In this era of exponential innovation, remote working has affected team performance and workplace dynamics in both positive and negative ways.

Leaders need to be intentional about how they approach the new hybrid workplace to get the best from their teams and to give them the best possible support.

Chris Fussell, President of the McChrystal Group, joined me on the latest episode of the Incremental to Exponential podcast, in which we explore how big companies can innovate to survive and grow.

Chris is a former Navy SEAL team leader and the author of the 2015 New York Times bestseller “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World” and the 2017 Wall Street Journal bestseller “One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams”. So he knows a thing or two about motivating teams and getting great performance from them.

As many leaders turn their attention to post-pandemic operations, a big question is exactly what the ‘hybrid’ workplace will look like. I confidently say hybrid, because, even if some companies do summon all their people back into the office, we won’t see those people jumping on planes at the drop of a hat to meet colleagues or even to meet customers. So, some degree of increased digital interaction will remain after the pandemic has passed.

And many companies are likely to want to embrace a true hybrid model for the long term, in which at least a portion of the team is working from home some of the time. This will bring many benefits in terms of quality of life, environmental footprint, performance and wellbeing. But it will also create challenges and complexity. For example, you want to avoid meetings being held with some team members in the room and the rest online, because that will create a disconnect and put those not in the room at a disadvantage.

How will leaders inspire, manage and assess their teams’ performance in this new world?

As Chris points out, one thing that’s missing in the shift to meeting online is the after-meeting discussions taking place in the hallway. This is a vital time to connect with people in a more relaxed way than around the boardroom table. Often you can build stronger relationships, confirm initial impressions, or gain crucial extra information that you didn’t get in the formal session. And so, the challenge for leaders is to find ways to recreate that in digital form and to connect with their team members outside formal meetings.

Leaders should also try to ensure that everyone in their team has equal access and opportunity in the digital workplace — this means actively offering help with bandwidth, devices and other enablers of digital collaboration. It also means considering the challenges for team members with caring responsibilities, and the reality that not everyone is going to make the transition to remote working as easily as you.

Personally, I’m finding that, as the pandemic extends into its second year and people spend longer without physical interaction, I need to offer more energy, safety and encouragement to my colleagues.

Chris makes the point that one upside of the mass video platforms that we’ve been using is that they facilitate file-sharing and chats on the side, which means that there can be much more active knowledge-sharing than there would be in a physical meeting. It’s not just one person talking and everyone else in the room listening anymore.

All these video meetings have also focused us on the data, because, when the presenter is sharing their screen, that’s the whole focus, and we’ve been forced to become more adept at understanding, analysing and using it. There’s also more transparency of the data and a democratisation of the meeting space. There is no head of the table.

In this age of webinars and Zoom, leaders don’t need to wait for the annual ‘town hall’ session to update their people, and to hear what’s happening on the ground. As Chris says, one of the “positive knock-ons of this last year is that leaders have recognised that they can leverage technology to pull more and more people into a discussion on a cadence that makes sense, so people aren't overwhelmed”.

Finally, all this focus on communication comes down to creating trust and a common sense of purpose. As the former Navy Seal leader points out, trust is something that you build up over time, not on the battlefield. You need to create it when things are going smoothly so that it’s there when things get tough. It’s very difficult to develop trust during a crisis. Hopefully, when the next one comes, leaders will be prepared.


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