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Leading in a Hybrid Work Environment

The transition to virtual work in 2020 was a grand and, for many companies, a successful working experiment. Now we are about to engage in another grand experiment: the transition to hybrid work.

Companies around the world are beginning the process of thinking about the what the new normal will be and what role virtual work will play long-term. While many companies proved that virtual work is possible, a recent PWC study shows that only 13% of executives are prepared to close office doors for good[i]. Similarly, the same PWC study shows that 83% of employees feel the office environment is important for maintaining company culture, but the majority of them only want to be in the office two days a week[i]. This data, coupled with the number of employees who chose to relocate during the pandemic, means that virtual work for some folks will be permanent even if it is not permanent for the entire team.

So, what does this all mean? It means leaders need to begin preparing for a hybrid work environment.

While hybrid work provides great flexibility to employees and allows companies to maintain an energizing office environment, there are some very real leadership questions that come with leading a hybrid team.

How to enable your team’s development in a hybrid setting?

  • How do you balance your time between in-person and remote team members?
  • How do you ensure team members who are calling into meetings have the same opportunity to contribute as those in the conference room?
  • How do you build relationships with remote employees when casual interactions are more limited?
  • How do you ensure remote employees are considered for the same opportunities, even when they are not in the room?
  • How does onboarding look different in a hybrid setting?

What operational policies do you need to review, change, or implement to set your team up for success?

  • What is your policy about hybrid work? Are employees free to choose their preference of virtual vs. in-office work? Will you require some in-office hours for all employees?
  • How do you ensure there’s a critical mass of employees working in the office at the same time to develop working relationships and build and sustain company culture?
  • What are your applicants looking for? Will your talent pool be affected based on flexible working options you offer?
  • How much space does the business now need? If you downsize, will you regret it later?
  • Do all employees need their own office space or might “hoteling” or community workspaces be a better option for them?

These are important questions to reflect upon as a leader, and luckily there are a few more practical tips as well:

  • Ensure you use technologies that support virtual and in-office participation.
  • Create clear policies that define expectations for working in the office and at home.
  • Create a master schedule to ensure there are enough people working in the office to make it worthwhile for employees to make the commute.
  • Invest time in understanding virtual collaboration software to promote hybrid work structures.
  • Train your employees in virtual facilitation to ensure all employees have the opportunity to contribute during hybrid or remote meetings.
  • Plan team retreats to get the whole team together in-person periodically to solve problems, work face-to-face, and build rapport.

There is hope for a smooth transition to hybrid work. There will not be a mad dash to procure thousands of laptops for all employees, and hopefully schools and daycares will begin to open to relieve the stress of working, parenting, and teaching at home. If leaders continue to lead with empathy and seek and encourage their people to seek training and development opportunities, there is hope for another grand working experiment resulting in increased productivity.

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Ned Wasniewski is a Managing Partner and Krista Campbell (co-author) is a Senior Associate Consultant at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.