Hybrid leadership = Virtual leadership – with a twist

As we begin to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel (fingers crossed), office employees will come back to their office buildings. But not all. Our quantum leap in digital collaboration showed us that we don’t have to be physically present to do most of our work. So how will managers lead their teams when they have a blend of people working from anywhere? How will they exercise their Hybrid leadership?

I have read many articles showing that many employees will quit if they are forced to work from the office every day of the week. I am working with large corporations who realize that they will be unattractive if they don’t allow people to work from home at least parts of the time. This will put many leaders to a new test. For some this is the way they have worked for decades. For most leaders several questions must be addressed. (I already have a list of 69 questions and more are piling up). One of the most urgent ones are:

  • How we will meet, greet, and treat employees when some are at the office and others work from anywhere?
  • Who is most important? The ones you meet in the physical space or the ones in the virtual space?
  • If your answer is “both”, then how will you behave so that everyone feels it?

Go back to 2018. Most conference calls were still done by phone or by the “good” old Skype calls with only voice and PowerPoint. Often you had five people from the head quarter, gathered around a digital campfire i.e. the conference phone, and then you had another three team members calling in. If you were one of the remote colleagues in this scenario, you would soon feel left out as the HQ team started to whisper, giggle, draw something on a whiteboard you couldn’t see while they were munching away on a cinnamon bun that the team leader so kindly bought to everyone present – physically. You would quickly realize that they had already discussed most of the topics before entering the meeting, and you would perhaps be a bit envious of how they seemed to get along so well while your relationships were more shallow… Simply put: Remote team members were treated as second class colleagues.

Fast forward to the midst of the pandemic. Now almost everyone is in a video call. Everyone is there on equal ground. We have the same windows, the same possibility to chat, we see the same virtual whiteboard and use the same breakout functionality. The meetings are not as rich but we have found ways to compensate for some of the problems of digital communication, and we have found new ways of working that sometimes is even better than before.

And then we are about to enter the next phase i.e., the hybrid workplace. What have we learned from all this, that will help us in the future? How will we lead, meet, and communicate going forward?

Here are my predictions:

  • Hybrid work is here to stay.
  • Downsizing office space will present new challenges. Some companies are already talking about downsizing. They need to figure out how that will affect team spirit and how they can compensate for occasions where too many have traveled to the office the same day.
  • Physical “all team” meetings will be a complement to build relationships. To meet physically is still superior when it comes to building relationships and to communicate on a deeper level. I predict that any team that has the resources will find time to meet, perhaps off-site a couple of times per year.
  • Some teams where members live close to each other’s will have certain days where everyone is expected to be in the office.
  • If you want all people to feel motivated, appreciated and engaged, all meetings should be done with the same digital tools for everyone. For instance. If you have a meeting where three people are online, then everybody should be online. Everybody should use the chat, menti etc. Everybody should share screen instead of pointing a camera to the projector canvas in a room. If your group communicated via a chatline during a fully virtual context, then keep doing it. This will for sure feel awkward. For 1o1’s this doesn’t apply. Just like you can pick up the phone, you can walk to someones desk. But for group communication, I am absolutely convinced that this is the way forward.

If you lead a team, one thing is the same: Your mission is to get a desired outcome. The best way to do that is to have safe, engaged, motivated, high-performing people. You get that by having an outstanding workplace communication, regardless of where your people are located and you make sure that everyone feel included and not excluded which means you work mainly with digital tools even when some are back from the office.

Hybrid leadership = Virtual leadership – with a twist.

What are your opinions on this?

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