To say we are living in times of enormous uncertainty is an understatement. I believe we are in a profound transformation and realization of our relationship to work and its impacts to our entire lives. We have an opportunity to “intentionally and thoughtfully design new rhythms, rituals and routines that allow each and every person to do their best work.”1 Organizations have an opportunity to reinvent themselves if they give the space to seriously consider how to restructure what work means.
In my research and experience as a leader, some themes are emerging to consider in this space. Much of how we managed our teams was based around time in the office, or what I like to call “butts in seats”. I was never a fan of that philosophy and lead my team by the results we produced. I didn’t care where, when, or how long [to a certain extent] that it took to produce the desired outcomes as long as deadlines and budgets were being met. This flexibility, I believe, creates more innovative and creative solutions because the pressure cooker of time was lifted. Work was not bound to an office space. I also think because we could fit work into our lives, we were happier for it. I found three critical skills for leaders in creating this space which will be useful for managing hybrid work and maintaining team culture.
Number 1 — Adaptability
This probably doesn’t surprise you but being adaptable as a leader is very much highlighted now. Leaders are dealing with the most volatile environment in our careers and it is hard to continually navigate the changes coming at us constantly. Many organizations are experiencing record levels of turnover and a lack of leadership pipeline. Let’s face it, we don’t have control in this current environment so we need to go with the flow. This is a perfect opportunity to develop a growth mindset and demonstrate this attribute on our team. I define a growth mindset as being open and flexible to new ideas along with willingness to take risks and experience failure while learning. At the end of the day, it is taking the learnings in this activity and making ourselves and our teams more resilient. A perfect way to express this is by saying, “I cannot do this, yet.” It is important to remain open to possibilities and to stay positive. [I know, easier said than done right now but overall, it should lean that way.]
Number 2 — Connection
If we aren’t finding ways to connect in a meaningful way with our team and across the organization then we will not succeed. Much of it relies on how and when you communicate with your team. What types of technology do you tap into? What works best for your team? When do you need to meet in-person? Not to mention the added challenge of rising levels of mental health challenges and team members who are not engaged with their work or the team. This can be especially challenging for those teammates who joined organizations during the pandemic and have never met their team in-person. The leader’s challenge is to provide an inclusive digital and physical interactions. The goal in connection is to build your relationship intelligence and understand your team better by knowing how they think and operate. As I talk about in my book, you need to learn the art of improvising your leadership style to adapt to your team’s needs. It is all about finding a communication style that works for all, not just you.
Number 3 —Empathy
If you have ever heard of emotional intelligence, empathy should be familiar to you. I describe it as understanding your team’s [insert spouse, children, etc.] needs versus seeing it through your preferred strengths/viewpoint. Knowing how teams work and what motivates them as individuals will help drive team to perform at a higher level. Recent MIT research found the #1 reason employees are leaving their organizations is a toxic work environment2. Leaders need to listen to their team’s problems to help guide them to solve the challenges they are having. This is a perfect opportunity to coach our employees and tap into their insights on how to tackle these challenges. As we are paving a new way of working, we will come across many challenges that we just don’t have answers for. In working together and letting your team know you share their pain points, it will help build trust and respect.
By utilizing these key attributes, we can build a strong culture with a distributed team wherever they are. With everything going on in the world, having a strong sense of purpose and building that connection to how you and your team contributes to the overall organization can provide value for all. As leaders, we will need to spend more time in regular connections with each employee to make sure they can articulate their value to the organization. This will build a strong foundation for how you work together collaboratively as a team and hopefully have some fun along the way. We cannot default to “business as usual” as it is not. In co-creating this new reality with your team, you can construct an environment where everyone feels supported and are thriving.
2 MIT defined a toxic work environment as: failure to promote DE&I, employees feel disrespected, unethical behavior/low integrity, abusive managers, and a cutthroat environment-employees undermining employees to get ahead.