Leading in a remote environment is one of the most challenging tasks we can ask of the organization. It is doctoral level leadership. The only scenario more complex is what most organizations are about to go through next – hybrid teams in a high growth mode. Leading hybrid teams is not new, it is now mainstream and required to compete for talent. Over the past 15 months, organizations quickly transitioned to a remote work environment while either shuttering their teams or attempting to ramp up in support of explosive growth. Prior to March 2020, remote/virtual leading was not recognized by senior leaders as a top investment priority. This past year, we have been inundated with ‘How to lead in a remote/virtual space” webinars and white papers.
Yet, until recently, I have seen very few discussions around the topics of “leading a hybrid team.” 2021 could be the year of the hybrid team as organizations transition to a stable, “post COVID” environment. What will be needed to lead in this new environment? At Gant Travel our team members have been remote since 2007, and we continue to challenge the organization with how we can do better. Our two strategic partners in Guatemala and the Philippines were 100% bricks and mortar and are now navigating the hybrid environment. Like so many other organizations, we are asking: “Where are we now, and what elements can we lean into as we move forward?” Culture, investing in people, and management tools and techniques are three keys I would like to discuss:
- Culture – Very few organizations’ culture remains unchanged. Take the time to evaluate what cultural attributes need attention. Your plan to re-onboard or hire staff in a hybrid environment needs to be well thought out and aligned with your current culture. One critical element we at Gant Travel continue to discuss is how to regain trust with our re-hire team. What impact did large-scale virtual hiring have on your culture? Now more than ever, the front-line leaders have more influence on culture. As you evaluate a hybrid work environment, look at how you deploy your front-line leaders.
- Invest in your people – this is a reflection of your organizational culture. If you invest in your people and make their professional development a priority, you build trust, which is critical in the hybrid environment. You also build confidence and capability within the organization. The investment must be multi-tiered and address front-line team members, supervisors, mid-level and senior leaders. Supervisors are the youngest leaders on the team, yet they are the most critical to the engagement and success of the team. Thrust into a remote work environment, were they set up for success? Moving to a hybrid solution, are they set up for success? We can control how this solution is deployed across our organizations.
- Virtual Management by Walking Around (VMBWA). Many of us are familiar with the MBWA technique as a tool in leading our teams. What does this look like in a remote and hybrid environment? What tools and processes are needed for leaders to be successful? First, a leader must have trust; a common thread in this discussion. Also, video and a centralized messaging platform are key tools we introduced at Gant Travel. We found these and daily huddles to be critical to our successful transition to a fully remote workforce. As of 4th QTR, 2019, we required that all internal interactions take place on video, and we expect our leaders to conduct weekly one- on- ones and team meetings. We embrace the Marcus Buckingham 52 weekly sprint methodology. We also introduced an interaction analytics tool that completely changed how our leaders coach their teams. Our team understands the most important activity they can accomplish on a daily basis is to touch their people.
As senior leaders, we must look over the horizon and provide clarity on how the organization navigates this transitional period. Your culture has changed, the need for stronger, more autonomous, yet collaborative leaders is more important than ever. A hybrid organization must have a learning, innovative culture to embrace the continued investment in people, processes and tools. We cannot return to “pre COVID” cultural norms and expect to succeed. The war for talent is upon us and we must do everything possible to create a culture which inspires the best talent.
Kurt has over twenty years of leadership in Contact Center Management, Reverse Logistics Operations and Quality Program Management in North America, Asia and the Middle East. He is a proponent and practitioner of the servant leadership model and brings a passion for excellence in exceptional customer service to Gant’s employees and customers. Prior to joining Gant, he was a program manager with Lexmark. He is a former Army Infantry Officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.