Chapter 4

Leadership in Hybrid Settings

To begin with, the discussion on how teams interact is not a recent one. However, in the last year, the new work debate experienced another peak. lots of debates have been going on about the conflict between hierarchy and agile work formats. Now, the global covid-19 pandemic added another flavor to this. Everybody – no matter at what level of hierarchy – was forced to experience what remote work feels like. Now that we have learned that there’s a lot about remote work that actually works pretty well, we also realize that the concepts and discussions around “remote work” are too limited. If at a given time 50% of staff are in the office, 30% are working from home and the rest is traveling or in a co-working space, the learnings we made during the “all-remote” pandemic don’t apply.  

The promise of hybrid work is attractive: If leaders and managers can successfully make the transition to an anywhere, anytime model, the result will be a work life that is more purposeful and productive. The first and most important takeaway is that this promise will only materialize if your teams or employees' expectations are part of the implementation process.  

Have a conversation with your team about how you can best work together in this new environment. Discuss when and how you’ll communicate, who needs to be in on which decisions, and how employees will structure their workdays. Before further detailing the different elements to be considered, an important element needs to be introduced without which hybrid work will be difficult to implement: Trust.

From control to trust

Trust is a mutual confidence that is earned through a relationship of faith in individual expertise or potential ability being reinforced with consistently-fulfilled expectations. Despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that trust can only be established in a physical in-office environment, many leaders still see a lack of trust as the biggest challenge for managing remote employees. What they actually mean is not a lack of trust but a lack of control. This view completely neglects the long-lasting discussion on the critical role of trust-based work for organizational resilience. Trust is a cultural value that doesn't relate to a physical location. Recent research clearly showed that trust can be built via video (and even audio) almost just as good as in a face-to-face setting. Understanding the role of trust for the successful management of hybrid teams is crucial. What tools are the best to build trust in a hybrid work setting? Garen Staglin has developed key elements in a feature for Forbes Magazin (see good reads box):

  1. Build relationships with regular check-ins. What used to be the "good old management by walk around" style hasn't lost it's value in the hybrid world. Taking the temperature and being present and available is important to create a good relationship and understanding. Use check-ins to provide guidance or share information, not for micro-management purposes.
  2. Tailor strategies to individual needs - know yourself, know your chicken. Understanding how the other builds trust (either by default/automatically or by evidence over time) helps to find ways to create trustful relationships.
  3. Send messages of trustworthiness: being honest and transparent creates evidence of trustworthiness, disingenuous communication on the other hand is a burden for establishing trust.

Trust, of course, is nothing exclusive to the relationship between manager and employee. Establishing trust between team members is equally important. When teams share trust, they feel comfortable working without supervision or micro-management, because they have the confidence their colleagues will do their work well. Establishing trust in a team requires transparency with respect to performance expectations as well as work results, independent tasks and a healthy feedback culture.  


Communication is the glue that holds a team or a company's employees together. Therefor the ground rules on how teams or employees communicate in a hybrid work setting is an important managerial task. Depending on the hybrid work model adopted, communication channels have to be organized accordingly. Take meetings for example: In a "flexible hybrid" model all meetings will need to be online in order to maintain equality between participants while in "synchronized hybrid" one might decide to have meetings only on in-office days. So in order to build a hybrid work communication model, all communication situations (from meetings to stand-ups, 1on1's or social get-togethers) need to be looked at and suitable communication means, modes and tools identified. This process should be part of a team conversation developing an approach for the implementation of the selected hybrid work model.  

Make sure the communication style is appropriate for the purpose of communication in a specific situation.  

  • If for instance, you expect to engage creative communications during which innovation takes place, a set meeting at a given time might not be the right thing to do. Findings from behavioral science suggest that rather spontaneous, "bursty" communication produces innovative ideas - e.g. by providing weekly challenge topics in a place often frequented by many team members or employees, a virtual coffee kitchen for instance.  
  • Priorities and objectives for the week or day can be discussed in a "daily" or "weekly” format. Style here should be highly structured based on a set standard agenda with time-boxed items.  
  • Socializing on the other hand isn't something that, again, works at a set time and date even though this has been practiced frequently during the pandemic. Nobody really liked these “prescribed” virtual socializing events.  

There aren't too many best practices for hybrid work for the time being. So testing different communication styles and format in an agile "test and kill fast" way seems to be a good approach. What has to be pointed out is that the hybrid work support technology (see tools section above) sets the boundaries for certain formats: spontaneous water cooler conversations for instance are difficult in a scheduled video call, the same holds true for check-ins or virtual walk arounds.

Career considerations

There are plenty of tips and tricks lists for employees not to let work from home get in the way of the next promotion. The sheer fact of the existence of such advice points to an important obstacle for hybrid work - in this case from employee's perspective. A recent study from Ten Spot (see links) confirms this: 47% of respondents are concerned that they might be passed over for promotions, wage increases, or new opportunities, if they continue working from home full time. And, of those who want to continue to work from home full time, 53% have this concern.  

A vital discussion is currently going on, about how justified this concern is. Do employees and managers underestimate the negative impact of less on-site visibility on the distribution of flagship projects, performance appraisals or even promotions? The idea is not backed by research: A survey conducted by Henley Business School about reasons behind the number of promotions being down in 2020 revealed that only one out four drivers was related to the absence in workplace communication (such as water-cooler conversations) during the pandemic presumably made it more difficult for managers to recognize their employees' work.

An interesting perspective on career considerations in hybrid work settings has been added lately in the Kahoot! Workplace Culture report showing an impressive generational divide: 65% of millennial HR leaders say that office workers are more likely to get raises while only 19% of baby boomer HR leaders agree to the same statement. One can conclude that over time / in the futuere career considerations won’t stand in the way of hybrid work.

However: If today (a part of) employees fear that working remotely can entail negative consequences for the own career, most hybrid work models (with the exception of "synchronized hybrid" as in this model chances to get in touch with managers are equally distributed) will need to deal with this perception irrespective of its actual truth. So what are the tools to demonstrate that hybrid work is not a career-killer?

  • First of all, companies that value remote or hybrid work need to “walk the talk” which means encouraging people at all levels—from entry-level to the C-suite—to work remotely or in a hybrid arrangement. If only early or mid-level employees work remote or hybrid, it could indicate that off-site workers can’t move up the career ladder unless they move to in-person work.  
  • Therefore, managers need to be much more consistent in leading according to agreed-upon goals in order to fairly assess employee performance. This holds particularly true in collaborative work scenarios making it difficult to assess individual contributions.  
  • The management’s easy availability for check-backs or guidance can establish an important channel for employees to demonstrate the quality of their work, for managers to assess individual contributions as well as an opportunity to have conversations about new ideas and other career relevant topics.

Ground rules

Establishing ground rules as such isn't something that is specific to hybrid work. But in order to make hybrid work function, some areas require special attention.  

  • Hybrid meetings: The ground rules for hybrid meetings (such as "always online") need to ensure that remote participants have an equal opportunity to contribute. Clarify decision-making mechanisms, technology settings (video / audio) as well as options for signaling emotions.  
  • Work/Life Balance: agree on a clear on/off-mechanism that is comprehensible to and respected by everyone. Such mechanism can be a specific status setting in MS Teams for instance or - in presence-based systems (Online Offices) - the fact of being logged in/out. Define exceptions such as emergencies.
  • Time management: Agreement on response times, establishment of a time corridor for meetings that work for all team members, trans
  • Information channels: clarify which type of information is shared on which channel so that all team members or employees have equal access. There should be no information sharing that happens exclusively in the physical office, disadvantaging remote workers.
  • Success celebration: In most hybrid work models it doesn't make sense to wait until successes can be celebrated together in-person. Therefore, it will be important to define a communication channel accessible to all that announces recent success and develop inclusive celebration rituals (e.g., announcement during standard meetings such as “Weeklies”.
  • Feedback depends on the feedback culture applied in a company. Structured / formalized approaches such as 360° feedback processes can easily (and more efficiently) be held remotely and - for reasons of equality - need to be held online. Most unstructured feedback approaches work online just as good as offline.  

The precise specification of above ground rules depends of course on the hybrid work model to be implemented and the supporting technology. Almost needless to say: the development and documentation of ground rules is a team exercise.