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Creating stability in a hybrid work environment

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The hybrid work environment creates new challenges for leaders, including:

  • How to keep everyone focused amid so much change
  • When and how to communicate when some workers are on site while others work remotely
  • How to make fair decisions
  • How to manage conflict when employees are out of sight and out of mind

As a leader, the hybrid workplace can be viewed as a challenge to overcome or an opportunity to leverage. Innovative leaders can use this time of instability and uncertainty to define leadership of the future.

Here are three ways leaders can create stability in an uncertain and ever-changing work environment.

1. Clarity

Hybrid leaders use clarity as their No. 1 tool for getting results. Clarity can be as simple as guiding an employee to the next right step, sharing a big vision for the future or accurately describing a particular situation and desired outcome.

The No. 1 rule I share with my clients is this: In all “drama,” there’s always a lack of clarity. Where there’s conflict or confusion, the first question you should ask is not “Who’s at fault” but “Where is there a lack of clarity?”

Here’s a checklist of areas that contribute to a lack of clarity

  • Policies that are outdated or unenforced
  • Constantly changing priorities
  • Ineffective digital communications
  • Misunderstanding about how decisions are made
  • Unclear job descriptions

Even in an uncertain work environment, the hybrid leader can provide increased clarity. Increased clarity leads to focus and focus leads to results. The wisdom comes in knowing what contributes to a lack of clarity and knowing what kind of clarity is needed in the present moment.

2. Communication

No longer is it possible to rely totally on off-the cuff conversations, hallway meetings or scheduled gatherings in a physical room. Today’s hybrid leader must acquire good writing and speaking skills, as well as competency on various platforms.

Hybrid leaders excel at using digital communications such as email or text, and they adapt to various meeting platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Here are some quick tips to become a better communicator in a hybrid work environment.

  • Text is OK for short updates or requests
  • Keep emails simple and short with the action item as the end
  • Space and format emails for easy reading
  • Difficult conversations require video or in-person meetings
  • Phone trumps email for complex issues

It’s through communication we get results. If there’s too much confusion, excessive unresolved conflict, and lack of follow-through, it could be ineffective communication, lack of skills for using various platforms or using the wrong tools for what the situation requires.

3. Conflict capacity

"Out of sight and out of mind" is not a good strategy for managing conflict in a hybrid work environment. The hybrid workplace requires leaders to have the capacity and competency to manage conflict between remote workers, virtual teammates, vendors, partners, contractors – not to mention any combination of working arrangement.

These complexities can add additional stress taxing a leader’s conflict capacity. A key skill for expanding conflict capacity is learning how to self-regulate before engaging in difficult conversations. When we’re angry, we lose the ability to think critically, and we react emotionally by sending a terse email, shouting or avoiding altogether.

Here are some skills to practice self-regulation so that you can calm down and get clear before handling difficult situation.

  • Feel the emotion, but don’t act until you have calmed down
  • Instead of sending the email, send a calendar invite for a one-on-one meeting
  • Plan your conversation, and clarify your intended result
  • Clarify the situation by stating what’s happening that should not be happening
  • Initiate a one-on-one private conversation in person or by videoconferencing

Hybrid, remote and virtual environments only increase the likelihood of conflict, but conflict is not the problem: Mismanagement is. When leaders mismanage conflict, the environment becomes unstable.

Leaders who are clear, communicate effectively and expand their conflict capacity create stability in complex and dynamic hybrid work environments.

 

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of "Stop Workplace Drama" (Wiley 2011), "No-Drama Leadership" (Bibliomotion 2015) and the forthcoming book "From Conflict to Courage" (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn or at MarleneChism.com.

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