, when they are reliable, when they are open with information, and when they support and don’t harm us. For leaders, this means ensuring people have the right skills and the resources to deliver on time, encouraging a culture of communication and celebrating “us” over “me”. Trust will not happen by accident, but it can happen by design.

7. Provide the right tools

Effective hybrid working depends on having tools that are appropriate, standardized and understood. If employees feel threatened by technology, they will resist. But if they can take pride in a new-found technology skill set, they will accept and embrace the change. There are cost implications in buying the best tools and offering training, logistical challenges in ensuring that everyone has the same versions of software, and challenges in motivating people to invest time in experimental collaboration methods and tools that may seem unnecessary. But fully upskilled team members are likely to embrace hybrid more profoundly.

8. Stay visible and connected

Remote working risks fragmentation in teams, due to a lack of shared knowledge or experiences. Leaders need to make the extra effort to stay visible, connected and available. This can include surveys to get feedback or collect ideas, more frequent meetings to keep people updated, and extensive use of intranets or social-media channels. The need for leadership visibility is often felt strongly by team members and can help to drive performance.

9. Take care of people’s well-being

One key insight for many leaders at the start of the pandemic was that one-toone conversations with employees could improve their relationship by helping to reduce uncertainty and fear connected to the coronavirus. It is now widely recognized that leaders must engage with the well-being — the physical and mental health — of their employees. This is particularly the case given the risks of homeworking: isolation, anxiety, loss of support from office-based relationships, greater pressure on personal relationships, workaholism, and neglect of exercise and selfcare. The key to the sustainable success of hybrid working will be to continue with the one-to-one meetings that were established at the start of the pandemic.


Leading Effective Virtual Teams: Overcoming Time and Distance to Achieve Exceptional Results by Nancy M. Settle-Murphy (Routledge) is a highly practical manual on how to handle the challenges of virtual teams. Although it was written pre-pandemic, it contains key insights and tools for achieving high performance.

10. Defend the culture

Members of hybrid teams risk becoming isolated not only from their own team members, but also from the wider organization. What matters Organizational culture is put at risk, as individuals may no longer feel most is your bound by and inspired by the organization’s values. They may either “go rogue” — working to their own ethics — or be more prone to jump to a competitor. This erosion of culture is potentially increased by the “war for talent” and a millennial mindset that can be sceptical of corporate culture. Leaders need to be guardians and advocates of their corporate culture, defending its principles and demonstrating expected behaviours. They must also be passionate and active architects of the hybrid culture.

What matters most is your ability to motivate others

11. Stay away from the office

Even when together in offices, people are often clearly apart. Traditionally, there has been distance between leaders and team members. Leaders often have larger, personalized offices in prestigious office locations. The remote world has the potential to bring people closer together. We meet in a shared and democratic online space and can make visible our domestic spaces, our kids and pets. Leaders who go back too quickly to their privileged office workspace risk undermining confidence in the credibility of hybrid working. They will trigger a stampede back to the office for fear of missing out (“FOMO”). For successful hybrid working, leaders should stay as physically remote as possible.

12. Learn to make hybrid work

As we move to a new environment in which the rules of engagement are still being defined and new skills are being learned, the key to sustainable success is an open learning culture. This involves recognizing and celebrating great performance. It also means calling out underperformance: lack of communication, failure to deliver, poor organization, lack of technological skills and over-reliance on face-to-face meetings. For years, leaders have struggled to establish effective feedback cultures and be learning consultants for their teams. In the hybrid Wild West, leaders need to rectify these omissions. They must identify ways to help individuals and teams to learn quickly what works for them. And they need to use more intensively the classic performance “traffic light”: what should we stop, what should we change and what should we continue doing?

You are the key

People respond to change in relatively predictable ways. If change threatens to (or does) make our lives worse, we generally fight to re-establish the old system. If change promises to (or does) make our lives better, we generally embrace it. It is clear from research that remote-centric organization and teamwork is neither necessarily better nor worse than models where team members are co-located. What matters far more than the specific model are team resources, an organizational structure, skills, a sense of purpose and engaging in effective leadership.

What matters most about hybrid working is, ultimately, not the fact of its being hybrid, but your ability as a leader to motivate others to work together effectively. It’s a challenging truth. But who said life should be easy?


You can listen to an interview with Bob Dignen on Business Spotlight Audio and try our exercises in Business Spotlight Plus. To order, go to www.aboshop. spotlight-verlag.de

BOB DIGNEN is a director of International Leadership Performance (ILP) and York Associates. He specializes in executive leadership coaching and training.

Contact: leader@business-spotlight.de