After leading virtual or decentralized teams comes the new challenge for post-pandemic leaders: hybrid leadership. The last two years have shown that home office is a construct that can work. And that more workplaces are suitable for it than thought. But how will this affect the world of work in 2022? Will everyone return? Hybrid we become the model of the future.
We have been familiar with the term “hybrid” in technology for some time, for example in the automotive sector. Hybrid is a bridging technology that combines, for example, a classic internal combustion engine with an electric drive. For some months now, we have been finding the term hybrid more and more in management literature. At this point, the term stands for the mixing of work locations and formats. For example, the home office on the one hand and working in the office on the other. Simply put: Hybrid combines different approaches.
Old wine in new wineskins?
The concept is not really all that new. But new information technologies are bringing new forms and opportunities. “Hybrid” teamwork already existed a few years ago. Just not as well supported and as widespread. Especially in sales organizations or international projects, people have been working together across locations with different communication models for a long time. Managing these teams is quite challenging. Due to the boom of the home office in the context of the pandemic, this mixed form is now abruptly reaching almost all industries and companies. And many managers are not prepared for it. (Related article: Leadership vacuum due to move to home office? 5 tips for good teamwork).
Virtual collaboration works – what’s different about hybrid?
During the lockdown, teams often worked together completely online. All of them had similar requirements, possibly varying depending on bandwidth or technical equipment. But everyone was online. In the summer months, some of the staff slowly returned to the sites, while others continued to work in their home offices. Do appointments then still take place online or back in the meeting room? Do we connect colleagues from home to the big screen? Or do they have to physically come to the office for the team meeting?
Insecurities in the management team
In addition to a lack of best practices, there are questions upon questions – and these are increasingly being discussed emotionally. While one likes to be back at the location and enjoys the routine and direct contact, the other has settled in well at the home office and is savoring the advantages it offers. Often, companies are still undecided about which path is best. Incorporating home office workstations enables desk sharing and thus offers additional savings potential. And the technology is already there, after all. But what is the right way, the appropriate model of collaboration? How do others do it? Where are the role models that can be quickly copied? They simply don’t exist.
Equal treatment is not equal rights
In addition, it makes no sense to treat all employees the same. An example: Perhaps one employee would like to work 2 days in the home office because he can concentrate better on conceptual topics there and the omitted travel times make everyday life easier. The employee, on the other hand, prefers to come to the office because she has the more comfortable workplace there and no office of her own at home where she can work undisturbed. In this example, does it make sense to commit everyone equally to two days of home office per week? Or to bring everyone back to the office for 5 days?
Added value instead of rules and regulations
Companies approach these challenges differently. While some make clear rules and demand that every employee attend the team meeting at the site on Friday, for example, others provide a rough framework. For example, that at least 2 days a week should be spent working in a home office. Often, these regulations revolve around organizational matters. It would make more sense to ask for which activity the physical presence creates real added value. In other words, when does it benefit employees and the company to meet in a meeting room in person? And when is virtual attendance just as sufficient?
Hybrid requires investment in technology and meeting culture
Hybrid meetings are more costly. At the very least, it requires a good telephone spider or a decent conference phone. And, of course, at least one screen on which the virtual participants can be seen. Something similar to what is done on “Hart aber fair.” In addition, it must be ensured that the colleagues connected online can also follow what is happening in the room. For example, if notes are being taken on a flipchart. It is helpful to have a co-moderator who forms the bridge between the analog and digital participants. It is important to ensure that contributions to the conversation are given equal weight. And comments in the chat should also be read out. In addition, everyone present in the room must demonstrate a high level of discipline with regard to background noise. Shuffling cups on the table, rustling paper, background noise, …, all make it difficult for those who are connected to truly participate.
Design of the office space has an impact on the flexibility of the team
In addition to the technical and interpersonal requirements, it is also worthwhile to keep an eye on the design of the premises. New room concepts may be necessary, especially with regard to desk sharing and conference technology. Ultimately, the goal of all efforts must always be to create the best possible working environment for the team. After all, efficiency and the achievement of goals are ultimately the common goal. And this also requires spatial and, if necessary, structural changes. It is not realistic to create optimal hybrid collaboration in classic office spaces.
The team should have a say in the design
So how does the hybrid leader find the right solution? Not alone. That’s clear. Ideally, this is a process that also supports team building. Prescriptions from above do not lead to the goal. Namely, that the team can work together optimally and perform well. The design has a lot to do with expectation management, clarification of needs and binding rules. This has to be done together in the team. Probably in several workshops. The decisive factor is openness on everyone’s part and a trusting approach to all fears, concerns and wishes.
The central point is the team values, the focus is on the team goals.
Very quickly we end up in a discussion of values. That’s why it makes sense to always focus on the team goal. For example, we should ask what the team’s contribution to the company is. What benefits do we create as a team? What is our vision as a team. The team goals are derived from this and from the corporate goals. Especially when things get emotional, clarity helps the moderator to bring the discussion back to a goal-oriented level. Sensitivity and moderation skills are required.
It can be worthwhile to get support
Since the manager himself is part of the team and usually has his own expectations and opinion on the design of hybrid collaboration, it can be useful to get a neutral moderator. Often, colleagues from HR or corporate development can provide support here. Innovation units also usually have people with facilitation skills. If this is not the case or if there is too little capacity, it helps to look outside.
Communication is the key to (hybrid) collaboration
Basically, an appreciative and goal-oriented communication process is the key success factor for collaboration across distances and with collaboration tools. Not “out of sight, out of mind”, but a sense of community that bridges physical distance. Because the fact is that physical distance does not mean psychological distance at the same time.
Hybrid leadership means investing in the team.