With calls to normalise hybrid work models growing ever louder among the global workforce, it looks set to be a permanent work feature within companies and leaders must ensure they are properly equipped to manage dispersed teams. Contrary to what some people think, it is not as simple as simply applying old in-person strategies to remote employees. Successfully navigating leadership in a hybrid era involves empowering teams, improving engagement, and redesigning policies that no longer suit.
Trust as the backbone
Without trust, there is no corporate culture worth mentioning, and that rings especially true when you have dispersed teams who are only connected to each other by that culture. Leaders must build trust between themselves and their teams before they can build inter- and intrateam trust. Empowerment is key; they must train their teams and give them all the tools they need to succeed, then set them free, trust the process, and focus on the results. Avoid micromanaging at all costs.
Communicating with openness and transparency is critical. If employees feel like they are not being heard, they will become disengaged and demotivated, which is difficult to rectify – especially from a distance. Leaders can mitigate this by ensuring that expectations and processes are clear and consistent, as well as setting regular catchup sessions and making themselves available to support their teams as much as possible. It is also important for leaders to make sure that remote teams feel as included as on-site teams—in-person interactions do deepen bonds, but that is no excuse for favouritism.
Engage, engage, engage
Remote teams miss out on many casual, relationship-building interactions like work lunches and water cooler chats. Instead, leaders can think of creative activities that can be done together virtually, such as hosting a weekly hour-long bonding session to just chat and have fun together. It is entirely possible to maintain a tight-knit culture with remote colleagues – it just takes some extra effort. For instance, I started the ‘Samurai Soirees’, a weekly Friday bonding session with my team where we just set aside an hour to do some fun, non-work activities. Once, we split into teams and debated each other on popular conspiracy theories like birds being government drones. Not everyone was a fan at first, but over time they started looking forward to it, and I think we’re all closer for it.
However, I do think that if the company is in a position to do so, they should bring dispersed teams together at least once a year so that people can get to know each other as whole individuals instead of just a face on the screen or a voice over the Internet. In general, company retreats and offsites are great opportunities for team building and brainstorming, which translates to a refreshed and more motivated workforce. I think the value it brings is immeasurable.
Adapting old ways to suit new times
Policies and processes are made for people, not the other way round, and people are always evolving. Therefore, company policies and benefits must adapt too. If someone is fully remote and does not travel, does a travel allowance still make sense as an employee benefit, or would a new home-office equipment allowance be better? Since managers can no longer take the new team member around and introduce them to other teams, maybe they can now introduce themselves on the weekly SCRUM call, so people know who they are?
It is always a monumental exercise to overhaul company policies, especially as it must be done holistically and not piecemeal to ensure effectiveness. However, I find it helps greatly to remember the original intent of why the policies were designed in the first place and stay true to that intent when redesigning – except now with remote workforces in time. It is also beneficial to get feedback from the employees and have an open dialogue with them, as they will be the ones abiding by these policies.
Embrace the change
The future of work is evolving as we speak into something more flexible and inclusive, which I am excited about as I feel it better reflects our ever-changing needs as human beings. Leaders must be willing to accept this transformation and evolve accordingly to lead modern teams in this new hybrid era. It is definitely a learning curve, but we are all in this together – and the lessons we learn today will help us shape the workforces of tomorrow.