How to Lead a Hybrid Team

By: Bart Egnal

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, business leaders sent virtually all their white-collar employees home to work remotely. People hunkered down and waited as they prepared to return to the office… in two weeks… in two months… in six months… in a year… 

Now, two and a half years later, the only thing for certain is that there is going to be no mass rush back to the office. Even companies that are bringing employees back are using technology to meet and work remotely as part of a hybrid model.  And when polled by Deloitte, the majority of executives – 63% – said they expect hybrid to be the default going forward (Deloitte's 2021 Global Return to Workplaces survey).

At The Humphrey Group, we’ve had to radically rethink our business over the last few years. First, we focused on adapting our training so it’s all available virtually (e.g. delivered via Zoom or Teams) which involves new instructional design, new resources, training our facilitators and more. We also created digital learning programs which combined synchronous training with on-demand content and asynchronous social learning all on a learning platform. These changes have allowed us to serve clients as they embrace this new way of learning. At the same time, we’ve made the decision to get rid of our offices and move to be an almost-fully-remote company. 

So between the hundreds of leaders we’ve trained on what it takes to inspire in this hybrid world, and our own experiences in this transition, I wanted to share three things leaders should consider when they aim to lead in a hybrid world.

First, define what hybrid is for your company and your team – and be sure you communicate the why behind your decision. 

The term “hybrid” is a broad one, and it’s critical that you define what your expectations are – as a company, and as a team. Are your people expected to be in the office every day? Three days a week? Whenever they want? In my experience, companies are often hesitant to be prescriptive for fear of alienating their staff, but this can lead to more confusion. Decide as a leadership team what you want, and then, decide what you as a leader expect and be clear about it. 

You should articulate your policy, but more importantly, the why behind the decision. Employees have grown used to (and in many cases comfortable with) various incarnations of remote work these last few years. Change is hard, and asking staff to start commuting and spending more time in person had better be accompanied by a strong “why” you believe in, and your leaders can believe in too. 

Second, whatever type of hybrid world you’re working in, you’re going to have to work hard to foster connection. 

In two and a half years people have gotten used to working together – apart. And even if people are starting to return to the office, they may not feel connected. Your leadership can help by providing clear guidance around how to begin reengaging with colleagues, clients and other stakeholders. 

I spoke to a senior executive in the financial sector and here’s what he said on the direction he gave to his organization this fall, “In [our organization], we've asked our people to be intentional about when they come in three days a week. We've asked them to choose one day when their whole team will be there so they can collaborate and connect, one day when their clients on the business side are in, so they can build those important relationships and one flex day that fits their schedules. The idea is to make sure when they are there there is meaningful collaboration happening."

Finally, make sure you are helping all voices continue to be heard

As you settle into your new hybrid normal, remember that creating an inclusive workplace does not happen by accident. It requires intentional leadership and you will want to place extra effort into making sure all voices are heard as you transition into a new way of working. 

If you’re moving back to an office-dominant environment, what are you doing to not only accommodate but include those employees who are immunocompromised, caring for sick family members, or unable to be present for other reasons? If you’re moving away from a fully virtual culture to a hybrid one, what are you doing to build space for diverse voices to continue to be heard? Earlier this year the Washington Post, writing about how Facebook became more diverse with its move to remote work, pointed out that“Remote work might be particularly attractive to people of color who are more likely to experience subtle — and often unintended — expressions of bias, known as microaggressions, in the workplace…Working from home is a layer of protection against these situations.”

Leadership Communication Skills: The Old Tools For The New Normal

As we all embrace brave new (or tried and tested) modes of work, one thing is for sure: you’ll have to lead through communication. Go forth and inspire.

If you enjoyed reading this blog on leading hybrid teams, you may also enjoy taking part in one of our new signature learning experiences, Communicating in a Hybrid World.