March 2024

A Strategy for Leading Remote and Hybrid Teams

By Erin Yeagley

Leading hybrid and remote teams in today's ever evolving work environment has become a prime challenge for organizations worldwide. As traditional office setups give way to flexible arrangements that blend in-person and remote work, leaders find themselves navigating uncharted territory. Effective communication, seamless collaboration, and inclusive team dynamics are more crucial than ever before, and managers need a better strategy.

Embracing this shift requires not only a reimagining of traditional leadership strategies but also a keen understanding of the unique dynamics and opportunities inherent in hybrid and remote team environments. In the book from Gallup, Culture Shock: An unstoppable force is changing how we work and live, Jim Clifton and Jim Harter discuss the importance of having strategies in place to adapt to the "biggest leadership issue of our time."

"The Covid-19 pandemic caused an awakening that shocked the world — a structural change in how and where people work and live. One thing we now know for sure: Nothing is going back to normal.

How organizations adapt to this culture shock will determine whether the U.S. and global productivity will go up or down."

It starts with the manager. "According to Gallup's workplace science, the manager is the very origin of new economic energy." The success of remote and hybrid teams hinges on the caliber of their managers. These leaders play a multifaceted role, from facilitating communication and building trust to empowering remote workers and driving performance. "Managers account for 70% of the variance in engagement."

Managers who have in the past excelled in traditional, co-located settings may struggle with remote and hybrid teams. In this instance Management by Walking Around is non-existent. Leading these teams encompasses more than setting clear expectations, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members, supplying the right materials, equipment, and training opportunities to be successful.

"Fewer than one in 10 managers or leaders have received training or coaching on how to manage effectively in a hybrid environment."

Over twenty-five years ago, Gallup did a study identifying 12 statements that employees need most to perform their best and named it Q12. However, in the wake of the pandemic, Gallup researchers have identified 4 additional items for managers and organizations to consider to best improve engagement and results, renaming the list Q12+.

  1. Respect – "At work I am treated with respect."
  2. Wellbeing – "My organization cares about my overall wellbeing."
  3. Coaching Habit – "I have received meaningful feedback in the last week."
  4. Customer – "My organization always delivers on the promise we make our customers."

With the addition of those findings, perhaps the number one High Payoff Activity (HPA) for managers is to schedule "One Meaningful Conversation with Each Employee per Week". Gallup's study shows that "80% of employees who said they received meaningful feedback in the past week were fully engaged — regardless of how many days they worked in the office."

How do managers have enough time in a week to conduct weekly meaningful feedback sessions with each employee? Managers should make it a priority to make time. When managers have these conversations at weekly frequency the length of the conversations only needs to be between 15 and 30 minutes to make an impact. It is when managers don't have weekly conversations that those sessions take 30 to 60 minutes or longer to catch up.

The key word for these conversations is meaningful but what does that mean? Gallup identified that managers should focus on the following:

Recognition – Have you asked your employees how they would like to be recognized and appreciated? Have you conducted an individual motivation assessment/plan? Did you commend them on a job well done? "…only 23% of employees strongly agree that they get the right amount of recognition for the work they do. Those who do are 4x more likely to be engaged."

Collaboration and Relationships – Remote and Hybrid environments make this especially difficult. Conversations should concentrate on their well-being. Remote workers may feel isolated at times so managers who actively foster team cohesion by focusing on building trust and camaraderie, can create an environment where remote and hybrid teams thrive.

Goals and Priorities – Clarity is important. Have you been clear with your expectations? Do you inspect what you expect? Weekly check-ins are beneficial if not essential. Business and customer needs can change at any moment. Your team should feel supported.

Strengths – Are you aware of what each of your employees does best? Conversations become more meaningful when managers identify how employees get their work done by concentrating on what they do best.

What is not meaningful?

Focusing on Shortcomings - These conversations are not about evaluation. Discussing their weaknesses or things they don't do well is not perceived as meaningful to the employee, especially when they are the only thing discussed on a repetitive basis. Although critical feedback is necessary to encourage change and growth, it should not be the focus of every weekly feedback session. It is detrimental and demotivating.

In conclusion, if you are looking to significantly enhance engagement and outcomes with your remote and/or hybrid team, prioritizing weekly meaningful feedback sessions is your best strategy. Embracing this practice can address the four key areas identified by Gallup as crucial for remote and hybrid workers to thrive. Establishing a consistent coaching habit will cultivate stronger relationships built on mutual respect and support for each other's well-being but also contribute to an improved customer experience.