Vigilant Leadership in a Hybrid Work Environment
Are you having trouble as a leader figuring out how to manage a hybrid work environment? Is it hard enough to keep track of who is where and when, let alone manage across the variables that now exist? Are you unsure how to keep the playing field “fair” and make sure everyone feels appreciated and knows their role and what success looks like? We got ya in this post.
But first, earlier this year while we were all in the midst of trying to figure out how to work during COVID, we launched a podcast episode on Vigilant Leadership, which is our term for the art of leading from afar. As a reminder, we have found that leaders who give their teams some space and autonomy to do things their own way end up with higher performers and better results than those that micromanage. If you are a Vigilant Leader, you are highly engaged in overall performance and goals, but less so in the day-to-day and every single “to-do” on the lists of your employees. If you haven’t yet checked out this episode, it is Ep. 16: Vigilant Leadership: The Art of Leading from Afar.)
In this post, we will focus on what it takes to be a Vigilant Leader post-COVID, where the rules of work have changed significantly, especially based on the physicality of where your team is working. Very specifically, we have gotten the question of how to effectively manage now that there are some people at home all of the time, some hybrid work environments and a new reality to when people will be in person versus not. And just like when we wrote the previous blog on Vigilant Leadership during COVID, we are seeing managers struggle with how to manage everything from the logistics of keeping track of where their employees are to how to be good, engaged managers with this additional complication around location post-COVID. Can you demand that people come into the office sometimes? What happens if someone has moved and no longer has the ability to come into the office? How do you make it “fair” but also efficient and workable for your company, clients, and employees?
In our previous blog post, we outlined four steps to cultivate Vigilant Leadership. Here, we will reorient those points for context associated with today’s hybrid work environment, so that you can continue to be or become a more empathetic leader, whether it comes naturally to you or not.
- Reinvigorate your Operating Principles. We are amidst yet another change, which should immediately trigger you to take a look at your operating principles as a team and make any changes necessary. As a reminder, the steps we outlined last time were: 1. Take inventory by taking a big step back and looking at how things went when everyone was working from home. 2. Get feedback from your team on how things have been going and how they continue to go. 3. Talk to peer managers to gain insight into how their teams are operating. 4. Take a look at who has been held up as doing a good job so far with the hybrid environment. 5. Revise your plan as needed. Hopefully, you did this on a fairly involved scale when COVID hit to set yourself up for success. If you did not, now is the time, so go back to our original post when COVID hit for all of the in-depth details on how to use this process. If you did follow the process, good for you! And now that you are familiar with it, use the steps to do a “tune-up”. This means that since you did the hard work not so long ago you should be able to make smaller scale adjustments because you will more readily recognize what is needed and you have the rigor and structure in place. And remember, this process should never end – you should be testing, learning and revising on an ongoing basis and as it makes sense for your team!
- Be gracious but firm when managing your team of individuals. When we talk about Vigilant Leadership, one of the main tenants is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to leadership. We are all humans and as such, we are individuals, which means that what works for one person may not work for another. The good news is that through COVID you naturally had to flex to accommodate the human side of management, and as a workforce as a whole we saw a lot more consideration and grace when it came to things like kids showing up on Zoom calls, dogs barking, doorbells ringing, people heading out during lunch for a walk, and more flexible work hours than ever before. Now, in a hybrid environment, you will have to see your team through new eyes and manage accordingly. First, take cues from your company and the new parameters. Are there folks allowed to work completely from home? Is everyone expected to be in the office sometimes? Your company should set the pace and tone for this new environment. Then, you need to work with each person on your team to outline what this means for them. Definitely continue an empathetic approach – it is one of the best things to come from COVID, and the world will be a better place if it continues – but also be firm. In the set up, we mentioned that some folks may have moved. Well, if you are in a hybrid environment, what does that look like for them? Are they expected to come to the office once a month at their own expense? Manage accordingly. Based on role, does your company allow some folks to be completely remote while others have to be in the office a few days a week? Again, manage accordingly. Be clear on the expectations and the reasons why, develop a plan, and hold people accountable. And be ready to have some tough conversations – and make some tough decisions – if folks cannot get onboard with the new expectations of the company. Remember, you are expected to do what is best for your team as a whole and while they are all individuals, they must adhere to your expectations as the leader and those of the company at large.
- Stand up for what is important to you and your team. All organizations are in a period of “figuring it out”. What is mandated today may not be what works in the long run. As a Vigilant Leader your role is to look out for and stand up for what your team needs. The good news is that you have created the space to be able to do so, since you are not in the day-to-day of your employees’ jobs. With the space to observe how things are going and think big picture, you can help the company identify what is best for your team and the organization as a whole. Step up and step in. Remember, this is the time to take action and continue to make change because nothing is “set in stone”. Be brave and be able to back up your POV with specific examples from your team. Does it seem like people are being forced to come into the office when they really are not needed in person? Or do you think that it would benefit everyone if each employee was there at least once a week? Has the culture suffered with everyone being remote? What are you going to do about it? Is there restlessness in the ranks as people struggle with change after so long of being at home? Bring the issues up, help address them, and be a Vigilant Leader in helping the organization decide on and manage against what is best for the organization and each person within it.
- Take inventory of yourself. Mental health has been top of mind as COVID has progressed, so make sure you are honest with yourself about how you are doing. Maybe you love being with people and so spending time in the office is something you are excited about. Or maybe you really found your stride at home and now you are having trouble getting back into the commute and office time. Perhaps you traveled a lot pre-COVID and now as you get back into it you realize how much time at home with your family meant and you are missing it. Again, this is the time for change, and that includes for you. The rules of engagement are forming, so don’t stand up only for your team, but for yourself. Lead by example, take on the tough conversations and be a Vigilant Leader that your team is proud of because you not only talk the talk but you walk the walk.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the new normal of work environments is here. The very best Vigilant Leaders will go with it, learn from it, and continue to adapt to what is working and what may not be working in the long run. If you have been practicing Vigilant Leadership through COVID, good for you! This post should help you “tune-up” your skills and put new ones into action. Not so much? It’s okay – be honest. And then get to work!
Still having time leaning into Vigilant Leadership during this trying time? Give us a call. Vigilant leadership requires work, but it is worth it. We promise.
Anne Candido and April Martini are the Co-Founders of Forthright People, an On-Demand Marketing Agency focused on helping businesses quickly capture the hearts of their customers without breaking the bank. They believe in “real-time brand-building”, which delivers strategically-informed execution, creating immediate business impact while also developing equity for systemic growth. And since their team consists of an extended network of talented freelancers and boutique agencies, they do not require hefty retainers and contracts to do it. Contact them via email: Anne@Forthright-People.com and April@Forthright-People.com.
Check out our podcast! Marketing Smarts. From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so that you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so that whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.