Navigating the Future: Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams in a Return-to-Office World

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Rachael Bosch is the CEO and founder at Fringe PD, where their mission is to help people communicate better and create more human workplaces.

I remember when I met with my first business accountant in 2017. I sat in his formal office space, trying to explain to him the business I envisioned and seeking his input on how to think about the finances of such a business. Most people don’t remember a meeting with an accountant nearly seven years later. Still, this meeting stands out because I knew in that one-hour conversation that we were fundamentally misaligned. I knew this because of one small thing the accountant said to me. “Well,” he mused, looking at my anticipatory budget spreadsheet, “at some point, you’ll need to add office space to this budget.” I was confused, befuddled, and even amused! I thought, why would I ever want to take on the headache of a physical office? Even if I had a staff someday, I couldn’t imagine limiting my recruiting to one market, taking on significant overhead when all of our work happens in the cloud, or asking team members to take time out of their busy lives to commute daily. 

Of course, in 2017, a fully remote workforce was a fantasy most people didn’t even know was an option! Queue 2020 and a global pandemic, and suddenly, everyone who used to go to an office daily lived in my virtual remote working world. Granted, that transition wasn’t by choice and was remarkably abrupt, but eyes were opened, and we’d never look at office work the same way again. Now, here we are almost four years later, and industry digests and news publications are riddled with articles about organizations pushing (bribing, coercing…?) their employees back into the office. So, this one goes out to all the leaders of remote and hybrid teams – yes, they still exist! Let’s talk about effectively leading a team when you’re NOT returning to an office. 

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Effective communication lies at the heart of successful leadership in hybrid and remote teams. Leaders must be adept at conveying their vision, goals, and expectations clearly and consistently. Clear communication involves mastering written communication and leveraging various digital tools for virtual meetings, instant messaging, and collaborative platforms. At Fringe, we use the project management tool and video messaging from Loom to ensure our communication is effective and efficient. Furthermore, active listening is a crucial communication component, ensuring team members feel heard and valued despite the physical distance.

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As you can see in the tools mentioned above,  hybrid leaders must be comfortable with technology. Familiarity with the tools and platforms your team uses is vital. Moreover, embracing new technology and staying up-to-date with digital trends can improve your team’s efficiency and innovation.  👋 Hello, AI! I have heard many leaders tell me they “aren’t good at tech,” and I understand feeling overwhelmed by it. But remember, due to the nature of the products and use cases, these technologies are designed for anyone to be able to pick them up if you take the time to learn them. 

Stop Being “Big Brother”

You can have all the tools and communication skills in the world, but a hybrid or remote environment will never work if you don’t trust your team. Trust starts with hiring folks you believe in and builds with targeted behaviors once they join your team. Leaders should foster an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns. You build trust through transparency, consistent follow-through on commitments, and providing support when needed. Remember, trust is the foundation of collaboration and teamwork, regardless of physical proximity.

Engage Your Empathy

Speaking of building trust, leaders who exhibit empathy and emotional intelligence are better equipped to understand their team members’ feelings and needs. Remote and hybrid team members might face unique challenges, such as feelings of isolation or difficulty balancing work and personal life. Leaders who can empathize with these challenges and offer support through regular check-ins or flexible work arrangements will foster a more positive and motivated team.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!

Remote work can blur the lines between work and personal life. Leaders must encourage and empower their teams to establish boundaries and manage their time effectively. Start by encouraging the utilization of flex policies and downtime to prevent burnout. It’s your job to be on the front lines of ensuring boundaries are established and followed through on. For example, we have an unlimited paid time off policy. When most people who have worked in large organizations hear this, I can sense the eye roll coming. Unlimited PTO at most places is a shiny recruiting tool that practically has an unspoken rule to utilize only in case of severe emergencies. It’s a classic organizational bait & switch. At Fringe, we track PTO, and if a team member isn’t taking it, they WILL get a call from leadership not only encouraging them to do so but partnering with them to find and schedule leave as soon as possible. 

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a natural part of any team, and in a remote or hybrid setting, it can escalate if not addressed promptly. Leaders should be skilled in conflict resolution, fostering open and respectful discussions to resolve issues. Addressing conflicts early can prevent them from escalating and negatively affecting team morale.

Team Building and Recognition

Building a sense of camaraderie in a remote or hybrid team can be challenging, but it’s essential for team cohesion. Leaders should organize virtual team-building activities, celebrate achievements, and recognize team members’ contributions in their digital public forums. These actions create a positive and inclusive team culture, even in a dispersed work environment.

Leading a hybrid or remote team requires unique skills and behaviors focusing on effective communication, trust-building, adaptability, and empathy. By mastering these essential qualities, leaders can navigate the challenges and reap the benefits of this evolving work landscape, ultimately driving success for their teams and organizations. 

Rachael Bosch is the Founder and CEO of Fringe Professional Development. Fringe's mission is to help people thrive at work through better communication. Rachael holds a brain-based coaching certification through the NeuroLeadership Institute and certificates of Women in Leadership and Mediating Disputes from Cornell University and Harvard Law School of Executive Studies, respectively. Rachael is an active member of the Forbes Coaches Council.
Rachael Bosch, Founder & CEO, Fringe Professional Development

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