Virtual Leadership: How to Lead Hybrid Teams

By: Angie (Min Ah) Park

Hybrid work environments are here to stay – at least for the foreseeable post-pandemic future. While many organizations were unexpectedly thrust into new remote work environments during the pandemic, a hybrid virtual model that balances time in the office with remote work is likely to be the new norm in the post-pandemic future.


According to a recent survey by McKinsey, 99 percent out of the 100 C-suite executives surveyed expected their employees to spend more than 80 percent of their time in the physical office before the pandemic, whereas only 10 percent shared this perspective in 2021. The majority of executives in 2021 expected their employees to be on-site between 21 to 80 percent of the time or roughly one to four days per week (for all roles that aren’t essential to perform on-site). Additionally, another survey in April 2021 found that 29 percent of employees would consider changing their employer if their company went back to a fully on-site work model.


As these examples show, hybrid teams are very likely to be part of the new normal in the context of leadership today. Knowing this, what are some tips and strategies for effectively leading our teams in virtual and hybrid work environments? What are some skills and tools that we can develop to continue to inspire, motivate, and connect with our teams virtually?


Here are 3 important tips:

Tip #1: Be clear and concise in your communication.

Tip #2: Be intentional about setting aside time for connection.

Tip #3: Rehearse your virtual presence.


In this blog post, we will walk through how you can implement each of these tips in action.


  • Be clear and concise in your communication.


Engaging and communicating with your teams virtually may mean that you are competing against more distractions for your audience’s attention than in an in-person interaction. This includes emails, chat notifications, disruptions in their home office environment, or their lack of energy from back-to-back meetings. Virtual communication can also mean that you are missing out on the body language or non-verbal cues that you have access to in an in-person communication.


This is why in virtual environments, it’s all the more important to be clear and concise in your communication and habitually clarify your expectations with your audience to ensure that you are on the same page. In practice, this requires more preparation and reflection on your end, prior to the communication.


Before your next virtual meeting, run through a mental checklist to ensure that you know what your message is (the key point, goal, or outcome you want to achieve) and that you can articulate that message in one to two brief sentences. Practice articulating your message several times to make sure that you can deliver it with confidence in a way that best speaks to your audience.


In addition, have a few clarifying questions ready. What questions will you need to address to ensure that your audience understands your message? What feedback or suggestions would you like from them? How will you ensure that your audience is clear on the immediate action items?


Thinking of these questions in advance helps you better understand how to best collaborate and achieve your goals during that discussion and present your audience with a level of clarity that shows how much you value and respect their time.


  • Be intentional about setting aside time for connection.


With less water-cooler or hallway conversations, shorter, back-to-back meetings, and more time spent independently on task completion, your team members may feel less connected to the team overall and with one another, even if you are currently in a highly productive team. 


Today, employees’ feelings of inclusion are deeply tied to their recognition of performance, attracting and retaining top talent, and establishing a culture of collaboration. According to a study on the relationship between hybrid work and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in April 2022, if an organization is inclusive, its employees are 47 percent more likely to stay in the organization, 7 times more likely to say that their organization is high performing, and 90 percent more likely to go out of their way to help a colleague.


With this in mind, how can we increase feelings of inclusion within our teams? One habitual way that we can do this is by intentionally setting aside time for connection in our regular interactions with our teams.


For example, in your weekly meetings, aim to spend the first few minutes of your time to check-in with your team on how they are feeling in general, about their workload, or any new projects or initiatives going on that week. In doing this, ensure that you set aside enough time for your team to think and share authentically without feeling rushed or put on the spot.


You can also build in time for one-on-one discussions for your colleagues to share the kinds of work-life support they need, get to know your mutual interests and working styles, and address any thoughts or questions that they may not have had the opportunity to talk about in a larger meeting setting. 


In this approach, keep in mind that genuine, personal connections take time. It may require more than one interaction or ongoing conversations for your colleagues to build trust and feel comfortable in sharing their authentic thoughts and feelings.


Finally, explore and use the range of virtual tools available for team building and connection. If you are not sure where to begin, start with this list of popular virtual team-building apps. If you are not sure which tools to use, don’t be afraid to ask your teams and colleagues for their recommendations. Involving them in the decision-making process can also ensure that you use the tools that best motivate their participation and engagement.


  • Rehearse your virtual presence.


If you routinely lead virtual team meetings or make presentations on new updates, products, or policies, pay close attention to your virtual presence, which may be significantly different from your presence in person.


Virtual “presence” refers not only to your voice, facial expressions, eye contact, and body language but to your surroundings that appear on camera and your ability to stay “present” in the moment with your audience.


To work on your virtual presence, first check on your technology, office set up, and virtual background. In the virtual world, whether we like it or not, these are natural extensions of how you show up visually for your audience.


If you are appearing on camera, ensure that your camera is near your eye-level so that you can make “eye contact” with your audience by looking directly at the camera. This frequently requires practice as we are often tempted to look at others’ faces on the screen or are hyper-conscious of how we appear on camera. Take some time before your meeting to rehearse speaking comfortably while regularly looking into the camera.


If you are not appearing on camera and communicating through your voice alone, try recording a practice delivery prior to the meeting. You may notice certain verbal tics (i.e. “um” or “like”), repeated words, changes in your vocal fluctuations, or inconsistencies in the speed of your delivery. Some of these habits may be consistent with your presence in person and some may be unique to your virtual presence.


When we don’t have access to the same nonverbal cues and body language to convey our thoughts and feelings, our verbal communication may shift due to our mental and emotional discomfort in the moment as we overcompensate for the absence of other cues. At the same time, for your audience, your voice and verbal cues are the only signs they can rely on to interpret the meaning of your conversation.


Virtual presence, just like physical presence on stage or in front of a crowded room, takes conscious and repeated practice. If you are not sure what improvements to make from your self-reflection, try asking a trusted colleague or team members who are familiar with your virtual presence.


At THG, we offer a variety of learning opportunities that can take your virtual leadership skills to the next level. If you’ve found these tips useful, explore our full learning experience on Communicating in a Hybrid World for more ways to better understand your communication habits and the habits of your team to build effective strategies for relationship building, productivity, and inclusion. 

If you are hungry for more, take a look at the full range of our learning solutions on our website. We specialize in a variety of practical topics on leadership communication and DEI that can flexibly meet your learning needs.